It’s gotten so I cannot bear that word any more.
I can’t stand hearing it, much less using it.
Spectacular, excellent, remarkable, but great, uh-uh.
I can’t do it.
Sure, I get how it can spark people with its energy and excite them.
And how it communicates strength, conviction, and, yes, power.
But right now, it’s not for me.
Especially when our president uses it to rile up a crowd with a clenched fist spurring them on.
Better to use the words that have been missing.
Like truthful and trustworthy and principled and virtuous.
Better to inspire us to be kind to one another, to open our hands and hearts, not to close them.
Better to build bridges not walls.
Better to goad us to be good, not great.
So I was roused from my post inauguration malaise by the words last Monday of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as she addressed a rapturous crowd at the annual John P. Frank lecture at Arizona State University. Sotomayor was a particularly apt choice for the honor of speaking at the event in memory of Frank who was remembered as a defender and protector of so many of the freedoms we hold dear. He was an esteemed Arizona attorney who made full use of the rights and protections our constitution so exquisitely laid out and the enduring system of government it brilliantly created to assure that justice would not be deterred, equality stayed.
Sotomayor used the opportunity, just days after the momentous peaceful transfer of power and an equally momentous peaceful protest, to ever so gently inveigh against those who might not share Frank’s, and her, commitment to those ideals, to what it means to aspire to be “the city on the hill, the eyes of all the people on us.”
She invoked the cherished little girl in a large and fractious Puerto Rican family, poor immigrants drawn to America, that beacon on that hill that could light the way to a better life, who through hard work and fierce determination made her way from the South Bronx projects to the bench of the nation’s highest court. She spoke from a deep well of gratitude, from a wondrous appreciation for all that this county has allowed her to accomplish, with its remarkable expansiveness, its openness, its rich ethnic, cultural and religious mix and its innate freedoms. Our precious heritage, she reminded us, and our solemn responsibility as citizens to protect and uphold it.
Her remarks were infused with her warmth and humanity, her essential belief in the potential of this country, this people and its leaders, to be honest and just and compassionate and caring.
As she stepped down from the stage to walk from one side of the vast hall to the other, shaking hands, sharing hugs, kissing babies and embracing little ones as she continued to speak, her buoyant hope filled the room, and I felt my spirits soar.
This, I realized, this is that America that we aspire to be.
This is that America, where right trumps might, that America where our greatness is our goodness.