Dear Secretary Clinton,

Though everything in your personal history suggests that Tuesday’s defeat will not mark the end of your work in American public life, I can imagine that this will be a moment of reflection and recovery for you. And though we have some profound disagreements, on the occasion of this transition, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for some of the contributions you’ve made in the past quarter-century as one of the most prominent women in American politics.

In the two and a half decades that Americans have used you to work out our complex and contradictory ideas about women, work, and marriage, I have been moved by your dignity and resilience.

I don’t envy you the compromises — the enforced cookie-baking, the meeting with a group of female journalists to ask for advice on how to present yourself — or what must have been moments of agony in your marriage. But as I’ve watched you from a very great distance, I have been grateful to you for bearing some of the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune that is the lot, in different degrees and forms, of all the women of this country. Every insult that didn’t level you, and every moment of absurdity you absorbed without staggering, helped start conversations about the expectations and standards women face.

You didn’t have a solution for this conundrum. None of us do. But if you couldn’t solve American gender politics in the span of a life, or act as a shield against the harshness directed at other women, you created space for the rest of us. We won’t surrender it.

Thank you for your commitment to service.

Defeat is not easy to accept with grace, and there is always a temptation in the days that follow to choose a different course or to withdraw entirely from the fray. After President Bill Clinton’s plans for comprehensive health-care reform failed during his first term, you became one of the champions of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. After you lost to then-Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 primary, you campaigned for him and served as his secretary of state. You’ve demonstrated over and over again that you are truly committed to your pledge to “Do all the good you can,” even if the gains are smaller than you might have hoped, or if doing that good requires you to put aside hurt feelings. This is an exhortation and a model that we all ought to emulate in the weeks and months to come.

In the days since the election, I have thought frequently of the example you set in reaching out to others and forming life-long friendships with them.