I have a sister who runs, and I don’t mean casual pre-breakfast jogs to stimulate the circulation. I mean the self-flagellating, carb-loading, whey-measuring, cross-training, run-til-you-puke-because-it-feels-so-good sort of running that to me is symptomatic of a personality disorder. She has the musculature of a cheetah and the discipline of a monk and, I have long suspected, a seamless panel in her torso that conceals only circuitry and wire. It’s a makeup that serves one well in a number of contexts, and I consider it now because a colleague has repeated the worn maxim that law school is a marathon and not a sprint. The best marathoners are built for the long haul and the slow burn. We second years have covered enough ground by now to work a permanent shift in the disposition, and yet there’s as much distance ahead as there is behind, and that’s if you discount one post-graduation mean season in which life consists solely of preparation for the bar exam and another on the ropes waiting for the results.
If that smacks of negativism, it’s only because a law student doesn’t feel the magic every day, and the days spent reanimating the brain after those idle Christmas weeks are among the least magical of them all. We’ve shown up for our first spring classes, albeit with bed heads and sleep in the corners of our eyes. Back, as Bob Dylan once put it, but not back all the way. I find that, in my zeal to upturn the overfilled plate of the fall semester, I have gotten too far out of my head. I neglected to pace myself as well as I might have last term, and, in my relief to be done with it, have cast my splintered interests too far afield. Reining them back into focus requires some muscle. Still, that vague sense of stolen time from a year ago is gone, and in its place is a happy resignation. Law school is the needle planted in my vein, and all that reasonable double-speak the fluid dripping from an unsightly pouch that swings from a pole and trails me wherever I go. I no longer bargain with law school over lost time or the propriety of its demands, and I’m surprisingly good with that.
I am good with it even when my head writes checks that my body can’t cash and I lose sleep over which commitment can best weather the short shrift. I’m OK with it even when I read another version of that perennial trade-journal story that says anyone smart enough to get into law school should be smart enough not to go. I’m OK with it because I can make the black and white arguments, but to navigate the gray space where the lion’s share of the law lives requires more than a surface commitment. I’m OK with it because the dogged nature of any given challenge more or less corresponds to the reward of knocking it down.
For those of us who tend to think of every moment as a weigh station on the road to something else, who are forever chasing some nebulous point on the horizon where all is well and we’re content to maintain the status quo, there’s nonetheless a satisfaction in conquering the here and now. My sister and her circle of running enthusiasts explain it this way: when the world serves up an amorphous, indefinable pain, long-distance exertion lends it a tangible dimension, something it’s possible to vanquish and overcome. I relate to that in the sense that I can do an hour on the treadmill if there’s a glass of pinot noir in the offing, but it makes more sense in law-school terms. The more intense the chase, the sweeter the victory tastes. And, even though humbling moments abound and straight answers are scarce, there are triumphs along the way. Last semester alone, I discovered a penchant for the courtroom and drafted a brief I like to think was instrumental in persuading a judge to rule the way my boss wanted her to. And, in all that time, I wished ill to be visited upon only one professor, and it was only fleetingly and only that one time, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t even mean it.
By all accounts, the genuine fatigue in a 26-mile marathon sets in around mile 20. That’s when they say you have to dig deeply for something you’re not even sure is there, the point at which you settle into a crippled saunter that might as well be a walk. Given that, mile 13 is not an altogether bad place to be, and another 13 is hardly anything at all. I can already taste the pinot noir.