Monday, May 6, 2013

Sonia Sotomayor - tears, inspiration and history

A few months ago, my husband sent me an excited text message. Somehow or another, he'd learned that Sonia Sotomayor was coming to Denver to speak, and that the event would be open to the public. He sent me all the links, which told me that we had to wait a few days to try and get tickets, after the students had been given the opportunity to request them first.

The day tickets became available, we both jumped on the website when it opened up, as though we were trying to get tickets to the playoffs or something.

He knew how much I wanted to see her.

Who wouldn't want to see her???

(Okay, so I'm a legal news junkie, a huge fan of historical firsts and not at all normal...but then I've never claimed to be.)

We got tickets, and I was immediately giddy with anticipation. How often do you get to see a Supreme Court Justice?

Many years ago, before we left California, Antonin Scalia spoke. At the time, I really had no interest in seeing him, primarily because I tend to disagree with most decisions he's been a part of during his time on the court, but more because I knew that it would be difficult if not impossible to get tickets because he tends to draw a large and passionate crowd. Looking back, I know that I should have at least tried to see him.

My oldest son asked if he could come with us, and I was a bit hesitant at first. I warned him that it would be long and probably boring in parts for him. Told him that he probably wouldn't get most of the references she would make. Then told him that he could come if he finished all his homework, put on a nice shirt and combed his hair.

Inside, I was bursting with pride that he'd even ask.

His sister wanted to go briefly, until she realized that she'd probably get bored. Sitting still just isn't part of who she is.

We drove down to Denver last week to pick up my husband and head to the campus. We'd been warned in advance that no bags or purses would be permitted in the building, but people are stupid and oblivious and always seem to think that somehow they'll be allowed to bring their stuff in because they are special.

All that meant is that the security line took forever. The Secret Service and US Marshals aren't a very forgiving group, and aren't going to be talked into letting anyone bring stuff in that they aren't allowed to. After almost an hour and a half in line, we finally got through the metal detectors.

You know I laughed at the piles of purses abandoned on the ground, while I simultaneously cursed all the purse owners in my head for making the entire process take longer for everyone.

Anyway, we got in. Barely. She had already started speaking by the time we cleared security.

I walked into the gymnasium to see this.


Yes, we were that close.

She was talking about her childhood, about being raised in the projects in a home where Spanish was the predominant language. About struggling in school until she made a conscious effort to learn English, realizing that the only way to success was through education. She talked about how her cousin, close in age to her, turned to drugs and died of AIDS in his twenties, and how growing up in the kind of childhood she had gave her an equal chance at either fate. It's only out of resolute stubbornness that she is where she is today.

I had a feeling that she would talk about living with Type 1 Diabetes, and waited with baited breath for the moment that someone would ask her about it. She was diagnosed at 8 years old, twice the age my son is now. Though he's not yet fully diagnosed, he very well may end up spending the rest of his life dealing with this condition.

She spoke about how she learned from a very young age that things were just going to be different for her. She had to be more aware. She had to take better care of herself. She had to be present in the moment, she had to remember what happened in the past and she had to always prepare for the future. Rather than being angry or frustrated at the disease that so often altered her life, she chose to embrace it as a child.

It is a part of who she is, but it does not define her.

I stood in the gym, tears running down my face. Here before me, this woman who'd lived almost her entire life with the very thing my son may have, and she sits on the highest court in our nation. If she could do that, he can and will be able to be successful in whatever he wishes. We just have to make sure that this disease isn't allowed to tell him otherwise.

I know there are a few T1 moms who are reading this right now, so I'll just give you a moment.

When asked what she thought the most important Supreme Court decision is, her answer was quick and precisely what I thought she would say. Brown v. The Board of Education. She elaborated by saying that although that decision to end segregation in schools was pivotal, what was more important is what people did with it. The changes that occurred in towns and cities. The changes within individuals. She talked about the importance of equality and how our society must continue to strive towards it.

She closed the event by talking about how essential it is for people to be involved. To use their talents to help their communities. To take part in society. To be active members. To appreciate civic responsibility. To not sit idly and complain, but actually to take steps to effect change. To expose injustices. To do it better.

And that's when I started crying for the second time.

When the formal interview was finished, the Secret Service tried to usher her quickly off stage. Being the security nightmare she must be, she refused. She grabbed the microphone and told everyone in the room that if they'd sit down so that her handlers calmed down, she'd come say hi.

To all of us.

And she did. She walked up and down the bleachers. She stopped and talked with people. She posed for pictures. She smiled and thanked everyone for coming.

The area we were sitting in meant that our section would be the last she would visit. So we sat. And we waited.

Then this happened.


She walked right up to my son, shook his hand and asked him his name. Asked what grade he was in, and if any of his classmates had any idea where he was right now. She told him that 6th grade was really important in her life, as it was the year she realized how important it was to push herself to achieve at higher levels. She asked him what classes he was in, and he told her that he's in the advanced math class, the advanced writing class and is directing his first movie for a school project.

Then she looked at me and said, "Good job, Mom". She reached out to shake my hand.

As she turned to move on to the next person waiting, she glanced back at him and told him to keep it up. The world needs smart kids, the world needs him.

A grin spread all the way across his face, then mine.

She is a living, breathing piece of history. She is a model of conquering a disease that hits too close to home.

She is an inspiration.

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