(click on picture twice to morph)
Thursday I began my day on the earliest flight to Austin. I had a court hearing. Travis County, in which Austin is located, uses a master calendar system. This involves a mild bit of suspense as to the judge to which one might be assigned. All the Travis County judges are equally fair, and there is not the moment of agony inherent when a particular court has a difficult judge. But any uncertainty has an element of suspense.
I found myself pleased to be one of only two hearings set in the particular court to which I was assigned. My hearing involved a very straightforward matter, allowing me to finish quite soon and catch a morning plane back to Dallas Love Field. The people at Southwest Airline, having newly won a graduated release from a restriction upon Love Field travel to contiguous states, the "Wright Amendment" which has been a bane on airfares for years, handed me a free t-shirt in a burst of sheer ecstasy. The t-shirt will make a handy addition to my wife's cycling attire repertoire, which is fitting, as she wrote Congressmen and senators about repealing this amendment.
On the way back to my office, I stopped by Colter's barbecue, where the turkey is always succulent and fresh and accompanied by courtesy and a hot roll. Although barbecue sauce is not remarkably calorific, I always order dry. I believe that the taste of the turkey itself is a thing worth savoring.
I found myself with a world of useful things to do, and in the midst of a productive day. Soon day's end came and I drove over to the Salvation Army. The third Thursday of each month is pro bono legal clinic. I volunteer to help screen the cases as one step in the process of finding volunteers to help cases in which help can be given.
The routine of these evenings is usually roughly the same. I arrive around seven (last night I was early, which was actually better than being on time). Kind paralegal volunteers have qualified that people qualify for assistance and have gotten the client's initial statement. I
therefore pick up a case file, say the name of the person at the top of the page, shake that person's hand, and lead them back for a private consultation.
The Salvation Army has rooms I would call "Sunday school rooms", suitable for our meeting. Sometimes I find myself meeting in a very elementary-age-oriented room, in which we sit in those tiny, tiny chairs. Most evenings,though, we have the advantage of a table or desk and chairs. We always have the advantage of privacy.
To paraphrase Hemingway,there is a huge difference between people without money and people with money--the people without money have less money. Apart from this conclusion, one cannot draw broad inferences or make sweeping statements about the people one meets in these evenings. It would not do to describe their problems here, or to philosophize about poverty in America or to rhapsodize, all suburban-smug, about choices. I am prepared to go this far--it is satisfying when a problem appears to me to be one a volunteer can one day help solve, and it is heart-breaking when a problem appears real and solvable and yet rather a path ahead for the client. I suppose I should feel saddest when a problem has no solution, but I am fortunate enough to rarely encounter that despair. I tend to see life in options and possibilities, even if I am not always, perhaps, merry sunshine in the way I visualize those possibilities.
So many times, I think, it's possible to morph one's life into a different hue, through choices, directed effort and a bit of dogged optimism. I have come to appreciate the importance hope and determination in effecting real change. So often, too, imagination made real matters. Faith, hope, love, these things endure, the scriptures say, and go on to point out, correctly I think, that the greatest of these is love. Yet faith, hope and love all sometimes require imaginzation to visualize the right path,and a bit of mundane grit to walk it. Faith, hope, love, vision, gusto. It all sounds so trite, set out that way,but it's the elusive secret formula. I omitted courage, but I think that courage figures in there somewhere, a kind of sugar cube that sweetens the bitter teas of failure and setback and diffuses into one creating unlooked-for success.
At the end of the evening, the kind paralegal who lines up the volunteers each month pulled out for me a plaque which I had been unable to pick up at an awards deal a few weeks ago, due to conflicting duties with the Garland Bar. It's a cool bit of slate, a little smaller than a diploma, with a wooden stand. The inscription reads "2006 Outstanding Attorney Clinic Volunteer--Garland".
When I was in law school I visualized being a law professor, which never happened. But I had a "work around". If I could not teach law, then I hoped to have my own little firm someday. In my firm, I would do cases for ordinary people pro bono. Much of my career involved less pro bono work than I liked, and I arguably could do much more than I do as it stands. Yet I'll mention my pleasure at receiving the award here, despite my concern that this will mark me as boasting. To me, the award is an indicia that even after my dream of becoming a law professor never took place, due to choice, circumstance, and arguably lack of drive, my work-around stood me in good and workable stead. I believe in remolding oneself from the ashes of one's dreams.
On the drive home, I listened to the debate between our Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a likable, consensus-building senator who nonetheless all too often supports an administration out of touch with civil liberties and our national interest, and Barbara Ann Radnofsky, who brought to the debate a combination of a rather strident, uncomfortable lawyer-y debate style coupled with great, well-spoken zingers about the senator's record. Texas remains a very conservative state, and Senator Hutchison will in all likelihood be re-elected. But the debate showed in a pleasing fashion how far even well-meaning conservatives like Senator Hutchison have fallen as the Republican Party has systematically eroded from the party in favor of small government to a party
in favor of using large government to subserve the wrong priorities and placate the wrong special interests. I hope that November 7 begins to lift the fog spread over our country. I am not sure I ever thought I'd see the day that I would say this, but I even miss real Republicans in this orgy of runaway pork barrel spending and intrusion upon civil liberties which marks our current administration in Washington. The Jefferson/Hamilton debate about the size of government is a worthy one, still relevant in 2006. But I never thought I'd see an American government erode the Geneva convention as a matter of policy.
I hope that the House of Representatives returns to the Democrats this term, but I will count this a very good election if both houses come close to switching over. I do not see anything this administration can do prior to 2008 to avoid both houses falling to the Democrats, provided that the mid-terms this time at least narrow the gap. The current lame duck president's performance
gives me hope that we could see an entire switch to the Democrats in 2008.
A nice chill settled over everything last night--a first, mild frost. I am so happy that Autumn arrived at last.