Drowning Out a Loudmouth
A loudmouth is, says the Oxford English Dictionary, “a person who tends to talk too much in an offensive or tactless way.” I know one. He’s in love with the sound of his ego and noisy public appearances full of thundering lies. The Loudmouth in Chief.
By contrast, Ruth Bader Ginsberg quietly left us last week as Jews around the world gathered to observe Rosh Hashanah, the passing of the old year and dawn of the new. At a pause in the congregation’s liturgy, we said together, “we yearn to hear a still small voice….” Oh, my.
The Torah story behind the quote is familiar. Elijah was hiding in a mountain cave, waiting to complain to God. He heard a terrifying wind that “broke the mountains,” but God wasn’t in the wind. Then came an earthquake, and then a terrible fire — no God there either. Then came “a still, small voice,” and Elijah knew it was the voice of God.
You need not be Jewish to recognize the parallels. The winds of social change rock our families and neighborhoods. A pandemic has shaken the life out of 200,000 of us. And…fire? I woke up this morning in California. In the ruin of smoke and rubble, I’m standing on my tip-toes, ears cupped, hoping to hear some still, small voice of hope and comfort.
I never met Justice Ginsberg. I always identified with her height: She was slightly more than five feet tall and I’m just shy of that. We both spent years in public while privately taking on illness. She preferred a good friendship to a good news release; me too. And she modeled what my mother ingrained in me: “Always, always be a lady.”
Unlike the White House Loudmouth’s boisterous lies, Justice Ginsberg approached both life and the gates of eternity with a quiet, genial grace. In her final moments, she held the hand of her beloved granddaughter, Clara Spera, and dictated her “most fervent wish….”
Her lifetime of achievements had come mostly as the result of her steady commitment to equality. A diminutive woman, she took hundreds of small steps. She did not leapfrog to fame. She quietly, persistently took the next right action. Defeat did not diminish her devotion; instead, it sharpened her appetite for justice. And so, this lady’s final words were a wish, not a demand, offered in a still, small voice.
Kenneth Starr, of all people, remembered the Justice as “disarmingly shy and soft-spoken,” capable of many personal relationships like the famous one with the Justice Antonin Scalia. She left a legacy of justice and of love, legal dissents and caring affirmations, law and relationships. She loved, and was loved. She still is.
Again by contrast, I did not know until yesterday that Donald Trump has ten grandchildren, nor am I sure that he knows either. It must be sorrowful to live a life devoid of deep, enduring, loving relationships — the kind that littered the life of Justice Ginsberg. Perhaps it’s sorrow that leads to noisy rage and adolescent rants. Maybe The Loudmouth screams because he’s in pain.
I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve yearned for the Loudmouth’s noisy evil to stop. The end will come, I think, not with the noise of winds, fires or rumbling earthquakes. What it takes to drown out The Loudmouth is a still, small voice — the voice of a Justice, the voice of a God.
Thank you, both.