New EpiPen

It’s a new season now. I have an EpiPen. An EpiPen, or epinephrine autoinjector, is a device that quickly administers a dose of epinephrine. It is an emergency treatment for anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction.

I got this EpiPen because I told my doctor about my allergy to cats. When I was 9 years old, I was at my piano teacher’s house. I would go to piano lessons with two friends, and we would take turns getting lessons. I was sitting in the backyard waiting my turn, petting the calico cat, Tiger. Tiger looked at me, and a drop of saliva dripped from her mouth onto my leg. Immediately, my eyes swelled and my throat tightened up. I could hardly see and couldn’t breathe. I ran into the house, and my teacher had me sit down and drink some water. After a few minutes, it went away. That was the most severe allergic reaction I’ve ever had; nothing like that has happened since.

I occasionally visit friends who own cats, and I’m generally fine. If I spent too much time there, I can feel my eyes itching and breathing becomes more difficult. I try to avoid cats for this reason, although I’ve even petted cats with no problem.

What comes to mind with this EpiPen is that it is a tangible reminder that I could very easily die. In my case, it is pretty easy to avoid cats. I have friends who carry EpiPens for severe nut or shellfish allergies. The EpiPen is meant to save my life in case of an unfortunate feline encounter, but it is also a physical totem of my fragile mortality. If the cat doesn’t get me, something will. Somehow, it’s oddly comforting; having a physical item that reminds me of death makes it less abstract, and thus less removed.

Why I want to be a lawyer

Yesterday was the last day of my summer internship at LAF. LAF is a large legal services provider in Chicago. The attorneys there provide legal representation to indigent clients who cannot afford any other help.

LAF is separated into different practice groups, such as Children and Family or Immigrant and Workers’ Rights. I was in the Housing Practice Group. My group represented tenants facing eviction, termination of housing assistance (e.g. Section 8 vouchers), and denial of assistance. Some of my clients were on disability. Some worked minimum wage jobs. Some couldn’t work because of health issues. All were terrified about becoming homeless.

My clients have experienced great hardship. One stopped working because she had had a miscarriage and was dealing with health issues. One didn’t pay his rent because he needed to help pay a family member’s rent, who had been living in a homeless shelter for six months. One had been denied housing assistance because a criminal background check showed that he had a pending arrest. Turns out, that background check was inaccurate.

As hard as it was to work on these cases, it reminded me why I came to law school. Some of my classmates love thinking deeply about legal doctrine. They read court opinions for fun, argue about policy and jurisprudence, tinker with the intersections of law and other disciplines. That’s all wonderful, and I am grateful to be at such an academically vibrant school. But that’s not why I am here. I am here because I want to use what I know to help others. Not to speak for them, for they are capable of speaking for themselves, but lending my voice to theirs so that they will be heard.

I may never reach the pinnacle of my profession. I may never become partner in a major law firm, argue before the US Supreme Court, become a widely regarded legal academic. I may never make a lot of money (my starting salary out of law school will probably be $50,000; my classmates going into major law firms will start at $160,000, a level that I will probably never achieve in my whole career.) That’s OK. They have their own stories to live, and I have mine.

3L starts Monday. Looking forward to a good year.

Two questions

As I’ve been meeting more incoming students, I am mindful of how start a conversation with them. Initial conversations can be awkward, but they don’t have to be, and I’m glad to welcome people into conversation.

I regularly listen to the NPR quiz show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” Whenever a caller comes on, the host, Peter Sagal, asks two questions. These are the questions that I like to use: (1) “Where are you calling from?” and (2) “What do you do there?”

Now, these may seem standard questions, but what I appreciate is how Sagal follows up on them. He doesn’t just accept the answer as a piece of information, but uses it to continue to draw the caller into a friendly space.

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Sagal: “Hi, you’re on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”

Caller: “Hi, Peter! This is Pam!”

Sagal: “Hey, Pam, thanks for joining us! Where are you calling from?”

Caller: “I’m calling from Santa Barbara, California.”

Sagal: “Oh, beautiful Santa Barbara! That’s what people not in LA think LA is actually like. How is it out there?”

Caller: “Gorgeous.”

Sagal: “I bet it is. What do you do there?”

Caller: “I’m a high school teacher.”

Sagal: “Oh, neat. What do you teach?”

Caller: “9th grade English.”

Sagal: “Oh, I bet that’s got to be fun. How do you like it?”

Caller: “Well, it’s great. It’s given me lots of experience answering silly questions, so I’m all prepared for this game.”

Sagal: “Ha! I bet!”

