Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Present Tense Death

This first week of lenten blogging has not been as prolific as I might have hoped (a deadline for a magazine article being the main scapegoat), but I've also not been thinking about remembering death, either. I'm thinking about death currently in the news.

I'm thinking about Justice Antonin Scalia.

Of course, the nation was shocked at his sudden death this past weekend, and of course the death was immediately a hot topic among political leaders and candidates and the life he led and the opinions he held drew passionate responses from the general population.

There is no doubt that Justice Scalia will not be remembered fondly in histories of the LGBT movement. It is hard to ignore that he was openly and aggressively for the disenfranchisement of people like me. And his particular way of approaching the Constitution, this "originalism," strikes me as a sort of constitutional fundamentalism. I heard Justice Scalia on the radio a couple of years ago and he was telling the interviewer that if something was legal when the U.S. Constitution was written, it could not be said to be unconstitutional. (Slavery? Women barred from the polls? Not unconstitutional.) The interviewer asked, "how about something like putting criminals in stocks and on display in the street?" He said that maybe that wasn't advisable, but nonetheless he could not call that unconstitutional. This struck me as no way to make laws for contemporary America. (I regret that I could not find a link to this interview. I do not believe I'm making this up, though.) Obviously, there are quite a few people who would disagree with me.

The point being, he gave those of us who prefer that our country move beyond slavery, men-only voting, and stocks in the streets plenty of reason to be a bit relieved that he's no longer on the highest court in the nation. (And I know, I'm not saying he ever advocated those things, but he did not see them as being unconstitutional.He's also on record for not believing in reversing previous court decisions. But he did have less than kind regard for LGBT rights.)

Another point to make is that a hero of progressive America, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, lost someone she considered a dear friend, a friend with whom she had grave differences, but a friend with whom she attended opera and, presumably, enjoyed other social activities. She was not the only left-leaning famous person to express her grief over losing a dear friend with whom they disagreed.

Personally, I do not celebrate anyone's death. Besides not being very loving toward our enemies (and yes, Justice Scalia was an enemy of LGBT folk, I think we can say that), as Our Lord would have us be, it's just not very respectful of the people who do grieve. Having grieved plenty of people in my life, I can guess how upsetting it would be to see people actively celebrating the death of a loved one. That other people choose to do so anyway. . . well, that's really their business to sort out.

Beyond all the ways that I was not a fan of Justice Scalia, however, I feel his death brings to the fore how complicated we are. Heroes of the left loved this enemy of the left. Some people are praising him and his service on the bench while others are celebrating that he is off of it. And because it's ultimately all about me (and, by extension, you), I find myself wondering how and why and by whom my own death will eventually be mourned and/or celebrated. Relative to Justice Scalia, I'm pretty much nobody, so I don't think there will be any extreme displays of jubilation of my death, but I can imagine deafening indifference by any number of people who know me.

And you know? We live our lives and we can't control these things. It's tempting to say, "If Justice Scalia didn't want mean things said upon his death by LGBT rights supporters, he should have lived differently." But then there would be someone else, some other reason for people to say mean things upon his death. Hardly anyone is universally celebrated. And how (if) we're remembered is not always in direct proportion to how we lived our lives.

I am reminded, of course, of John Donne in the middle of these meandering and conflicting thoughts. Perhaps I should let him have the last word on this present death: 
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

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