A Candle in the Dark

 

photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

 

We all lost a giant in Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18. On San Juan Island, The League of Women Voters held an evening vigil on the courthouse lawn in Friday Harbor. As I write these words I realize how quaint that sounds, and how quaint it was indeed. An island, like a microcosm, in a state that refers to Washington D.C. as “the other Washington.” But if D.C. is white marble and power, we are green and cooperative. If D.C. is many, we are few. And if they’re dressed in suits and heels, we live in comfortable clothes and comfortable shoes. Otherwise we’re just the same.

I had the privilege of riding to the vigil with my neighbors, Susan and Michael Martin, who recently moved onto the island from D.C., where they’d been annual season ticket holders at Washington National Opera. There they were seated near the Ginsburgs, enjoying what they called “a nodding relationship” with the other couple. Susan spoke at our vigil on island. Carrying low voltage candle lights in the dark, we all stood around her in a circle. Susan’s stories humanized Ruth for us as a woman who valued her family, friends, and the arts—especially opera.

“When I am at the opera I get totally carried away,” Ruth said. It’s a delightful thought, that this extraordinarily intelligent, disciplined, and practiced woman had her moments like that at the opera.

Soon other stories flowed forth of RBG’s impact on all our lives. One woman in the circle had served in the military “when you were discharged if it was discovered you were pregnant.” Many women remembered having to get their husbands’ signatures for a credit card, even to a department store. And another who stated that up until 1974, women had to leave the Foreign Service if they married. In the end, we all sang “We Shall Overcome” through our masks, before going off into the night.

Perhaps most poignant and seared into my memory for eternity, is Saul Loeb’s photograph (The Atlantic) of all the former clerks attired in black standing at attention, socially distanced, on the steps of The Supreme Court to meet the casket when the Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States came to lie in repose.

And from somewhere, friend and contemporary Gloria Steinem cried, “I thought she was immortal.”

~~~

In the forest Mother trees are the largest trees, passing their legacy on by nurturing others. Reaching with deep roots, Mother trees draw water to help support and shape younger shallow-rooted trees. Moving carbon and mineral nutrients to one another, and even communicating with each other—signaling dangers such as droughts, disease, and insect attacks through fungal networks–Mother trees insure regeneration.

The maternal instinct of trees was brought to light by Dr. Suzanne Simard, Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia. “These discoveries,” she writes in The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben, “have transformed our understanding of trees from competitive crusaders of the self to members of a connected, relating, communicating system.”

In other words, for interspecies tree communities to thrive in the forest it isn’t ‘survival of the fittest,’ but rather interdependence. “To reach enormousness, they depend on a complicated web of relationships, alliances and kinship networks,” writes Richard Grant (“Do Trees Talk to Each Other?” Smithsonian Magazine, March 2018).

As a litigator fighting for equal protection for men and women, RBG modeled herself after Thurgood Marshall in his struggle for civil rights in our country. Mentors for the ages, both. At 5’1” Chief Justice Ginsburg stood like a Mother tree in our time, leaving a legacy to shape future generations.

It isn’t always about today; it’s about tomorrow.

Famous for her dissents, RBG explained “Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.” (in an interview with Nina Totenburg, National Public Radio, May 2, 2002)

In the forest, even injured and fallen trees bring life to others.

 

8 Comments

Filed under legacy, Mother trees

8 responses to “A Candle in the Dark

  1. Val Gauthier

    Kim, This brought tears to my eyes for the sadness at losing such a strong, woman and role model for our future generation. All we can ever hope is to be able to pass on a small piece of her legacy and “ our understanding of trees from competitive crusaders of the self to members of a connected, relating, communicating system.” (such a profound quote).
    Love this and so glad you were able to attend what sounds like a wonderful memorial for a woman who blazed many a trail for all of us.

  2. Deborah

    Lovely as ever, Kim. And so poignant. My girl Stephanie called me crying from her new home in Portland, Oregon when she heard that Justice Ginsburg had died. It was a final straw after weeks of protests and wildfires. And I had some understanding of what RBG went through at the end of her life, having seen my own mother ravaged by pancreatic cancer. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A giant until the end.

    • A giant indeed, and not one sign of pain did we see. Remarkable.

      On another note, I love that your daughter lives in Portland, OR. More reason to get together with you as soon as we start moving around the country again.

  3. Just a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing about attending the vigil.

  4. Beautiful, Kim. I love the idea of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a mother tree. Which indeed she was.

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