I don’t know if a lot of people know what it feels like to be loved in spite of your brain, but I do.
I’m not complaining. All love is nice. But there’s something about knowing you’re loved FOR your mind, not despite it, that feels like nothing else.
So a few years ago when I learned that Ruth Bader Ginsburg said of her husband Marty that he was “the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain,” I got misty. I wondered, what must it feel like to be partnered for most of your adult life with someone who loves the way you think?
This is one of the memories that surfaced when I learned that Ginsburg died on Friday, Rosh Hashanah. How she chose someone whose brand of love allowed her own full self to come through. We all benefitted.
Just days before Ginsburg passed, I was gobsmacked by something I heard on Pete Buttigieg’s new podcast and in retrospect it is helping me understand. His guest was author and thought leader Glennon Doyle and one of the highlight clips from the interview was this from her:
… I figured out in the last few months that there’s just some kind of deal with the devil that white women make early on. And it’s not conscious. It’s just, somewhere along the line we learn that, OK, we will accept our proximity to power and all the comfort and safety and belonging that that will give us. But in exchange, we will … first of all, we’ll never ask for any real power, right? We will stay quiet and grateful and accommodating.
We will accept things like the protection and safety that the police offers us, but we will never look over there and ask what the police are doing to them, right? We will go into our kids’ elementary schools and we will demand nine iPads for every one of our kids, but we will not turn our heads and ask why the school down the road doesn’t have clean water. We will over and over again accept our relative comfort and safety, and the cost of that will be our full humanity.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg never made this deal. She didn’t need to, not to gain proximity to power nor to learn how to wield it. I know few women who can say that. Some make the deal, realize it somewhere along the way, and right it. But even those women when pressed will often admit that at a base level, they are more comfortable with a man in power. It feels natural to them to defer and reap the rewards of that.
Like Doyle says, this isn’t even conscious. It’s socialized and internalized and before we know it we’re acquiescing to a life where we bask in a light generated by someone else and then fretting for those who don’t have a light to bask in because, oh my God, how will they survive in the dark? We’re still figuring out that women can shine a beam so bright it lights the way for ourselves and others.
Ginsburg had challenges laid out before her and she forged a path that so many of us admired. Law school. Being a spouse. Being a parent. Nurturing, but also rising. Marty Ginsburg wasn’t threatened by a wife serving on the Supreme Court. He was proud and supportive of a spouse who could generate her own light.
So many dedications to the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg will focus on her cases, the way her law clerks remember her, the fierce health issues that kept coming at her, the politics of her replacement. All legit ways to honor a legend and her enormous impact.
But right now all I can think about is what her life meant to me as a woman. It is not lost on me that a President who couldn’t keep his pants zipped in the presence of an intern also had the vision to nominate a strong, electric woman – a superstar, really – to the Supreme Court. Bill Clinton gave us a hero, ultimately, muddied waters or no.
I don’t know what our higher being has in store for us. Pandemic. Lawless President. Wildfires. Supreme Court. Racial unrest. The timing. It’s all supposed to mean something, of that I’m confident.
Maybe it’s RBG, her face framed in lace, beaming off our screens, mobilizing us to get to work like we’ve never worked before. Lighting our own lights and joining them with our fellow citizens’ lights until all that brightness powers a movement we could never have imagined before.
(You can buy the mask in the photo here.)