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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let'er alone and see what she do

The public swimming pool in my hometown had a diving board that loomed so far over my 7-year-old head it seemed to soar straight into a sunspot. I’d crane my neck and shield my eyes and watch the daredevil kids crash into the water with one spread-eagle leap after another. For a whole summer, that diving board and, more precisely, my wariness of it, was the scariest thing in my life. I don't remember ginning up the courage to climb the rungs. I don't even remember the tentative step forward or the gravity of the fall. What I remember is the dawning realization that the best way to exorcise fear is to stare it down.

I may have to reach farther back than most of my future classmates to tap into a childhood fear, but it's still not a bad analogy for what I've experienced in the 18 months since I started thinking seriously of applying to law school. After one career as a journalist and another decade or so as the primary caregiver for an elderly relative, it occurred to me that a dream delayed is not necessarily a dream denied. And so I approached the law-school admissions process in much the same way I approached that dive, as if it were a series of hurdles in which clearing one guaranteed me nothing about the next, sliding along an emotional continuum that still ranges from uncertainty and vague uneasiness on one end to guarded optimism and hope on the other.

Now, with orientation less than two weeks out, I'm installed in a downtown apartment whose dimensions I badly miscalculated, thanks to a group of friends whose capacity for shoving furniture up a twisting flight of stairs on one of the hottest days of the summer I also badly miscalculated and whose affection for me may or may not return in time. I've studied books on how to study, had conversations with attorneys both aspiring and actual and gathered wildly conflicting advice on how to develop law-school study habits, note-taking and time-management skills. That being said, I still have no clear idea of what to expect. I don't speak Latin and could use a whole team from tech support to help me operate my iPhone. But I know a couple of things about a couple of things and I hope I can add something to my classes. I'm still careening along that continuum with no real feel for where I'll be at any given moment, but here I am, hovering for the moment on hope.

I may not know with any precision what law-school life will be like, but the journey to this point has already delivered some humbling encounters. I've been awed by the generosity of a 2L student whose battle with catastrophic illness provided the impetus that led her to pursue her dream. I'm indebted to the staffer who conceded my dubious point that his having taken my sister to the prom a quarter-century ago obligated him to field questions on everything from laptops to living quarters. I'm still moved by the kindness of a friend who spotted an abandoned desk over the summer and threw out her back helping me drag it away from the recycling center.

My grandmother liked to repeat something my father said as a toddler. He'd been playing with marbles on the kitchen floor and sent one spinning and wobbling across the tile. When she went to trap it under her shoe, he stopped her: "Let'er alone and see what she do." I don't know how the year ahead will unfold or what my ultimate contribution to the legal community might be. I know I'm drawn to the law by much the same thing that drew me to journalism -- the prospect of becoming a voice for those who don't have one. I don't mind admitting to a sense of intimidation. I'll even admit there are days I question whether I have the smarts and the stamina for the whole enterprise. But I'm ready to stare it down. If it breaks me, it won't be because I was too timid to take the plunge.

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