A Familiar Face in D.C. - by Greer Clem
A few weeks ago, I went to our nation’s capitol for the first time in my life, and there I saw a familiar face. One hand draped lazily over a thick, red book on the table beside him, the other hand splayed on his knee, Scalia was wearing a red striped tie over his blue collared shirt, his justice’s robes open as though put on as an afterthought. Rosy cheeks and bright eyes, his expression was one of kind disinterest, as though sitting for the portrait was an honor he simply did not have time for. It’s funny to say but I felt as though I had run into an old friend. I met Scalia once and for a few minutes, but I largely credit him for setting me me on the path I am on today.
The invitation I received my sophomore year of college to meet Scalia was based on enthusiasm alone. At the time that my professor invited me, I was a floundering student. I had had my heart broken for the first time just before the school year only to have a close family friend then pass away in late september. When early October rolled around, you could say I was lost, adrift, or any other more elegant way of saying that I felt like shit. Academics, which had always felt like inspiring guideposts, had lost meaning to me. They seemed routine and hollow, like something I had enjoyed in a former life. Deadlines and attendance, which I had always followed with absurd seriousness, now seemed arbitrary. I hadn’t completely lost it, but I definitely felt close. Perhaps, even through all of this, my love of American history still came through. Perhaps I just looked like shit and my professor thought I could use a break. To this day, I’m not sure on what basis I merited the invitation I received to attend dinner at the president’s house and meet Scalia, but I do know it could now have come at a better time nor with more subsequent meaning.
For the first time in several weeks, I had a reason to put myself together. I wore a dress my mom had bought for one of my high school graduation services, pulled my hair back, and put on some makeup. I got to attend a private Q and A with Scalia before he gave his speech to the school where a gaggle of other invited students lined up, ties on tight, khakis pressed, all crowding together like the seagull’s from "Finding Nemo" to claim their questions. Who’s next? Scalia would ask. “Mine! Mine Mine!” they squaked. I hid in one of the farther back rows, listening to a man I was acting as though I did not have time for. I knew it was a big deal to be invited - I don’t mean to misrepresent myself - but I also knew a bit of who Scalia was. I knew him to be a religious man who was pro-life and wrote harsh condemnation of liberal ideologies. I thought he was antiquated, that I was part of the younger, more enlightened generation of people who would change the world.
I’ve already written about the experience of meeting Scalia and hearing him speak, which you can read here if you have not yet. But when I saw his familiar face in the halls of the Supreme Court, I was reminded once again how profound an effect he had on me. I laughed to myself as I took a picture of his portrait, a snapshot of an old friend in the city I one day hope to work in. My dad joked, as he took my picture standing in the foyer to the Supreme courtroom, “Maybe one day you’ll be a justice!” It was one of those beautiful comments that only parents can get away with, but when I took a picture of a man I once thought I was bound to detest, I thought how lucky I would be to sit on the bench with a man like him. We were not so different, him and I, and he could challenge the brightest liberal minds to reconsider their positions. Not that the man was a saint, but he believed in our country and he believed in its laws, and he carried them out to the best of his ability with the judgment and respect he believed our country deserved. Had I not met him, I may never have considered applying for an internship in law. I may never have considered applying to law school or setting my sights as high as Washington. Maybe he just came along at the right time in my life - maybe I give him too much credit, even. But, in moments where our country feels more divided than ever, I miss the inspiration he instilled in me. I was glad to see his familiar face and glad to be reminded that this is a country we both loved.
(Photo for this article is the photo I took in D.C. of his portrait)