Mary Oliver wrote about them once, or perhaps more than once, depending on whether or not the revisions--assuming there were any--count as separate writings. But in what that writing or those writings ultimately produced, Oliver touched on a notion that has resonated with me, as I imagine it would with most who come across it.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile, the world goes on.
These words have meant a great deal to me since I first came across them 5 1/2 years ago in a poetry class at Duke University. Their meaning is clear on the surface: Bad things happen to all of us as individuals, and though our worlds may slow down or come to a halt, the world in which we live does not. What it means beyond that is not a matter of right and wrong, but of how it matters to the reader.
Different authors may intend for different writings to mean certain things--or various things. Or nothing at all. Mark Twain once wondered why his writings and words had to mean anything beyond the superficial read. Ernest Hemingway, however, thought of his writings as an iceberg, with only the top 10% visible to the reader. The rest had to be sought out.
I wonder now, as a law student, if it is a good thing or a bad thing that these two views from two great American authors also happen to represent the two views of interpreting the law: the textualist and the liberal?
There are, I'm surprised to have found, many similarities in interpreting a novel and interpreting a court opinion. There is ambiguous language; there are ambiguous policy goals; there are questions of a book's impact; there are concerns that the masses will only learn of its content through a cursory description in the media; and fears that the purpose will be misconstrued by those desirous and capable of misusing it
Up until recently, I had believed that the glaring distinction between a novel and a judicial opinion was the absence of heart in the latter. But a "final lecture" from our contracts professor has me thinking otherwise.
I should not have been so foolish. As the son of an attorney who loved the law and the way he was able to help others with it--in building companies, non-profits and so forth in what ultimately became a growing city as a result--I should have known that, at least, those who practice law are not without heart. And yet, since his passing, my approach to the law has been one of reluctance, for fear that it would require me to adhere to the bottom line rather than the greater good.
Now 3/4 of the way through my first year of law school, I fear I had become robotic and unfeeling in my approach to studying, if nothing else. It's hard not to, I suppose. There is an unending downpour of reading material, or rules to memorize and applications to master; there are nothing but bottom lines in law school. But there are relationships, and not just between people. But between students and the law. I am hopeful, then, that mine has taken a leap forward.
The best lawyers, I know, are not necessarily the ones that left law school with the highest grades, but the ones that were best able to apply that which they learned--skills more so than rules--to the people they served after law school. The cold world requires a certain level of proven proficiency, of course, but once the foot is in the door, application is what matters. Some lawyers apply those skills to dollars and sense. In a way, I suppose we all do, no matter our profession: dollars and sense are along the continuum, at some point in that future. The butterfly, after all, still beats its wings; and the farthest star still moves, if ever so slightly.
But what of me? I've come to law school with a very specific person of enabling myself to better advance society through access to education, the goal of which is to make everything better for everyone. I look at the world and I am saddened by so much of what I see; and hopeful at so much else. And I know that better education can accomplish so much in righting the wrongs I see in the world. Such anger there is, such despair.
I want to be the the kind of lawyer, and use the law in such a way, so that the despair that comes to others does not render their worlds stopped, but helps them go on.