On Tuesday night, I, and a packed SEFCU Arena audience at SUNY Albany, heard and saw Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. My Bronx pride and Latina pride were tapped to the fullest. After all, I too am a (part) Puerto RIcan girl from the Bronx who fiercely loves books and the Yankees.* She’s a real role model for women, Latinx, and liberals; it was a real honor to listen to her.
Justice Sotomayor is a raconteur, and her storytelling abilities make me look forward to reading the complementary copy of her memoir that was handed out at the event, “My Beloved World.”
As the Justice moved through the audience, shaking hands, carefully watched by the U.S. Marshals who follow her everywhere, she told us many stories about her life, and the people in her life, including her beloved abuelita and her colleagues on the Court.
I was really touched by her reason for wanting to write the book. She admits she was scared on first arriving at the Court, being thrust into the limelight, and ‘needed to find a way to hold on to Sonia.’ Even more powerfully she reflected that she wanted to make sure ‘I didn’t let power corrupt me.’ I wish every figure in politics and who plays a role in our civic life felt that duty; it is clear from her decisions that she identifies with the plight of average citizens (see her dissent in Utah v. Strieff for one example) and especially the historically disadvantaged.
The audience seemed to especially lean in and soak in her words when she spoke to women about not expecting gender discrimination to end anytime soon. I was struck by her examples of times when someone made a remark or treated her as ‘less’ because she is a woman, and her willingness to note that there’s no ‘magic formula’ and that we have to take people’s motives into account and respond in a commensurate way. Someone treating you unfairly in an unconscious way merits a different response than someone in a position of power who is acting with malice.
My “a-ha” moment of the night came when Justice Sotomayor (who I always think of as Sonia truth be told) described how she had to deal with the medical horrors of childhood diabetes; she credits that disease and the prognosis that she would die by age 40 with teaching her the ‘value of every minute of my life.’ Because of her illness she’s always thrown herself into learning and projects and was unusually driven even at a young age. Her advice to the audience: ‘Squeeze as much out of life as you can,’ and meet people that ‘enrich us and make us grow.’ I take this heart, for as she pointed out, we really don’t when our last day is- none of us is privy to that information.
When asked she spoke how she was able to overcome some of the challenges of her childhood and she credits a mother who always keep her occupied with projects and tasks and tied that idea to supporting after school programs; Justice Sotomayor is big supporter of after school programs, saying that children need to be supervised and productive and parents just often have to work. It is a very common sense and I respect that outlook as well as her view that law is service and that law is really a way to regulate the relationships people have with one another.
The evening ended and I, and I’m sure most people in the audience felt uplifted. The biggest takeaway for me is to start questioning myself regularly about whether I am squeezing enough out of life. Comfort and ease can be the thing that keeps us free from growing, and part of living on a spiritual path is not being too comfortable, but getting out of our comfort zones. Squeeze more out of this big old world and your big old life.
*For the record, Bernie Williams is Justice Sotomayor’s favorite Yankee of all time. Great choice, right?