Almost ten months into 2020, it’s a daily challenge to not be consumed by despair and sadness. What lessons can we learn from those we’ve lost? And what call remains for each of us to hear?
It’s hard to look back at what 2020 has been and not feel disheartened. As a global community, we have spent months navigating COVID-19, and all of its challenges. We have remained apart from family and friends, rain-checked celebrations, and spent quite a lot of time at home. We have felt every possible emotion a hundred times over and spent far too much time on screens. Then, as a nation, many of us have experienced natural disasters. Whether it be the West Coast fires followed by days of suffocating smoke or hurricanes in the South, the impact has been substantial. I’m sure by this point we have all seen the posts online comparing this year, 2020, to biblical plagues, and I’m sure we’ve all wished that we could wake up tomorrow magically to January 1, 2021.
In the last couple of weeks, in the midst of these tragedies and challenges, I have found myself looking to the lives of those we’ve lost. Two titans, arguably moral centers for our fractured and devastated country, have left us this year. John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsberg lived remarkable lives. They each served the United States for decades, leading with enough care and passion to move mountains. Their passing is devastating, but their legacies remain, reigniting a new sense of hope within people all over the country.
I first heard Senator John Lewis speak in high school when he came to our school while on his book tour. He spoke of his life and the lessons he learned along the way. He shared about his pains, his sorrows, his loss. He also imparted to us, a gymnasium full of high school students, his hope for our future. He conveyed the importance of standing up for the beliefs and values we hold most dear and implored us to value and fight for our vote and protect the votes of others. In the scope of our lives, his speech was a small moment, but it left a powerful mark on each of us. A desire to do more and be more, for ourselves and for those to come behind us. It was from John Lewis that I learned that the work is never done, and also that this is not an excuse to give up or stop finding joy.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg I encountered slowly. She had an influential career, serving as a professor of law, and as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, before becoming the second woman named to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. She championed equality on the basis of sex and remained true to herself every day. As a girl growing up with a desire to be a public servant, RBG was, in fact, notorious, and was a constant reminder to me of all the possibilities that would come with hard work and courage. From Ruth Bader Ginsberg I learned the value of dissent and the importance of true leadership.
For a long time, I saw hope as a passive activity; something you say when you want something and don’t know how to get there, or when all else seems lost. Even when splashed on every campaign poster in Obama’s 2008 run, it was a valuable sentiment that remained very far away. Now, as I mourn the loss of John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I have been overwhelmed by a new and unwavering sense of the power and meaning of hope. I am reintroduced to the call it instills in me to be an active participant, to hope for the world I want to live in and then to go out and do the work to achieve it.
In this time of consistent challenge, of deep sadness, and of disconnection, this call to hope, to do the work, to create the world we wish to see, feels distant and unmotivating, perhaps even unmanageable. But by looking to those giants who have come before and listening to the lessons of their lives and careers, we can find grounding and energy for this necessary work. By looking beyond ourselves to the larger implications of this time and these trials we face as a nation, hope can be rooted in the present, rather than the future.
Consider the below prompts and discuss this blog post in our new forum space!
1. At this time, what or whom is grounding you?
2. What lessons are you being invited to learn?
3. What is one way you can lean into this active call of hope in the days or months ahead?
Originally from San Francisco, Rose Murphy is a third-year Theology and Religious Studies and Public Affairs double major at Seattle University. Rose currently works as a student affiliate at the Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs at Seattle University.