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So in this exchange, it wasn’t just about learning that Pam is a 9th grade English teacher in Santa Barbara. The follow up questions were meant to dig into her experience in that area. They open up new avenues of conversation. Yes, this is small talk, but small talk opens the door for deeper connection. It’s always good to get practice with small talk.

Being a host

Last night, I went to a new law student orientation game night hosted by the Winston Churchill Gaming Society (great job WuDi Wu and Sue O’Brien on hosting it!) They had an assortment of all different kinds of games, from simple games like Ticket to Ride to party games like Telestrations to more advanced games like Power Grid.
Thing is, I didn’t play a single game. Instead, I hung out by the food and talked with all the new students. I asked them where they were from, what they were looking forward to for the new year, what they did before coming to school.
I enjoy playing games, but I enjoy even more being a host. I consider it an act of love. I know what it’s like to come to a group and feel awkward, uncomfortable, or out of place. I like to help people feel at ease.
When I meet people, I like to tell stories from my own life. I don’t want to come across as trying to seem shiny or cool or interesting. Instead, I want to encourage people to tell their own stories, to share how shiny and cool and interesting they are.
My friend Joy Yang put it well: “Your gift is to turn to someone and have that person feel interesting, important, and valuable.” That is something that I wish to steward well.

Video Games: Identity Maker

Video games played a major role in my identity. Many of my friendships growing up featured games in some way. I remember playing video games with my friends at sleepovers and birthday parties. I remember the excitement of playing a new game with a friend and exploring a new world together. I remember playing way past our bedtimes, ultimately turning off the console in exhaustion.

I also remember bringing my games with me to friends’ houses. I remember packing up my PlayStation 2 with a stock of games, trying to decide which ones my friends will want to play. Looking back now, it feels like I was showing off what I had, but that was never my intent. I just wanted to share the fun with others.

But as much as video games played a role in helping me build friendships, they also sucked me into isolation. As we grew older and my friends moved away from games, I gravitated toward the games and forgot my friends. I spent more time playing by myself and less time with others. During those very lonely years, games were my crutch and my poison. They brought me comfort in my loneliness, but that comfort shielded me from the real problems.

I have heard it said that the coping mechanisms we have as children become our dysfunctions as adults. Video games embodied this truth. Games helped me cope with life, but as I got older, they served as an unhealthy escape. It took me a while to decide that I don’t want this for my life. Maybe others can enjoy games without problems, but not me.

In the end, games weren’t the problem. Even without the video games, I am still me, with my desires for escape, comfort, and control. I am thankful for the season that video games played in my life, but recognize that season is done. Let me face the new.

On Christian Identity

This past week, the picture of a little Syrian boy scandalized the world. Aylan Kurdi, 2 years old, had been fleeing with his family from the violence in Syria to refuge in Europe. His little body, washed ashore on the Turkish beach, carried the tragedy of an entire people.

His story reminded me of another little boy, whose family fled the violence and death in their homeland. His parents were a young couple, ordinary working class folk, who simply wanted to live in peace. But their country was ruled by a capricious leader, bent on the annihilation of an entire generation, and they escaped to a foreign land. This story, of course, is that of Jesus, whose family escaped to Egypt when King Herod massacred all the young boys of Israel.

The story of the migrants in Europe is long and complex. One aspect that stood out to me was the comments of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. In closing off his country to the migrants, Orbán declared that it was to hold off the hordes who would threaten Europe’s Christian identity.

I don’t know much about Hungarian history or European Christian identity. I do know that the word “Christian” means “little Christ.” Those who call themselves Christians follow the life and example of Jesus the Christ.

If Jesus were in Europe, would he have embraced the migrants coming to his home? Would he have welcomed them into the safety and comfort of his life? I submit that he would have not. He would have not. He would not stop at that act because his love was not so limited.

Jesus, who came from heaven to a violent and hostile world, who lived amongst the poor and the outcast, whose love was so expansive that he allowed his body to be broken for those he loved, who looked on his murderers and asked that they be forgiven…This Jesus would not be content to live in comfort and safety. He would have gone to the war, to Syria and Iraq, to comfort and love the people there.

We can talk at length about Christian identity, about worldview and lineage and history. But let us Christians bear well in mind that Jesus is the model for how we ought to live. Would we be willing to go to Syria and Iraq, to the violence and chaos and madness, because we know God loves the people there and has called us to be an embodiment of that love? I know that I would have great difficulty in doing so…But God’s grace is greater. I pray and ask that the God, who is love incarnate, would continue to expand my feeble heart and to teach me to love. And that God be present to love those caught in this tragedy.