Monday, February 15, 2016

Justice Farewell

(These thoughts were first published as my Facebook status upon hearing of Justice Scalia's death. I share them here as they turned out to be more of a blog post than I originally realized.)

In 1994-1995, when I was finishing up my undergraduate degree and completely immersed in constitutional law, convinced I would some day either be a constitutional attorney or a Ph.D. in Political Science who studied the constitution and the judicial branch (or both, Lord help me), I was first introduced to Scalia's writing. I was feverishly working on a big senior project on US v. Fordice, taking two con law classes, and generally geeking out on reading opinion after opinion of the Supreme Court, past and present.

Scalia's writing was brilliant. BRILLIANT. Aside from working effectively through point-by-point, linear arguments, he was witty, illustrative, and terrific with a well-placed metaphor. He had a singular voice, and I found it to be a breath of fresh air.

I almost never agreed with him, but so often, I would finish what he wrote and think, "Okay, I see how that makes sense, WHY don't I agree?" The closest I can come to describing my mind on Scalia was my experience the previous year reading, "Lolita," finding myself so drawn in by Nabokov's complete mastery of the English language/word choice/pacing/storytelling that at times I found myself rooting for the horrifying Humbert Humbert. Scalia could pull me in, draw in my mind, and make me really think through what I believed and what was important to me as an American citizen.

In recent years, I have had less admiration for the strict constructionist wordsmith I met through his work as a 21-year old. He seemed off the rails at times, even offensive, and I felt badly both because of what he was saying, and because it so besmirched his character, which I had never questioned previously, even in disagreement.

The fact that he was such a fierce friend to Justice Ginsburg still speaks volumes to me. The fact that he is credited with the most laughter during court arguments says even more. The fact that he is now gone from the court makes me incredibly relieved. All of these things are true, simultaneously.

In an age of curated media, of liberal and conservative outposts holding the attention of their followers (myself included), and generally dragging us to the most extreme poles of belief, I miss my days of creeping through the stacks of the UW-Madison Law Library and spending time being intellectually challenged.

If I had met Justice Scalia before his passing, I would have hoped to say something like this: Thank you, Justice Scalia, for teaching me as a young adult to seek out the most intelligent, thoughtful arguments on the opposite side of my belief system; more than anyone, you taught me that I am definitely a loose constructionist. Thank you for showing me that there is something to be learned everywhere, even when you don't agree. Thank you for modeling superb writing. While I do not support the way you shape the decisions of the court, I am so glad you helped to shape my life and my work.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Scalia family. Grazie, Justice.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Insomnia, Love, and Death

It happened last night, after her fourth round of coming out to tell us another reason that she couldn't fall asleep. By now, she was all tears and stress, and I gave up telling her to just lie down and try to sleep in favor of going to her room, lying down next to her, and helping her calm down. Who doesn't want to watch the Super Bowl with numerous interruptions, anyway? 

She's had bouts of insomnia for a few months now. Some of it is just kid bedtime procrastination, but some of it seems to be legit. On evenings like last night, when her fear of not falling asleep begins to get too big to quell, it is truly miserable.

"Don't worry about falling asleep," I told her. "When that feeling or thought pops into your head, just tell it, 'I know you, but you aren't true. I will fall asleep, I don't have to worry.'"

Breathe. Sigh. Her ten-year old body tried to relax, but her mind wouldn't let the thoughts go.

"Mom, it still makes me feel anxious. I hate insomnia. I hate that I can't sleep lately. I hate this part of growing up."

"I know. It doesn't feel good. Just imagine you are in this warm, safe bubble. Everything in that bubble is calm. That bubble is made of all my love for you, it surrounds you all the time. You don't have to worry in that bubble."

"I don't like to talk about how much you love me. Do you want to know why?"


"Because it makes me think of your death, and how I just won't be able to handle it when you are gone. It makes me cry."

Stillness. No breath from either of us. Yes, I know that feeling.

"I understand. I'm not planning on dying anytime soon."

"I know, it's's just terrible to think about."

"It is. Right now, let's think about something else. You know that my love lives right here." I touch her heart as I wrap her up in a hug. She nods her head and squeezes me back.

"That never goes away. Ever. In a million years, no matter how far away we are from each other, it is always there. My mom's love lives in my heart, and her mom's in hers...the love stretches out forever in time."

"It's so much."

"It is. You are also loved by so many other people: family, friends, etc."

"I have a tremendous bubble of love to live in."

"You do."

"It's still hard."

"I know. But we are here now, and you are safe, and we can choose to smile whenever we think of that love, even if we also cry a little bit."

Ten-years old for our child has been about alternating moments of tiny kid vs. tween; needing hugs and believing in the tooth fairy vs. growing cynicism and wanting to let us know she has all the answers. This reckoning with death is so different from younger versions, because a part of her now understands that this will be devastating, and there is no escape from it, for any of us. All we can do is acknowledge the truth of the feeling, give each other hugs in the moment, and remind ourselves that even as we lose each other—and nothing is ever as right or good or peaceful as being together, alive and well—we can seek comfort from others, and have that eternal love live on in our hearts. It doesn't feel like enough, and maybe it never can be. Still, though, it is what we have, and it is a lot.