Thursday, September 08, 2022

Of Love and Loss

By Eric Segall

Followers of this blog know that Mike, Neil and I have each suffered great losses over the last few weeks. Mike lost his wife Sherry Colb, Neil lost his sister, and my best friend of 45 years and college roommate lost his wife Bonni the day after Sherry passed. In fact, I was on my way to Sherry's funeral when Rob called me to tell me Bonni had died.

I am so grateful to Mike, whose name is on the blog, to let me write my weekly posts for the last decade mostly about how the Court isn't a court, how originalism is mostly about faith not reason, numerous other legal issues, and, from time to time, about personal matters, sometimes very serious, like when my Mother died, and sometimes trivial, like my love for the NBA. Writing a weekly post, while obviously often self-indulgent, has been a great release for me over the years and I greatly appreciate Mike and Neil, and the regular readers of this blog, for putting up with all this. 

So with all that as a disclaimer, I want to say just a few words about love and loss.

I did not know Neil's sister at all so I can't speak to that other than to say I am so sorry for his loss. 

I started to get to know Sherry in recent years through direct e-mails and when she came on my podcast (more on that below), and through talking about her with Mike. But I also thought I was getting to know her much better through her constant blogging over the last few months of her life. What a voice! Clear, distinct, honest, and saying through her posts what so many of us were thinking in our hearts and minds about the draft Dobbs opinion, then the final one, and abortion. Here are a couple of representative examples:

She started one of her posts this way: 

It has been a little while since I last analyzed/ranted about some of the countless things wrong with the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. The hiatus has given me a welcome opportunity to discover some more things to hate about that wretched piece of writing. Aiding in the process were conversations with women during which I learned that women who oppose forced pregnancy and birth do not just feel disappointment, dejection, and the sense that their lives (our lives) count less than the "life" of a fertilized egg the size of the period at the end of this sentence....

And here's another in which Sherry first recounted the Fox News Justices' (my term) use of complicity to assist those who brought religious claims against generally applicable laws, and then she wrote the following:

Interestingly, though, the Court does not always honor efforts to avoid complicity in conduct that a person regards as immoral. In Carson v. Makin, the Court struck down a Maine school voucher program that offered vouchers (because the state is too spread out to provide public schools for everyone) only for secular schools. The schools that complained were religious institutions that exclude children of same-sex couples, expel gay children and trans children, and require teachers, staff, and students in grades 7 through 12 to declare their fidelity to Jesus Christ. Some substantial fraction of the people of Maine likely feel complicit in this classic bullying behavior by the schools that they are, for now, compelled to subsidize through vouchers. I know that I would rather my tax dollars go to support a boxing match than to the hotbeds of bigotry, bullying, and brainwashing that prevailed in Carson. But the Supreme Court apparently does not care about protecting against that sort of complicity.

The Court has accordingly identified the evils that count for complicity claims, and those evils do not include homophobia or other ugly religiously-motivated bigotry. Therefore, we may all eventually become accomplices in the enforcement of such bigotry. In the hands of this Court, the Free Exercise Clause confers a right to persecute the weak. If a religiously scrupled employer believes that loud noises cause abortions and thus refuses to hire women of child-bearing age to work in his factory, then he has a decent chance of receiving an exemption from Title VII.

I tell my students to say exactly what they mean in as few words as possible. My goodness Sherry had that skill. And, she was as good off the paper as on. Here is her podcast with me in which she pulled no punches about abortion, being vegan, and a host of other matters (this was before the Dobbs leak). If you want an opportunity to see Sherry in action, I think you'll find it educational and inspiring.

Now just a few words about the loss of Bonni, whom I met three hours after Rob met her in 1977 when we were both sophomores at Emory University. I have been really grappling with this devastating blow to my best friend, to me, and to all who knew and loved Bonni. Theirs is a unique love story because Bonni almost died when she was 37 due to kidney failure. It was much harder back then to find kidneys that would match for people who needed them, Without such a match, Bonni would have certainly died. As great luck would have it, Rob, her husband, was a match, and she lived the rest of her life with Rob's kidney inside of her.

Like Mike and Sherry, Rob and Bonni were just kids when they met. When she died, Rob called me and said that, in effect, "there was always Bonni." Their marriage like all unions, was far from perfect, and Bonni, like all people, had her set of flaws. I agree with Neil's elegant words that the "desire to focus on happy memories and to emphasize the good after a loved one's death should not cause us to paint an inaccurate picture." Rob and Bonni had their ups and downs like all couples but they had celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this July 3--no easy feat.

Rob asked me to say a few words about Bonni at her shiva the night after her funeral. I told a few funny stories about her but wanted to end it in a serious manner. I was really struggling with that while preparing my remarks. What can one say to someone who has lost so much so unexpectedly. I don't pretend that what I came up with was particularly profound or would make the loss any easier but it was, if nothing else, sincere. 

I said that I knew Rob, before Bonni, during Bonni, and now I would have to know him after Bonni, something I never thought would happen, and the pain was almost too much to bear. And because I am not a person of faith, I was really struggling with how to explain all this loss. So all I could say was something that I knew to be true (and I'm sure it is true for Mike as well). Although Bonni was gone, she had made Rob a better husband, father, friend and person, and no matter where his life goes after this tragedy, no matter what his future has in store, her huge imprint on him and his character would never, ever go away. 

And that's about all I know to say about love and loss.