A Stranger’s Snap Judgment Prompted Sonia Sotomayor to Help Others

“That injection you saw me give to myself is insulin. It’s the medicine that keeps me alive.”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor talks to children during an event promoting her new children's book.John Amis/AP

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Diagnosed with diabetes in her youth, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was injecting herself with insulin in a restaurant restroom before a meal when another customer spotted her there.

Sotomayor later heard that customer tell a companion that the justice was a drug addict.

“Madam, I am not a drug addict,” Sotomayor responded. “I am diabetic, and that injection you saw me give to myself is insulin. It’s the medicine that keeps me alive. If you don’t know why someone’s doing something, just ask them. Don’t assume the worst in people.”

The encounter has stuck with Sotomayor for years, she told NPR—and spurred her to write the children’s book Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You. Her intention: to portray 12 kids working together to build a garden. Just like the plants, the kids are different—two have autism, for example; one has asthma; and another has Tourette syndrome.

“I wanted to talk about children like me,” Sotomayor said. “Each of us is doing what we do best…each child is doing something to contribute to the garden, despite how they’re differently able.”

Here are more Recharge stories to get you through the week:

“She was our best reporter.” Skeptical and curious journalist Dora Walters knew everybody in Longboat Key, Florida, and broke news into her 80s. She may have been prickly in the newsroom, but she dropped birthday cards on the desks of her colleagues and brought back treats from her trips to Mexico. On her final day of life, she had to go to the birthday party of a 98-year-old friend and turn in her weekly column. Of course, she made the party—and the deadline as well, said longtime friend Dawn DiLorenzo. “Nothing could keep her down,” DiLorenzo said. Thanks to Recharge reader William Weinbaum for the tip. (Longboat Observer)

Happy little trees. Bob Ross, the chia-haired painter and cult star of public TV’s The Joy of Painting, didn’t just paint trees. He painted “happy little trees,” as in this 21-second video for MTV. Decades after the cheerful painter’s death, Bob Ross Inc. has partnered with the state of Michigan to help promote the planting of trees. The state is renaming a prison program that grows 1,000 trees a year to replace those in state parks that have been severely damaged. The Happy Little Trees program, with Bob Ross’ likeness on signage at state parks and on volunteer T-shirts, has already spurred help. “We put a call out to volunteers and said, ‘If you help us replace trees in state parks, you get a happy planting T-shirt,’” said Michelle Coss, volunteer and donor coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Parks and Recreation Division. “We had over 500 people sign up to help us plant trees.” (Roadtrippers Magazine)

A new crop. Since we last checked, in July, nearly 100 Little Free Pantries have sprung up outside homes and places of worship, bringing the total of informal food centers to nearly 700. Modeled after the Little Free Libraries’ take-something-leave-something movement, these pantries, with nonperishable food and indispensable items (think toothpaste, tampons, socks, school supplies) have become a judgment-free zone for those struggling to get by. “I felt like our world is in a pretty cruddy place and it felt very insurmountable—and I wanted to do something to give back,” said Tara Duffy, who built a Little Free Pantry outside her church in Burbank, California. Duffy said that for her two children, ages 7 and 3, the pantry is “a great example…that no one’s safe, no one’s exempt from bad things happening—and that if people need support, we can do things to help them.” (Los Angeles Times)

I’ll leave you with this sweeping image from the Delaware Water Gap, dividing Pennsylvania and New Jersey, via the Interior Department’s Twitter feed. Thanks so much for reading, and have a great week ahead!

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