Most of the time we go through life, day in day out, not thinking at all about the Big Questions or whether there is an end to all of this. Then one day the question is called. And you have to ask yourself; what have I achieved?
While hospitalized this spring with a serious infection that started in my foot and reached up the length of my leg, I had plenty of time to think of how many lawyers I know who had passed on. Perhaps it is only my imagination, but It bothers me thinking that many may have reached the Great Divide without ever really achieving anything at all like what they had set out to do.
The infection itself scared me straight and caused me to seriously consider my health. Ok that is the easy part, but it really is time to take stock and consider what you have done, or failed to do. Why is there this uneasy feeling that this is all there is? What is missing? Is there some step in a mans journey here on earth I have missed?
I decided to go back to the beginning for answers. Not my beginning or the countries birth, but Western Civilization and Myth, meaning not things that are untrue but instead that reoccurring story which is meant to explain existence and the way of man; e.g.The Iliad, the Odyssey, Jason and the Argonauts and all that followed them.
Because Western Civilization is “bad” and normally taught in this post-modern age starting with a scolding about the Sin of Columbus, these works were never assigned to me in school. I had to find them on the shelf of a classically educated man, my father. They were there waiting for me, with Joseph Campbell’s 1949 classic on the topic, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
As my study progressed I realized I had seen this movie before. It was called Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix or The Wizard of Oz but it is all the same story, and the story is important to us obviously, just look at the box office receipts. So here is what we love to hear or see over and over:
The hero is called on a quest to become something greater than he is, largely beginning with some blunder or intervening event in an otherwise dull but peaceful life. He is a farm boy and some robots fall out of the sky. He tries to repair one and after a spark a projection begins. He is called by the goddess in the hologram produced from R2D2 to come rescue her. Her call is to the wizard Obi Wan Kenobi, but the farm boy has insight and knows he has to be part of this. He is called.
He already wants to leave home, has courage and a vision of what may be beyond this existence, somewhere as Dorothy Gail thought, over the rainbow. In all these myths there is “the leaving”, often represented by a door, waterway, a bridge and more recently airplanes and spaceships. Recall Dorothy steps from the black and white to color as she steps through the door of the blown away farmhouse.
Along the way he or she meets dangers and survives them, encounters some goddess like Glenda the Good Witch or wizard named Gandalf or Obi Wan Kenobi who helps he or she along the way, providing growth and powers to overcome what lies ahead, and in the end clasps his hand on some Holy Grail, then returns victorious to his humanity. Tap those ruby slippers, there’s no place like home.
Here is what I also found:
Immortality is rejected. Ulysses is on the beach with the lovely Calypso who has offered him an easy life that never ends. But he chooses to leave, to brave the sea and Neptune’s wrath for having blinded his son, to return to his wife and child on Ithaca and live out a normal man’s life. He finds all the pain ordinary humanity has to offer when he arrives, but it was the right choice to come back because he is a better man than he left, and only a man. Like Achilles, whose mother tried to burn off the mortality by dipping him in the river Styx holding him on to that heel, we all have to recognize we are only human.
I suppose we could say we were all “called” to the bar yet the epic story doesn’t really hold up unless one becomes a jurist of some stature.
Certainly we have faced down dangers but few of us can say we have returned with the Grail. All those divorce decrees entered somehow do not cut it. At most going to trial and coming back with a win does, but there is no such thing as a clean win in the dissolution practice. And mediation, while ultimately good for the clients whether they acknowledge this or not, leaves the lawyer untested by any fire. He cannot be the hero there, and instead has to find something else to live out his Western Civilization myth.
Some go all in on pro bono representation and become the hero with the 1000 cases. Often these men are disbarred due to the great equalizing fact that there is only so much time, and taking on all that uncompensated work means somewhere, somehow, a matter will be neglected and the beautiful maiden the lawyer has promised to rescue suddenly is the witch, and files a bar complaint.
The president of our student body at the Gonzaga Law School failed in this fashion. I have a vivid memory of him telling us all in class our goal was to help people, not to make money. He did ultimately neither; he was disbarred for neglect of matters a few years after we graduated. Similarly, a few years back the winner of the New York State pro bono award was disbarred for the same reason that same year.
I doubt these men carry that achievement as the Holy Grail, their apotheosis from which they can return to mere mortal status and walk among us. Unlike Obi Wan, Anikan and Yoda, they cannot go back to active status among the rest of the bar.
It is said that my Gonzaga classmate and colleague David Kastle never turned down a pro bono case. David died suddenly in 2005 and I pray he had in some manner achieved his apotheosis before departing so abruptly. Is it the stress of all this effort is too much for the hero?
No matter how badly we want to divorce ourselves from the traditions of Western Civilization we just cannot; it is baked into our cakes. We love this story because we see ourselves in it, and all want to be the hero and we are ready to take on considerable risk to attain that goal.
So I am not really sure if I have reached my apotheosis and now can rest. If so, shouldn’t I have my own personal anthem well up in the sound track of my life, and the credits roll? If they do I hope it is a beach with the sun setting and it sounds a lot like a Jimmy Buffett hosted beach party.
Pocket full of wages burning holes in my jeans, brown island beauty burning holes in my dreams, guess you might say its some kind of sign, there’s got to be some better things to do with my time.
I been up on the main land much too long, the money wasn’t bad but the job was all wrong. Three days ago I made up my mind, I hauled up the anchor and I left it behind.
Now the sails are full and she’ll carry me down to the diamond lights of an island town. Dark eyed girl and a bottle of rum, are waiting for me at the end of my run. The dolphins are racing off of the beam, I lean on the wheel and let her run with the stream, big yellow moon rising out of the sea light on the water, point the way home to me.