Four years ago, living lonely in an enormous apartment overseas, I found company in that most welcoming of places: the Internet. At least once a week, I would clear a space on my hardwood floor, crack open one of the vertical windows that faced my alley, and spread out my yoga mat. Arlene Bjork’s warm voice, captured in a podcast that sometimes crackled when the mic got too closer to her lips, filled that overwhelming space with laughter and wisdom. I didn’t know her, but I considered her a teacher and a friend. In the shakiest moments, when holding a particular pose just didn’t seem realistic, her voice would echo off the empty walls: Stay encouraged.
Easier said than done, perhaps, but it’s also easier done when someone is telling you that you can. That’s why, on this occasion of International Women’s Day, I am especially encouraged by the profile of Ruth Bader Ginsberg in this week’s New Yorker, which offers this insight:
Although Ginsberg graduated at the top of her class, in 1959, she did not receive a single job offer. (Neither did Sandra Day O’Connor when she graduated from Stanford Law, seven years earlier.) Ginsberg scrounged for work. A famous professor, Gerald Gunther, essentially extorted a federal judge in Manhattan [to hire her].
As difficult as it is to imagine Justice Ginsberg ever “scrounging,” I am grateful for this insight into her early struggles. If she and O’Connor hadn’t stayed encouraged, hadn’t persevered, hadn’t tenaciously sought out opportunities to prove themselves, and if others hadn’t come along and supported them, we might still be looking at the Supreme Court and saying that putting a woman there just isn’t realistic.
I planned to visit Arlene at her studio in Richmond one day. I wanted to let her know how much her teaching meant to me. How I had carried her encouragement off that yoga mat, out of that empty apartment, and into my life, building something I became very proud of. But after a while, I noticed that there were no new podcasts. When I finally searched the Internet for answers, I learned that Arlene had passed away.
Sometimes we do not get to see the impact we have on others’ lives, whether we are the ones mentoring them or whether we are simply making brave choices for ourselves. But even if we never live to accomplish all that we dream, and even if our voices are only heard in some disembodied future, it’s worth it to keep telling ourselves and others to stay encouraged. You never know what we will achieve.