We knew this news would come.
Someday, but not this day, please. How many of us thought that every time we heard Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s name?
We had seen her flame flicker through four cancer diagnoses, but it was never extinguished. Each time, the flame rose, and she returned to us. This time, too, we wanted to believe she could will her way into the next year, where hope—we also want to believe—is waiting for us.
She died on September 18, just before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish new year. We were already a nation of mourners, in the ninth month of a pandemic that has now killed more than 200,000 people in our country. In the immediate wake of Ginsburg’s death, we were clawing for reserves of strength we weren’t sure could be found.
In these last years, we asked too much of her, but she never seemed to share that opinion. Like civil rights icon John Lewis, who also has left us this year, Ginsburg discovered her life’s mission at a young age. It takes a fierce imagination to work for a world that does not yet exist, and that was the essence of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
For much of her career, she toiled out of sight to most Americans, because that’s what we demanded of smart women. But in 2013, she wrote the dissent that condemned the Supreme Court’s gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and Notorious RBG was born.
The decision in Shelby County vs. Holder eliminated the rule that required states with histories of racially motivated voter suppression to submit proposed changes to their voting procedures for “preclearance” to the Justice Department or the district court in the District of Columbia.
This particular quote from Ginsburg’s dissent drew the attention of legions of people—some of whom in all likelihood had never even heard of the rule: “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Who was this tiny hurricane of a woman?
America would soon find out. A New York Times roundup this week recommended at least eight books written about Ginsburg. Countless parents posted recent photos of their daughters dressed as Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Halloween. Grandmothers bought baby bibs designed to resemble Ginsburg’s collar of dissent (raising my hand) and children’s books about her courage and career (now raising my other hand).
In her 80s, at an age when most of America prefers a woman be invisible, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became an action figure doll. According to those who knew her well, she loved it.
Critics—mostly male—wanted her to retire during President Obama’s second term, as if she were interchangeable, or worse, discardable. It’s not unlike the criticism—from mostly men—that we hear aimed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, now in her eighth decade. This is sexism, chapter 4,000. They never run out of material. Now grandmothers are holding these jobs. How dare we?
As a grandmother still in the thick of my professional life, I have heard such speculation about an older woman’s usefulness before; it sounds like an America that has yet to catch up with us. I am more than 20 years younger than Ginsburg was at her death, but like millions of women, I can recite the names of men who have tried to get in my way. The list is long. When you make us wait so long and fight so hard, you have no business telling us when to step aside. I admired Ginsburg for her wit and intelligence. I revered her for her refusal to apologize for her ambition.
This content was originally published here.