My model of 3L life is Michael Lanahan. Michael was a 3L when I was a 1L. Typically, 3Ls are not as engaged with life at the school (#3LOL). But Michael was very much involved. He was deeply invested in several student organizations, such as the Federalist Society, the Christian Legal Society, and the Law School Musical. He gave a great deal of time to the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship, helping small businesses thrive. I knew that when I started 3L year, I didn’t want to sit back and disengage. I wanted to stay involved and make the most of this opportunity.
Well, it’s 3L year now. Besides schoolwork, I am the President of the Chicago Law Foundation, I will start pro bono work with the International Refugee Assistance Project, I have a part-time job with Themis Bar Review and as a library research assistant, I am applying to postgrad public interest opportunities, and I am fairly involved with my church. Never a dull moment, to be sure, but I am happy to have a full 3L year. This year is going to fly by, and I want to make good use of the time.
“What is your ideal death?”
That is one of the questions in a book I am reading for my social work class on dying. It’s not a matter to which I have dedicated much thought. I can hardly plan a month in advance, let alone the end of my life. But the truth is that there is no guarantee that my life would extend past next month.
The author of the book describes some of the responses she has received to this question. Some say they want to die with friends and family by their side. Others want to be alone. Some want to be in their bedrooms or living rooms. Others want to be out in nature. Very few want their last days to be in a hospital or nursing home, although many of us will end up there.
What do you want to be the last image you see before you die? The face of a loved one? A familiar book? A beautiful forest? Certainly most would rather it not be the flickering of a hospital fluorescent light or a tangled mass of plastic tubing, half-filled with drained abdominal fluid.
My ideal death would be quiet. I would like to be near the window, with the sunlight shining. I would like to have my family there, maybe a few friends, but not a big crowd. I would want to be at home, not at a hospital or nursing home. Mostly, I would want to be lucid. Physical pain is OK, to a point, but I would hate to be unable to communicate or interact with the outside world.
When I tell folks that I am taking a class on death, some of them become uncomfortable and say it must be depressing. There is certainly a somberness to death, and even a horror. Dying is never pretty. But it is a certainty. I want to approach it ready, in control of what I can control, able to make my own choices. Death may be an uninvited and even unwelcome guest, but let me at least be ready to meet him.
Something I enjoy about 3L year is taking classes outside the law school. I appreciate the opportunity to take courses in different disciplines. For example, right now I am taking a class at the Social Work school. The class is titled “Dying, Death and Loss.” The teacher is a former hospice social worker.
Our most recent class was on the death experience. We saw a fascinating film, 203 Days, which depicts the last days in the life of a woman named Sarah. At the start, we see her as a healthy and vigorous woman, who takes great care in her appearance. We don’t know what has afflicted her, but it is clear that she has a terminal condition. Over time, she becomes thinner and weaker. She grows more unable to care for herself. Sarah’s daughter has taken her in and cares for her, but eventually is unable to do so. Sarah is transferred to a nursing home. In her last days, she is hardly responsive, and passes in silence.
I enrolled in this class because I plan to work directly with people in poverty, and death will be near to many of my clients. This past summer, a woman came in asking for help. She was facing eviction for allegedly not paying her rent. She was concerned about ending up homeless, but even more concerned about how the eviction would affect her family situation. She had two children who are now in foster care. They had been taken from her because there had been a fire in her previous apartment, a fire that she did not cause. The landlord had neglected to install a smoke alarm. That same fire also killed her baby daughter.
What can I say in that situation? I am not a social worker or a minister. My focus is on the legal task of helping her keep her home. And yet, there is grace in sitting with her in her grief, letting her know that she need not experience her sadness alone.
I’ve shared before about my mom’s concern about how law school will affect me physically. She said “I’m afraid that you’ll get stressed out, eat unhealthy food, get fat, get diabetes, never get married, and die.”
Luckily, none of that has happened, but school has affected my back. I’ve been going to physical therapy appointments these past few weeks for persistent back pain. Hours of sitting in a chair reading casebooks exacerbated mobility problems. The pain is minor, but I want to address it before it gets worse.
I’ve seen the health concerns of others escalate until they become big problems. I’ve seen people struggle with gout, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to take care of issues that come up before they become bigger problems.
I believe that I have the opportunity to do great things and impact people’s lives in a positive way. I want to take care of myself so that I can continue to live well and serve others fully.
Why do I write what I write?
Some of it is to help others. Many people have said that my Facebook statuses have helped them. Gabriela Eva told me that my writings got her through 1L year. My brother, Dale told me that I put into words what many people feel. Jane Cho told me the same thing.
I write to inspire others to write honest and courageous writings. I am inspired by what Michael Ishigaki and John Knox and Yi Ning write. In a website full of carefully crafted selfies and curated experiences, it is refreshing to have writing that is true and grounded and faithful.
But I also write for myself. My natural inclination is to choose what to show others, and so show the strong and competent and interesting parts of myself. But I’m not always strong and competent and interesting. Sometimes I feel weak and stupid and lonely. My natural inclination is to hide those parts away. But as Tim White said to me: deeply charitable love embraces me not in spite of my weakness, but embraces my weakness because it is part of me. A mother looks at her son and does not love her son in spite of his weakness; she embraces him, weakness and all. She helps him realize that what he thought was his weakness is his strength. For weakness is strength misdirected, strength unchanneled, strength frustrated.
I am prone to forget these things. I am prone to linger on my failings, how I feel weak and stupid and lonely. Thank goodness for the grace of God, whose vision of me matters more than my vision of myself. What I am learning is to have that same vision of grace for others, to see them as deeply loved.