In the summer of 1992, after college, as I considered what course to take in the world, my mother suggested the law. I might have considered it more thoroughly at the time had she not followed it with; “You could be a judge, maybe even sit on the Supreme Court!”. She always had delusions of grandeur for me. I fell out of my chair laughing . Sitting on the floor in her tiny apartment wondering how to get all my things in the rusty Subaru to head back west snorting with irony at the mere suggestion of me as a judge, coffee was spilled, my mother looked perplexed as though I had been overcome with madness.
Even back then it was clear to me that I had the wrong temperament for a Judicial calling. I have a temper, take things personally, choose sides and back then drank far too much to ever consider a sober profession. The idea of me as the judge of a traffic court was, and is, preposterous. The dreams are parents have, right? I have few pictures of me before the age of digital media but the one above was taken a week later at the West River Marina in Brattleboro Vermont. Note the beer; it was neither the first or the last of the evening, certainly. Would you look at that man and say “there is some Supreme Court material”? Me neither. I had issues and was aware of them, though truly it would be years and the birth of my own son before I really took a closer look at all of it.
Some truths we fight against longer than others; one of the last that I came to agree with is the adage “we dislike in others what we hate in ourselves”. While we may loath someone for any number of reasons, the automatic, visceral enmity usually has come from that place in my heart, although like the sticker says, “Your Mileage May Vary”. When the mere sound of a voice brings bile to my mouth I ask, “what is it of me that I am seeing?”, and usually the answer is clear. Recently in full color on National Television I saw many pieces of myself headed to the Supreme Court; those pieces that I myself had long ago determined had no place there. It was hard to watch, to listen to, really even to think about; not for as much as it was for others certainly. But it was a look in my own privilege stripped of every lesson and thought or self reflection, the screaming angry id of my childhood talking back at me. While we have gone separate paths, and I have not done the things he has done, but I could have. My life has lead me down many dark paths certainly, but not those.
You could say “but for the grace of God”, and maybe that’s it. But God in my life has moved in the hands of women; many kind, generous women, both friends and partners, who have seen something in the angry, dark young man of my past. They have shown kindness, shared their lives with me and been there for me in difficult moments. It was not women, with a couple notable exceptions, who took advantage of me, used me, injured me; it was mostly men. Powerful men with authoritative voices, well liked and well respected with words that could turn on a dime the moment the spotlight shifted. For me women have been the harbor along a rocky shore.
And women, in this culture at least, have a skill most men lack; they see themselves as they really are. Women look in the mirror longer, more carefully then men; mostly we just want to make sure there is nothing in our teeth. Likewise they see themselves, mostly overly critically, and want to make themselves better people. Somehow part of that rubbed off on me somewhere along the way. Slowly, painfully, I have become a better person through my friendships with women, and to the women I have disappointed along the way, starting with my Mother, I am and will always be sorry. If it wasn’t easy being me, it must have been harder to deal with me.
Now well past the halfway point in my life, looking back it is not my anger that pleases me; for righteous, deserved or even required, anger injures both ends the same. There are angers still within my heart, to close to blood and bone to set free, but I do not say this with pride but simple truth. Time has taught me that some injuries do not heal but scar and that tissue pulls and tears with use. I do not pull out my scars to be an example; it is a cautionary tale instead; “Don’t be a dumbass like your old man” I say.
On the way back west I was pulled over in Oklahoma; the Sherriff was huge, gruff and threatening at first with a combination southern/Texan accent that was like a giant dog barking like a terrier. As soon as we saw my class ring, the one in the picture, he changed attitudes and showed me his. He had gone to Oklahoma State and played a season as defensive lineman for the Sooners. He couldn’t understand how I had gone to a school without a Football team but was sure it was just some “West Coast thing”. he said “well you’re speeding but at least your not no [racially derogatory word for Native Americans]”. Now the things is he was right, I am not Native American, but some of my ancestors were (yes I am sure.) . But as a white guy with a college ring smart enough to end every sentence in our conversation with the word “officer”, I just got a ticket instead of having my car ripped apart on the side of the road. It was the first clear lesson I had in how the world works and it didn’t make me feel special or gifted; just lucky and somewhat dirty.
For me the experience of privilege has put an asterisk by everything I have done. Could I have accomplished it without the preference shown people like me? Honestly there is no way of knowing and the only thing I can do is not be entitled about it. People like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ursula LeGuin or Thurgood Marshall, who all went so far against so much opposition truly can be called great; with all my built-in advantage I can’t keep the light bill paid on time. Maybe I am not fit to share a table with the notorious RBG, but at least I am aware of that fact and respectful of all she has done. That is an achievement I can be proud of at least.
Many years later I revisited the idea of studying law. Taking a practice test I aced everything but the logic section, which is the major part of the test. I have always been able to learn easily so I practiced, reviewed, studied and retook the test. I scored (considerably) lower than the last time; it would have been better if I had simply guessed the answer. So the law was not for me in the end, so much for my mother’s dreams of a Supreme Court son. The world is better of without me there anyway.
“It was in another lifetime, one of toil and blood,
When darkness was a virtue and the roads were full of mud,
I came in from the wilderness, a creature devoid of form,
Come in she said I’ll give you, shelter from the storm”