As we celebrate the Independence of the United States today, one topic that is on many minds is the surprise resignation of Supreme Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on Friday. Whoever President Bush nominates as her replacement is sure to be the subject of intense scrutiny and debate. But rather than get into the politics of who should be nominated and why, it seems appropriate today to reflect a bit on O'Connor's story, and how "little things" can make such a big difference.
O'Connor graduated near the top of her class at Stanford Law School (only two people placed higher, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is also expected to retire soon), and yet was unable to find work at first due the fact that she was a woman. She was told on one occasion "Miss Day, how do you type? We don't hire women and I don't see the day when we will." O'Connor persevered by creating an opportunity for herself, offering to work for free at a law firm that finally did hire her without a paycheck. Eventually she built a reputation for herself, moving up in the system until President Reagan nominated her for the Supreme Court position she has held for nearly a quarter of a decade. It is well known that O'Connor cast the deciding vote on many split decisions, and that many of the rulings that affect everyday life in America today exist because of her influence.
I have often thought about the difficulty of finding work that follows my ministry call, but also pays me enough to make a living and pay the rent. I have not always felt able to take a position that I'd be well suited for, because I felt that I wouldn't be able to make enough money to survive. Although O'Connor did have a husband, family, and other friends that most likely were able to support her in her decision to work for free, I must assume that this decision did not come easily for her. She had to make a substantial sacrifice in order to do the work she had been trained to do (and was well qualified for, if her Stanford ranking is any indication, let alone her subsequent experience). If she had not been willing to make that sacrifice then, she would never have risen in the ranks the way she did, and would never have been nominated to the Supreme Court. American history for the past quarter-century would be considerably different.
"Little things" matter. I'm sure O'Connor had no idea what was in store for her as she swallowed her pride and took that no-pay job. She certainly indicated surprise at the path her career had taken in many of her public appearances. Would I be able to make the same sacrifice to do what God has trained me to do? What impact would we, as Christians, make if we were more collectively able to forgo "making a living" and just do the tasks that God has given us that abilities and desires to do?
I don't have any answers, but on a holiday that is all about the sacrifices of a group of people for the sake of higher ideals, it bears thinking about.
There are lots of articles available on O'Connor's life, especially right now. Here are a few links:
The Toledo Blade
The Denver Post
Road Trip Nation
Barnard College Newsletter