I recognized the look on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s face. Her mouth was ajar and she was in a state of shock. She was standing with President Joe Biden in The Roosevelt Room as she watched the Senate cross the 50 vote threshold she needed to become the next associate justice on the United States Supreme Court.
What I saw was a culminating moment for an extremely impressive person. A woman who has worked hard all her life, attended the best schools, got the best clerkships, worked at good firms and served as a federal judge at the district and appellate court levels achieved the pinnacle of the judicial profession — Supreme Court Justice.
For this job, there are no promotions, no more stepping stones. Supreme Court Justices get the ever elusive lifetime contract — conditional upon good behavior. Jackson will likely serve on the Court until she retires or dies.
How can one word attempt to describe the feeling when you achieved the height of your profession and will remain in that job for as long as you want?
Bliss. Bliss is very different from joy. Joy is just great happiness. Bliss is perfect, unadulterated happiness.
Joyful moments happen often. Bliss on the other hand, is rare.
Joy is when you watch your favorite team notch a big, come-from-behind win during the regular season and you erupt in ecstatic shouts. Bliss is reaching a goal you have worked toward for years or decades.
I could only begin to connect and share in Judge Jackson’s triumph by remembering the last time my mouth was ajar, and tears welled up in my eyes. It was when I was confirmed in the Catholic Church on Easter of 2019.
Standing in front of Fr. Chris Podhajsky at St. Wenceslaus Church in Cedar Rapids, IA, I stood with my head bowed as I renewed my baptismal promises. Repeating the vows felt very surreal and was reminiscent of “The Godfather.” I was overcome with bliss as the congregation applauded my confirmation.
Unlike the sports example I mentioned before, I did not feel the urge to scream and shout. For once in my life, I was so overwhelmed by emotion I had nothing else to say. It felt like all the excitement in the universe was bottled up inside me, and I had no way — and no desire — to let any of it out. All I could do was absorb the moment.
I expect to be able to count these types of moments on one hand for the rest of my life. I love seeing that magical feeling happen for other people, whether it’s on a wedding day, the birth of a child or any other happy event.
So when I see Jackson’s reaction to her confirmation, or I look at the iconic picture of Michael Jordan crying as he held the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in 1991, I cannot help but share in their happiness and think about my own moment of pure bliss.
Americans should pause a moment to celebrate Jackson’s historic achievement. Moments like these don’t happen very often. Instead of spending all our energies on the negative — a pandemic, war in Ukraine or inflation, for example — let’s all take a moment to share in Judge Jackson’s moment of bliss.