In the wake of the death of the great Justice Antonin Scalia, the Internet guarantees that there are many words. That is what the Internet provides--words. There are the evil words of those who hated him, spewing across the Twitter feed. There are the tributes with quotations of his own words, one of which I hope we will write soon at What's Wrong With the World. There are the free-standing quotations on Facebook, reminding us just how eloquent, profound, and pithy he was, how much he could say in how short a space. And then there are the debates about how to appoint his successor.
Since the great man's own vocation was one of words, it is fitting that he should be memorialized by bringing what he said and wrote to our minds. Since he loved the Constitution, it is fitting that those who also love it should discuss its implications (one way and another) for appointing his successor in an election year, or waiting until a new President is inaugurated.
At the same time, there is something within me, remembering the days and the years before the Internet, that rebels just a little at so many words. Sometimes it seems as though, in the avalanche of words in which we now live, we cannot concentrate on just one word--one quotation, one thing that epitomized the man, one speaking action, one human word eternally stamped upon the face of reality.
I am ambivalent about the tendency to make every important event about oneself. Where were you when the Challenger shuttle went down? Do you remember the moment you learned about 9/11? Did you ever get to meet ______? Such ways of framing events personalize the great happenings of this world, show children that history lives, and demonstrate the connections among men. At the same time, there is a whiff of narcissism about them, about reducing everything to me, me, me. So I hesitate to mention that I did, one time, have the great privilege of shaking Justice Scalia's hand. It was only a moment at a Federalist Society dinner at which he was speaking--a high point of my earthly pilgrimage. There was no long conversation. Indeed, I myself mostly stammered, having hoped for such a meeting for over a decade and, when it came to it, finding no words to say. I bring it up here only because it allows me to focus on just a few words. I remember that someone mentioned Justice Rehnquist, who was then ill. In the most natural way possible, with complete sincerity, Antonin Scalia said something like, "Pray for him. He needs it." He focused on those of us gathered round, yet he deftly and deprecatingly deflected our praise directed toward himself. He did not ask if we were Christians and would pray. He assumed it. His thought was for his sick colleague.
The greatness of Antonin Scalia lay in the fact that he was an aristocrat who lived to defend democracy. He did so because he believed that was right. That was his vocation. Thrust by the perversions of the Supreme Court and of the role of the federal government into the unwanted role of unelected oligarch in the United States, Scalia bore his burden of power with good humor, Christian humility, a touch of wryness, and unswerving integrity.
The truth of who Antonin Scalia was came out even in that moment greeting fans at a Federalist Society dinner. It came out, too, in this unbearably touching incident recounted by the libertarian pundit Jeffrey Tucker, at the time a silent, unsuspected eyewitness.
So if you admired Justice Scalia and are mourning his passing, do not feel that you have to read all of the words. Not just now, anyway. You may, instead, pick one word and focus on that, and let your meditation on it draw your mind to the God whom he served unto the end, Lord alike of the living and of the dead.