Posts Tagged ‘My Beloved World’

My father went to a live simulcast of Sonia Sotomayor‘s 92nd St. Y appearance in January and then recommended My Beloved WorldHe told me it offers a sense of what a remarkable person Ms. Sotomayor is, not only because of what she overcame in her life but also because of who she is as a human being. I think his assessment sums it up nicely.

Sonia Sotomayor’s story is inspiring, true, but lots of people survive chronic illness, climb their way out of poverty, grow up with one parent, or overcome prejudice (to be fair, few manage such success in spite of all of that at once). What my dad noted, and I too enjoyed, is that she has reached heights most of us never will and yet her tone is humble as well as clear-eyed. She doesn’t claim false modesty about her gifts: a sharp intellect, an inquiring nature, a “competitive spirit,” early and persistent self-reliance, a deeply rooted sense that “there are no bystanders in this life,” a grandmother and mother who modeled “generosity of spirit,” and a strongly held belief in “this ideal of law as a noble purpose.” She’s grateful and a little awed, as if she can’t believe her life has actually gone the way it has.

She also notes that as early as high school, she could see “values that brook no compromise . . . integrity, fairness, and the avoidance of cruelty. But I have never accepted the argument that principle is compromised by judging each situation on its own merits, with due appreciation of the idiosyncrasies of human motivation and fallibility. Concern for individuals, the imperative of treating them with dignity and respect for their ideas and needs, regardless of one’s own views — these too are surely principles and as worth as any of being deemed inviolable. To remain open to understandings — perhaps even to principles — as yet not determined is the least that learning requires.” In the section about working as a prosecutor she writes about how whenever she sent someone to jail, it weighed on her to think of the family this impacted; she saw beyond the simple facts of each case.

This compassion, commitment to humanity and thoughtful consideration is just what I’d want if I ever had to appear before a judge. Her views on women and work reflect her nuanced thinking: “But as for the possibility of ‘having it all,’ career and family with no sacrifice to either, that is a myth we would do well to abandon, together with the pernicious notion that a woman who chooses one or the other is somehow deficient. To say that a stay-at-home mom has betrayed her potential is no less absurd that to suggest a woman who puts career first is somehow less a woman.” Amen, sister.

Another thing I found endearing is the way Sotomayor cites “faith in my potential for self-improvement” and talks about instances throughout her life where she realized there were things she didn’t know or had never learned — from the consistent use of verb tenses to opening a bank account, shopping for clothes that suit her, swimming, or even hugging loved ones — that she set out to accomplish with curiosity, openness, and determination. Her optimism applies to mankind in general; for someone who worked as a prosecutor and judge and has seen some of the worst of human behavior, it’s impressive that she believes “people can change; very few are carved in stone or beyond redemption.” I also admire the amiable feelings she has for her ex-husband, the way she reconciled with her mother over misunderstandings from her early life, and the way she admits she and her brother didn’t really get along as children but are unconditionally supportive of each other now.

Sotomayor’s book is an interesting read as social and cultural history and an enjoyable one as the story of a good woman who is in a position to bring all of her many gifts to bear on making a real difference in the world. If that weren’t incredible enough, she manages to admit her life is special and seem genuinely grateful and even a bit baffled that it should be so.

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