Last night the husband and I got out the emergency whiskey. This sacred bottle of Washington State Woodinville Rye has seen us through multiple disasters. The sudden deaths, some years apart, of two very beloved dogs. The loss of a beloved colleague. The stunning outcome of the 2016 Presidential election. It’s a smart, electric whiskey chock full of caramel flavor, once the burn subsides.
Some deaths are like shocks. The unexpected ones, that is. Unlike that of an aging parent or aunt, for whom long life brings one around to the ending of things, these deaths deserve the rye. A toast. Two fingers in a shot glass.
We had just learned of the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a death that was both unexpected and expected. She had bravely overcome many close calls, so we stared stunned at the news flash on my phone. How did this happen? Why now? It’s not fair.
It feels like a gut punch. We’re already down—not quite on our knees but swaying a bit after the blows of COVID-19 and the Oregon infernos. This. Now. Not to be borne.
Yesterday and the day before, the smoke was blown and pummeled away by uncharacteristically vivacious thunderstorms. Loud, Thor-tossing bolts arrowed across the sky like the weapons of a comic book hero coming to rescue us. The rain on our skylights sounded like rocks. I was imagining pumice from the volcanic Cascade Range, spewed into the air by the wildfires, raining down on us from Valhalla. We rejoiced. We could breathe again. We could go outside again. Thor had been racing across Oregon in his goat-drawn thunder chariot, leaving fresh wind-driven air behind.
The fires are still burning, and many folk have lost homes and livelihoods. It’s not a good time. The pandemic has not gone away and is unlikely to any time soon. The scientist in me knows that a vaccine will not circulate down to most Americans until mid-year 2021, at the earliest. And even then it will likely be 40 to 50% effective. Masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizers are the new norm.
So when we got the news that RGB had lost her last round with mortality, it felt like the coffin was closing over us. Yeah, I know that sounds morbid and a little hysterical, but emotions behave badly. Of course, one could argue, it is our choice to be progressive, but belief systems as we all know, have a way of getting into our DNA. Thor is associated with law and justice. Once, all work stopped on Thursdays, his day. Oaths, and business deals were sworn in his name. When you have a god like Thor around, with his hammer and iron glove, you don’t have much of a choice. Belief and faith are not choices, but innate, instinctive outlooks.
The husband was in tears. I scrolled through the Twitterverse, sharing my agony with many others whose reactions, condensed into carefully selected words like poetry, were exactly mine. We drank our shots of rye, and there was a thumb of Laphroaig Scotch left in another bottle—this collection of spirits is very old—so we shared that, too. The Notorious RGB earned the state of pop idol and icon in the last decades of her life, a thing, I think, only bestowed upon Thurgood Marshall. (Which doesn’t help because it brings to mind actor Chaswick Boseman’s premature death. He portrayed Marshall in a 2017 film about Marshall’s early career.) I presume it’s my bias that makes me believe that no conservative justice has been so revered.
Thor spent a lot of his time fighting giants and in futile attempts to overcome the serpent of Midgard (middle earth, the land between heaven and hell—in other words, where we mortals live.) The serpent, who encircles the earth and bites his tail, is the cause of earthly storms. The metaphor that begs attention is climate change, resulting from not just fossil fuels, but by ignorance and greed. Thor (Ruth? Thurgood?) can’t get rid of the guy, but he keeps trying. Teutonic myth includes the ending of all things known as Ragnarök, predicted by years of endless winter, rampant crime, and fire. To prevent Ragnarök, the gods try to capture and restrain Loki (did he have orange hair?) but they fail—all of creation is destroyed in the aftermath of Loki’s escape.
Even this dreadful myth, life continues. Both the dwarfs and the giants survive. If the dwarfs are clever enough—they forged Thor’s hammer, after all—maybe they can thrive, overcome the giants, save the planet and preserve the unique world of American law, where still, I think, justice stumbles along.