Details are emerging from the final days of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life, the second woman to ascend to the nation’s highest bench.
NPR is reporting that Ginsburg dictated her final, dying wish to her granddaughter, Clara Spera. Ms. Spera is a lawyer in New York, and the daughter of the late justice’s daughter Jane Ginsburg, who is a professor at Columbia Law School.
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” Justice Ginsburg is reported to have said.
That Justice Ginsburg would dictate such a wish is somewhat curious, especially since most people at the end of their life seem less concerned about politics and more concerned with people and life everlasting.
Nevertheless, ever since I was a young boy, I’ve been fascinated and intrigued by people’s last words and final requests. Hollywood tends to dramatize these moments, often depicting sympathetic figures on their death beds, whispering secrets or heartfelt, soul-stirring words as thunder claps or the evening light fades.
The late George Gipp, immortalized by Ronald Reagan in the 1940 classic, Knute Rockne, All-American, was said to have told his old coach as he lay dying:
“I’ve got to go, Rock. It’s all right. I’m not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there, with all they’ve got, and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.”
President Reagan got a lot of mileage out of that line, often using it on the campaign trail, especially as he sought a second-term.
For some, persistent guilts and burdens seem to come out in the final moments of life.
Leonardo da Vinci, considered one of the world’s greatest painters, with works including the Mona Lisa, is reported to have said, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”
Baseball great Joe DiMaggio, festooned with every imaginable sports honor, was still thinking of a broken, unresolved romance from decades earlier when he died in 1999.
“I finally get to see Marilyn,” whispered “Joltin’ Joe” – remembering his late, ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, who died tragically of suicide 37 years earlier in 1962.
Some of my favorite “last words”, though, hint at life after death.
Albert Einstein, best known for developing the theory of relativity, was in a coma inside Princeton Hospital back in 1955 when he suddenly opened his eyes.
“It’s very beautiful out there,” he said softly, before slipping away.
Spiritually speaking, it’s impossible to know what goes on inside a man’s heart. History is replete with dramatic deathbed conversions. According to those present in Palo Alto, California back in 2011, there was no such moment or declaration in Apple computer founder Steve Jobs’ final days.
However, his final words, spoken haltingly but clearly, are provocative.
Steve’s sister, Mona Simpson, revealed at his funeral that after making eye contact with everyone in the room, Jobs turned and gazed beyond them, as if looking at a scene unfolding over their shoulders.
“Oh wow!” he said. “Oh, wow! Oh, wow!”
What did he see? It’s impossible to know. But it’s fitting that the man whose life’s work revolved around the pursuit of rethinking man’s approach to the wonder of technology is the same man whose last words were wrapped in the spirit of wonder itself.
My own mother, despite her frail condition, was reaching up with her right hand when she died, as if she were taking hold of someone else’s.
I believe she was reaching for the Mighty Hand that held and directed all 80 years of her life.
It appears unlikely that Justice Ginsburg’s final wish will be granted, a request and issue that will now inevitably sit at the center of the 2020 presidential election.
Either way, for Justice Ginsburg, her last words are recorded and her court is now adjourned.
Photo from Mario Anzuoni/REUTERS
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