On Sept. 18, just before Rosh Hashanah, our country lost the seemingly indomitable Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg’s fight for equality and her influence on our country spans generations. While we continue to mourn her, it’s just as important that we remember her many accomplishments and honor the legacy she leaves behind.

Ruther Bader grew up in the midst of World War II. As a young Jewish girl trying to find her place in the world, the Holocaust wasn’t a cautionary tale from history, it was current events. Seeing the worst of humanity play out affected Ruth for her whole life, as she dedicated her career to fighting for justice. Between her court cases as a lawyer and later as a judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became as notorious for her dissents as she was for her victories.

At a vigil hosted in Bath, I was surprised to learn that Ginsburg spent time in Sweden in her early career, after not being able to find a job in the U.S. Imagine the disappointment for a woman, who graduated at the head of her class at Columbia Law School, not being able to find employment in her chosen field because she was a woman. In the wake of this experience, Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent years fighting for all people to have equal treatment under the law, especially when it came to financial freedoms. Thanks to her, we all have the equal right to get paid, access credit, keep our jobs, purchase property, and receive Social Security benefits, regardless of gender. There is no one alive in our country today whose life has not been impacted by the legal cases Justice Ginsburg took on.

Justice Ginsburg’s words, both in and out of court, have inspired people of all ages to be bold. One of her most well-known pieces of advice is: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Throughout her career, she showed us how to stand up to unjust systems and oppression. But she also showed us how to work with people and maintain friendships, even in the face of strong disagreements. Her friendship with fellow Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a noted conservative, is well-documented, and even inspired a comedic opera. After his death, Justice Ginsburg said of her friendship with Justice Scalia, “We were best buddies.” In an age where every debate and disagreement can feel so deeply personal, this friendship can be a firm reminder to all of us to consider each other’s humanity, and to always reach out first in good faith.

In the aftermath of Justice Ginsburg’s death, I am consoled by the words of another inspiring individual, the poet Maya Angelou, whose  poem “When Great Trees Fall,”  speaks of what remains when we lose “great souls”: “They existed. They existed. / We can be. Be and be / better. For they existed.” We may never see a giant as great as the five-foot-one-inch Ruth Bader Ginsburg for many generations. But in our constant quest to be and be better, we have an incredible example to follow. As we all stand firm in our compassion and fight for the things we care most about, may we follow the lead of Justice Ginsburg.

State Sen. Eloise Vitelli represents Senate District 23: Arrowsic, Bath, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Richmond, Topsham, West Bath, Woolwich and the unorganized township of Perkins.

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