No Sense: Love Across the Political Divide

On the Unusual Friendship of Two Justices

Duo Dickinson / 9.21.20

Life is not politics.

That has not been so obvious in these months. Everything is qualified (or disqualified) by whether you want the President to be our president or not. There is less and less tolerance, more and more nullification of any validity of any credibility depending on what you believe is best for our government. People speak of revolution and “saving our country” and fascism — when we are having an election in a month.

But love does not respect those concerns.

We are not built by our beliefs, efforts, or achievements. We are made, wholly by things we cannot explain. Sure, a sperm meets an egg, a cell divides, a being results. But the complexities of what we see, feel, and do have no legitimate causation, no formula of manufacture. We are not the sum of our parts, we are the mystery of life — children of God. Answerable to the completely impossible possibilities of love and sacrifice that we are all given.

Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg were fully politicized. One was a rock of conservative thought, the other an icon of liberal theory. Both went through the full vetting and voting of the US government to be on the highest court we created. Both got over 90 votes out of 100 in the Senate. Both never let a contested decision go uncommented upon, with extreme rigor and passion. This was serious business. The future of our culture was being wrecked or saved by their votes — and they almost always disagreed.

They also loved each other.

Both were idolized, quoted, and championed by those who believed as they did. Both were lionized in the constituent presses who followed them. Being heroic to those who believe in what you espouse is intellectual support, it buttresses what you believe.

Love accepts the discord, maybe even enjoys it, if it ignores the ideological constructions we make. Michelle Obama and George Bush simply enjoy each other. It angers and outrages some, but they do not matter.

How could they possibly love each other? Scalia a robust Catholic. Ginsburg was a non-observant Jew. One a hunter. The other a thinker. One a white male in a time when white men ruled. The other a woman in a time of oppression and prejudice.

But they loved each other. Those who knew them say they loved opera, food, and, of course the law. But that is not why they and their spouses loved being together. This weekend of Ginsburg’s passing, Antonin Scalia’s son Christoper revealed the secret sauce of their love for each other. They laughed.

Throughout the dark, intense moralizing of knowing and imposing the truth through law, the intense arguments of history and logic, the ethical breast-beating of dogged belief, they just loved each other.

It is because, in the end, they knew that their passions did not define them. God had already done that. You can laugh when you know with humility the limits of the truths you hold so dearly. If we were convinced that ours was the only path of righteousness and any other way of thinking was toxic, if not dangerous, then we would only be with those who agreed with us. We would not waste our time, denigrate ourselves or even validate what we reject by being with anyone who betrayed our beliefs.

But we laugh. It makes no sense. There is no reason to laugh. Pain, injustice, fear, danger is all around us, every day — amped up by the megaphones in technology and systems.

But Antonin and Ruth loved each other.

My best friend in high school was very oppositional to me. I volunteered to be in NROTC (unsuccessfully). She wanted the soldiers out of Vietnam, now. I loved football, deeply. She hated it. She had a near ideal family. I was alone. But we love each other, and have done for 50 years.

We do not choose love; it chooses us. Because God made us, not we ourselves. We simply can effect the gifts that we were given, or not. We can close our minds to others because it threatens our belief in our righteousness. Or we can love those we are given to love, those who are dear to us for no reason at all.

The greater truth reunited Ruth and Antonin yesterday. I know they are still laughing now.

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3 responses to “No Sense: Love Across the Political Divide”

  1. David Zahl says:

    Duo, this is incredibly touching. Just what I needed to hear today.

  2. Ginny says:

    How lovely–and powerful–to see the people in our lives as “those we are given to love”! Thank you for this piece.

  3. Julie says:

    Beautifully written . So encouraging!

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