Celebrations as an act of defiance

I have been thinking about weddings lately. I am going to several weddings in the coming months. One of my roommates is planning his wedding for May, and it’s clear that it’s taking a lot of time.

I got a secondhand look at wedding preparation while I was living with Vinicius Gripp B. Ramos​. In the months leading up to their wedding, he and Christina labored over the logistics. What flowers will there be and who will provide them? Where will guests stay? What will happen in the ceremony and the reception?

Planning a wedding requires much work and can be expensive. I have heard friends talk about how they wish that they could simply elope and not deal with the hassle, which is understandable.

In some ways, a wedding can be an act of defiance, as is the case with every celebration, from a birthday to a bar mitzvah. It’s an act of relentless joy against the darkness of life. We see the brokenness, pain, and sadness around us, and can be inclined to lose hope. A cynic may see a wedding and say “Ha! I bet they won’t even be done writing thank you cards before they have a bad argument. That wedding china we just bought them will be used as projectiles.” A wedding is a pronouncement that even in the face of inevitable conflict, the couple will remain steadfast. To say that life, with all its messiness and hurt and sorrow, is still vehemently worth celebrating

Weddings: Community

I have been thinking about weddings lately. My Facebook feed is filled with pictures from two weddings of law school friends (my congratulations to Joy Sea​ & Peter and Alan​ & Megan on their respective nuptials.) They are both third year students, and several of their fellow 3Ls gathered to celebrate the occasions.

Just three years ago, most of these people didn’t know each other. They had no connection at all. Yet through the crucible of classes, interviews, papers, and the general grind of law school, they have come together as a community to support each other.

We are all still so young. How will it feel to see the wedding of a friend’s child, to share in the joy of the family in this new stage of life? To attend the ceremony for a friend who lost their first spouse by death or divorce and had been scared of ever loving again? All of the weddings I have attended have been first weddings for young people. All of them embody a sense of adventure, of embracing the future with wonder and joy.

On Loneliness

One of my friends asked me if I feel lonely in law school. I paused for a long while before I replied “Sometimes.”

Studying is a solitary experience. So much of law school is just me and my books: reading, outlining, or writing. Study groups are good, but those are not really conducive to forming good friendships.

Another reality is that I am on the older end of the spectrum (I will turn 28 in May.) While this is not an impediment to connecting with my classmates, I do sometimes feel out of place. Of course, I also have more substantial relationships from my life before school, so it can feel lonely because I miss those friendships.

But I do believe that everyone feels lonely at times. Loneliness is not just a matter of social connectedness, but is an orientation of the heart. If I orient myself towards my own feelings of disconnectedness, I can become despondent and filled with self-pity. I find that when I stop focusing on my loneliness and give myself to compassion, to an act of service or a friendly conversation or a simple smile, I lose my loneliness in connecting with others. This doesn’t mean pretending; I can be honest about feeling lonely. But if I fixate upon it, it can overtake my vision for my relationships.

I do feel lonely at times, but that doesn’t mean that I am alone here. I have learned to acknowledge that feeling but not live by it.

Jean Vanier and L’Arche

Earlier this week, Jean Vanier, a Catholic theologian and founder of L’Arche, won the 2015 Templeton Prize. The Templeton Prize is valued at $1.7 million and is given to honor “a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s breadth of spiritual dimensions, whether through insight, discovery or practical works.” L’Arche is an international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together.

In a press conference accepting the award, Vanier said “There is also a change in the way people with intellectual disabilities are seen. For many years these wonderful people were seen as ‘errors,’ or as the fruit of evil committed by their parents or ancestors. … They were terribly humiliated and rejected. Today we are discovering that these people have a wealth of human qualities that can change the hearts of those caught up in the culture of winning and of power.”

I have not been to a L’Arche community, although I know the great writer Henri Nouwen spent his last years in the L’Arche Daybreak community near Toronto. Yet I am fortunate to have experienced a taste of what he says in my time at Via Center​. I saw students develop important intellectual and social skills. I saw students learn to control their impulses and communicate with the world. I saw students who lashed out in frustration and violence become transformed by love. I also saw my own heart become transformed and deeply moved by these wonderful people.

In his remarks at the news conference, Vanier recalled the story of a young woman he encountered in L’Arche’s early years named Pauline. “She came to our community in 1970, hemiplegic, epileptic, one leg and one arm paralyzed, filled with violence and rage. … Our psychiatrist gave us good insight and advice: Her violence was a cry for friendship.”

“For so long she had been humiliated, seen as hardly human, having no value, handicapped. What was important was that the assistants take time to be with her, listen to her and show their appreciation for her. Little by little she evolved and became more peaceful and responded to their love. Her violence disappeared … she loved to sing and to dance.”

