One of the regulars at our Community Breakfast on Sunday mornings is an older man who goes by the street names of “Hippie” or “Shine.” He’s called Shine because that’s what he does – he shines shoes. This past Sunday morning, he gave my black shoes a long overdue shine and we visited as he polished them. He told me his business is down during the pandemic since so many people are working at home. He also had one of his bags with his best brushes and polishes stolen from him. But, as I paid him, he asked me to let his friend Pat Morgan know that Hippie says hello and is still “above ground.”
His story is one of resilience in the face of adversity. Despite all the obstacles thrown at him, he continues to find ways to do the work that he loves. Hippie just keeps on keeping on.
I had a conversation with a couple of priests last week and we talked about a move to add a sixth stage to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous model of the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. That sixth stage is resilience. It is the day-in, day-out work of moving forward and even finding meaning in the midst of our loss.
This week, we collectively grieve the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Among her many remarkable traits, her resilience stands out for me. She faced adversity early in life. Her mother Celia was diagnosed with cervical cancer during Ruth’s freshman year of high school. After school, Ruth rode the subway to the hospital to spend as much time as she could with her mom. Celia taught Ruth to embody the Jewish imperative of tikkun olam, which means “to repair the world” by pursuing justice and compassion and helping others. Celia died two days before Ruth was to be honored as a speaker at her high school graduation. Ruth lovingly stayed home with her father. Her teachers later delivered her many medals to her home.
In her battles against gender discrimination, Ruth faced many setbacks along the way. That didn’t stop her. She always imagined a new strategy, found a new argument, and forged a new path.
When she was near the end of her rope in her final battle with pancreatic cancer, Ruth got a call from Marilyn Horne, the great mezzo-soprano opera singer she so admired. Marilyn told Ruth that when she also received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, she said to herself, “I will live. Not I hope I will live, but I will live.” Ruth later said the effect of that call was invigorating, and firmly planted those three words in her mind as her mantra, “I will live.”
Live, she did. And thanks in large part to her, our diocese is blessed with Bishop Phoebe Roaf, my wife is an attorney, and our nieces have infinite possibilities open to them. Where would we be without Justice Ginsburg’s resilience?
As I looked into the weathered face of Hippie on Sunday and as I see photographs of the wrinkles around Justice Ginsburg’s determined yet mischievous smile, I am reminded of the words of St. Paul, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” For only then, we will live.