There is something you have to do.

August 10, 2019 § 1 Comment

I watched The Notorious RBG for the second time and was struck again by the behind-the-scenes support provided by Justice Ginsburg’s marriage. Marty was a supportive and loving man who never seemed threatened as she advanced in her career. He anchored her life, encouraged her, and cheered her on when women’s chances for outside-the-home accomplishments were slim.

Marty has been dead since 2010 and I am sure Ruth still misses him every day. Her happy marriage was the coat she wore against the cold when she was young and uncertain, not yet notorious, not yet known by three upper case initials. He was the one she came home to after a day of contentious crusading.

Still, without Marty she goes on, a woman on a mission.

It is rarely as obvious as it is with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband, Marty, that life can have a greater mission, hers to be a legal titan, his to provide ballast, but each of us has the capacity to accomplish something beyond the day-to-day walk of a respectable life.

The personal (the love story, the family) are what we do for ourselves. We live most of our lives enveloped in that reality. It has moments of friction, sure, but that friction is human-scaled, and we can handle it.

But there are larger missions that change the trajectory of something far greater than a single life or the life of a family, missions that create ripples that spread until a community, a nation, or the human race has been changed.

I am convinced that missions seek us out. What we offer is receptivity, a willingness to take a chance, to roll up our sleeves. What the mission offers is a need we can fill, an opportunity to be larger than our individual lives whether we are the crusader for the mission or the one who fixes dinner and offers encouragement.

Life is much easier if the mission never comes calling, and a practical person would pray to be passed over. Even Christ said, “Let this cup pass from me.” But a life without a mission is also smaller, the view more narrow.

If we turn away, our hope is that the mission will move on, find another advocate. But if we are honest we have to admit that it may die of neglect. It is often that second possibility that causes us to say yes.

A mission seems to find the person who will fight for it, and, in a sense, the person becomes the property of that mission. Those afflicted and set aflame by a cause are perceived as saints, martyrs, or madmen.

It helps to have the company of believers and supporters, others to help lift the load—this is hard and lonely work.

RBG was loved by a great, supportive man; that belongs to her, that joy comes from the smaller story that is her life.

What she has done in her public life belongs to all of us and all the generations that will follow.

Note: I think about this as I do the work of running a food bank, sorting squishy produce, making pickups, doing distributions. This is not a world-altering mission, but its ripples have practical results in the real world. Food on tables. A community of volunteers. Friendships. The assurance that no one is alone in their need. We can’t all be the notorious RBG, but we can all say yes to something greater than ourselves.  

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