I don’t need a calendar. I know the season, more or less, from the undefined ache that flares along my jaw line in the weeks leading up to final exams. It must be November, for that’s when I curse myself for taking on too much, for denying my own limitations lest someone else tell me what they are. In another week, I’ll be convinced that my grasp of the law is far too tenuous to survive any sort of scrutiny. But I’ll still be a third-year law student, which means I’ll be operating on the sweet fumes of apathy and resignation. I’ll find solace in the common third-year notion that if law school were going to break me it would have done so by now, character inquiries and bar examinations notwithstanding. My attention will have turned to real-world concerns, like whether there’s a real-world job trading real-world currency for a student-loan slave in an economy that’s in the toilet. I don’t require excess, but I require enough.
I’m fresh off one of my semi-annual tirades on postal abbreviations when I consider my own tendency to escape the overwhelming big picture by focusing on detail. To understand that, you need to understand that third year can be a lonely enterprise. You scan your classroom and encounter a sea of unfamiliar faces. You never know whether you’re the only one who has days of going through the motions and nights when the whole heaving continent closes in. In those moments, lost in that broad gray landscape that separates the truth from a lie, you retreat to those things you know to be true. And one of the things I know to be true is that big honking two-letter acronyms may facilitate the delivery of mail, but don’t do a thing for the flow of a sentence. The old professor who said never yield to the U.S. Post Office on that score also said never, under any circumstances, to use the word “enhance.” And I never have. But law school has a way of eroding even the brightest of your bright-line rules. My speech today is peppered with double negatives and twisted phrasing. Hey, I could venture, that protrusion in the middle of your face is not inconsistent with a breathing apparatus.
I know I digress. It’s not about the odd neuroses that defined us before law school, or the new ones that have supplanted them. It’s about a vague craving for certainty and the rambling thoughts that occur to you when you understand there’s no such thing. We should go for a drink sometime, Two-Thousand-Nine Sharon and I. We could talk about this law-school thing and linger for a time over the prospect. She could tell me the way she thinks it will be, and I could tell her the way it is. Knowledge is power, she would say. Contracts are hard, I would counter. And on it would go like that until she said something trite like it’s all in the attitude, and I would punch her right in her breathing apparatus. And then I would feel badly, because I would know she is right. I would help her to her feet, tell her to gather her senses, and get herself to law school. View it in the light most favorable to you, I might say in my newfound lawyerly nomenclature. You will mostly love it, I would say. There will be days you will hate loving it, but you will love it nonetheless. Uncertainty takes care of itself.
Two-Thousand-Twelve Sharon and her classmates are thumbing through a stack of paper handouts and listening to a bar-admissions panel remind us that we need not only pass the bar exam, but be adjudged of fit character to practice law. We’ve heard this numerous times and, without fail, we leave the forum convinced that every past misdeed is the one that will doom us. Every glass of spilled milk is the one that renders the past three years moot and precludes our entry into the ranks. Only when we’re good and paralyzed are we assured that our failings will be viewed in the light most favorable to us. Experience does, after all, weave itself into the tapestry that makes us who we are.