“It takes a long time to move from violence to tenderness, but the assistants who saw her initially as a very difficult person, began to discover who she was under her violence and under her disabilities. They discovered that for a person, growth was not primarily climbing the ladder of power and success, but of learning to love people as they are.”

“Love, in the words of St Paul, is to be patient, to serve, to bear all, to believe all and to hope all.”

Prayer

A word on prayer.

I have been in various different Christian churches in my life. The church in which I grew up (Korean Presbyterian) had a value for vocal simultaneous prayers. Even now, I hear of churches praying “Korean style” in which everyone prays out loud all at once. I have also been in churches that value extemporaneous prayers, words springing forth in the moment. I very much enjoyed the energetic movement of these prayers, gathering with others to ask as one.

In contrast, in my counseling class, we discussed three sentence prayers. The idea was to think through what I was going to pray, choose my words carefully, and believe that a few words are enough. My church here in Chicago operates in a similar fashion: When we pray together on Sunday, we pray in three to four sentences, and all join in “Amen.” I very much enjoy the orderliness and mindfulness of these prayers.

It is beneficial to understand and appreciate how various traditions approach prayer. There is also space for creativity. One of my favorite memories was praying in synchrony with David Chiu​. It was just the two of us. I would pray a single sentence (an actual sentence, not a run-on paragraph), and David would respond with a sentence, and back and forth. In this way, we were not just praying together, but responding to one another.

The value of prayer is not just in getting what we want. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he started with “Our Father.” Just as we don’t simply go to our earthly fathers to ask for stuff, so prayer is not just petition, but communication.

Expansive Vision

It’s final exam season at school. I had one exam today, another on Friday, and a take home assignment. Much of law school studying is tedious or difficult. Sometimes, I get frustrated with the work, but then I think about my friend David Chiu​.

David was a teacher (he’s a principal now) at a school in Oakland. I remember hanging out with David while he was going to school for his credential while working full time and settling into a new marriage. David worked really hard to get to where he is now. But he didn’t work hard to become a teacher to grade assignments all day (although he does a lot of that.) He didn’t become a teacher to do lesson planning, or deal with disciplinary issues, or drama with his fellow teachers. All of those things are necessary parts of his work, and take up much of his time. But that’s not why he became a teacher. He became a teacher because he is passionate about helping young people grow to become intelligent, mature, strong people. He has a desire to mentor and support these youth so that they can see and become the greatness within themselves.

In the same way, I didn’t come to law school to puzzle through hearsay exceptions or worry about carryover basis in a 351 transaction. I didn’t come to law school to worry about exams and memos and papers. This is a path to something greater.

I remember talking to Erica Jaffe​ and Maria Macia​. In that conversation, they said that it’s important to maintain vision for why I am here in school. It can be easy to lose sight of that in the middle of incredible pressures. I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to expand that vision for my work.

What Work Is

What Work Is
By Philip Levine

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

Preparing for Exams

I have final exams this week. Evidence on Tuesday, Corporate Tax on Friday, and Contract Drafting and Review assignment due Friday.

As I prepare, I am mindful of the fact that the worst thing that could happen is that I get a bad grade. What’s so bad about that? True, low grades may close certain opportunities, but that doesn’t shut down my entire career. Even if 10 doors close, 100 doors still remain open.

Some want to get to the top of the class so that they can win. Win what? For some, a high GPA is about more than grades; it is an affirmation of Greatness, Purpose, and Ability.

Greatness is within. It isn’t dictated by a 3 hour exam.

Alright, enough preachiness. Time to study Evidence.

Gone From My Sight

I recall reading this poem in my grief counseling class. It has been attributed to various writers, although one reputable source attributes it to Luther F. Beecher. I hope some find it useful:

Gone From My Sight

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

And that is dying…

Friends and Colleagues

Talking to Krista Perry​ inspired some thoughts on friendship in law school. There are two kinds of relationship that develop in law school: personal and professional. Some of the people that I meet here will be lasting friends that I will hold onto hopefully for life. Otherwise are perfectly wonderful people for whom I would gladly give positive references, but do not presume will be close confidants. It would be presumptuous to sort relationships as one or the other, but it does help frame how I understand my relationships here.

For the word “friend” to have any meaning, there must be distinction. I cannot claim that everyone that I meet will be a close friend. Yet every person that I meet is deserving of my respect, kindness, and honor. This isn’t because of how they can further my career down the line. I don’t do it because of what they can do for me; I do it because that is who I am made to be. I am made to demonstrate compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience to others. If the other person behaves in a terrible or callous way, that doesn’t change who I am.

Some of my classmates will be my friends. Some will be my colleagues. In all, I will consider myself exceedingly fortunate to have spent these years with some truly amazing people.