The Only Real Choice
Whoever said that love is blind was dead wrong.
Love is the only thing on this earth that lets us see each other
with the remotest accuracy.
–Martha Beck, Expecting Adam
My favorite law professor and friend had a stroke just over a month ago, and may still be in a coma. I found out last week because I had a strong urge to talk to him, although we haven’t spoken for almost a year. When his assistant described his condition,I was barely able to respond. Not shocked, just terribly, terribly sad. I cried for several hours throughout the day as I recalled my time with him, and his impact on my life. He was brilliant in the broadest way, and I came alive in his classroom. His sharp wit helped me to really enjoy the study of constitutional law. I actually began to read Supreme Court cases for pleasure, because he opened me to the nuances that made them read like literature. My exam was given an American Jurisprudence award for Criminal Procedure, although he didn’t know it was my exam when he graded it. He wasn’t at all surprised when he learned the award went to me, but I was. I’ll never forget the day he asked me if I “did this stuff in another life”, because he thought I was such a natural at it. I took every class he taught after that, and loved them. Constitutional law in still my passion, and I credit him for allowing me to love something in a profession that landed me in middle of fights and disputes, for a living. Other professors nominated him for a prestigious teaching award a couple of years ago, and he asked me to write a recommendation for him, even though we hadn’t even spoken in over ten years, and I last been his student in 1988. He told me that I was the first person he thought of to ask.
I believe I fell in love with constitutional law in part because he loved it too, and radiated that passion. My sadness about his condition was also my grief about leaving my profession and I guess it surprised me that I still sometimes feel that way. But, I am glad that I do.
I’ve been thinking about another exceptional attorney this week that modeled integrity. Brian was my opponent in a commercial litigation case in 1999. I was new in town then, but was practicing for several years in larger cities. I wasn’t a stranger to the courtroom, but it was my first big commercial case, and I did my homework. I had a really nice client, and a very good legal position, but it was sharply contended by two very seasoned litigators that behaved very differently. Brian was a prince, and treated me with the utmost respect, especially when he disagreed with my position. He listened. The other man was pretty much a patronizing jerk, and he scoffed at me, laughed when I referred to the Court Rules, and talked very loud. When I prevailed, he sent flowers to my office with a monopoly game card affixed to the plastic stand, as if I had won the case by chance.
When a woman with a medical malpractice case asked me to represent her, I sought out Brian to co-counsel the case. He thought the case had merit, and economic damages alone were well over a million dollars. But, he still said no.
He has some personal reasons, but he also felt already spread too thin, and couldn’t give that kind of case or the client the attention that they deserved. Most attorneys that I knew then would have killed for that case, because they saw it as a way to make money. Most of them talked of their cases in that way, like they had forgotten that it was people that we represented. Brian wasn’t naïve about the business aspect of his practice, either, and he made a very comfortable living. Then, he told me something that penetrated and moved me. “MaryAnn, you become a good attorney by what you say no to.” I had worked with an attorney that expected me to take nearly everything that walked in the door, whether it had merit or not, as long as people paid. And I hated it, because I needed the paycheck back then, so I did.
Something way deeper than greed or fear motivated Brain, and it had everything to do with the ability to behave in a certain way when he did his business, so that he could really serve his clients, and stay true to himself.
Recovery isn’t just about not drinking, we all know that. It is about a way of being in the world that renders me effective in a way that I never could do before. It is about alignment; with love, with integrity and service to others. I’ve taken some huge financial wallops because of my lifestyle, and face some real uncertainty, but these things are real absolutes, like an internal GPS. Love, integrity, and service to others.
Andrew Harvey’s The Hope, A Guide to Sacred Activism, is a crashingly beautiful book. He told this story about what lasting happiness arises from, very simply here,
A plump Indian businessman, dripping with gold and diamonds, came one day to visit Mother Teresa, fell at her feet, and proclaimed, “Oh my God, you are the holiest of the Holy! You are the super-holy one! You have given up everything! I cannot even give up one samosa for breakfast. Not one single chapati for lunch can I give up!”
Mother Teresa started to laugh so hard her attendant nuns grew scared (she was in her middle 80s and frail from two recent heart attacks.) Eventually, she stopped laughing and, wiping her eyes with one hand, she leaned forward to help her adorer to his knees.
She said to him quietly, “So you say I have given up everything?” The businessman nodded enthusiastically. Mother Teresa smiled. “Oh my dear man”, she said, “you are so wrong. It isn’t I who have given up everything; it is you. You have given up the supreme sacred joy of life, the source of all lasting happiness, the joy of giving your life away to other beings, to serve the Divine in them with compassion. It is you who are the great renunciate!” To the Indian businessman’s total bewilderment, Mother Teresa got down on her knees and bowed to him. Flinging up his hands, he ran out of the room.” ~The Hope, page xvii
When I work from love, with love and integrity in service to others, it matters less what I am doing. Who I am being becomes primary, and life feels like a gift, and a very precious occupation.