"Blessed are They That Mourn," He Said

February 21, 2008

Now, why would Christ have gone and said that, about the walking wounded? What might he have seen that we are missing completely? What exactly is so blessed about the agonizing journey of grief, that awful and all-consuming process of coming to terms with a damnable, incomprehensible fact: the always-present felt absence, forever, of one without whom life cannot be imagined?

“Blessed?” Thank you no, I’ll pass. That’s one club I sure don’t want to be part of. Yet I am, for I have loved, and loved well.

“…His mother loved him dearly, and used to rock him to sleep with her trunk, singing to him softly the while.” The Story of Babar

The greater the love, it seems, the more intense the sadness at its loss, the sharper and more various the shards of its ruins. There are no words for the whole experience, really. Those suddenly left bewildered in that desolate landscape wander within the shadows of a night that seems beyond the cycle of coming daylight, and thus unnatural and out-of-place. They are “mad with grief” in the words of the late great Paul Monette, and beyond real consolation. They are paying the price of their love.

The wicked hunter shoots Babar’s mother The Story of Babar

They are having an experience, truly an ultimate experience, but it makes “the rest of us” uncomfortable because we have no idea what is to be done. It’s not like we have not suffered grave losses of our own, often in the same deaths. It’s not even really that we don’t understand. The challenge may be more that we do. And we are utterly horrified. So we start watching the calendar and making pragmatic assessments as to “stages of healing,” we pass along to one another books on “Death and Dying” and “Grief,” we consult the experts and think about whether to start them on medication, and when. We love these lost souls so dear to us, and feel their pain. With all of our hearts we want to help them, to really reach them. We pray to see them back to their old selves, really enrolled in life again, to want to be here.



Yet we have no clue how to help get them there. All we find at hand are cliches in clusters, misunderstandings, and judgmental pronouncements that may be easy to pass, with the best of intentions, yet serve no useful purpose. The Human heart must rate high among the most mysterious of things. It is strong and deep. It is amazingly resilient. And utterly fragile.

Scott Richard Gillen Sept. 27 1959 – Mar. 1, 1996

I have lived through it myself. In a very real sense, when Scott took his last breath that morning I died too. At least the “me” I had always known. A new journey had begun, birthed in pure mystery and thus one of great power, that is still very much always unfolding, taking shape. Along the way I have come to understand that some part of my purpose is to help others lost in grief, those inexplicably “left behind,” those now feeling as pain the love that should have died along with their beloved, but (most cruelly) did not.

“Oh, Paul,” she wrote me in one of her beautiful, nearly illegible letters from California, “You really can’t know what it’s like.” My first reaction was to bristle, ever so slightly. “How can she say that?” Then, I settled down and stopped to listen to the thought she’d expressed. I realized, “That’s true, I really cannot.” Each experience of grief must be unique, exactly as much so as the relationship that gave it birth. So I wrote to her and said, “That’s true, Carol. I thought about what you said, and you are absolutely right. If each love is unique, and they certainly are, then so must be a survivor’s experience of its loss.”
“But for that very reason and in that same sense, Carol,” I wrote,” with all due respect, you cannot ever really understand the nature of my loss.” And it seemed true; it seemed to address her unspoken cry.
This is the way it is. We are all in the experience, together and alone.

But as I see it, It is love that led us into this mess and it is Love that will see us through. I feel more than I see, and know more than I understand. But this I see, feel, and know.

________________________________________________

Blessed are they that mourn,” he said. Blessed how?? Maybe because this is the human plight: the highest and best that we can hope for is to be left utterly heartbroken. Because the greatest dream that guides and lifts us is that one day (and may it be soon, we pray) we will find the one that will complete and fulfill us. Yet we cannot, need not, really forget that all things are temporary, and that as a matter of certainty death will part us, sooner or later. Is it not insane to give ourselves over in love, fully and without reservation, knowing the rules of the game? Part of us pales and gasps Yes!, while another deeper, more ancient voice says No, it is all right. It is in love alone that we are to seek our salvation. Relax: we have no choice. We are here to live, not engage in a decades-long preparation for our deaths.
If we are only here for a while, let’s not keep fear as our chosen companion. It offers no real safety, anyway. And it cannot keep us warm at night, or give us a reason for awakening with gladness unto a new day.

Blessed are they that mourn, indeed. For they have not only loved, as in past tense. They love still, though they may be enshrouded in pain unbearable with no hope visible on the horizon, and have no idea what to do with their love. My God! How they love. And their longing is not in vain. It may be heard in Heaven like the most sweet, soft kind of music. Received as a parched flower bed drinks in the falling rain. Received as a prayer.

But for those that mourn, especially, Heaven or anything remotely like it can seem impossibly far away. It is for these people, the lost and love-scarred, it is for myself and for you that I have told my story. I have written a book about my journey of life and death, about finding and losing my soul mate, and then (much to my astonishment) finding him again, forever. It is a story about healing, and the presence and everyday involvement of angels. Its essential message is Listen to your heart: it will tell you, sure and certain as your heartbeat: Love never dies. Follow love where it leads you, holding nothing back. This is what we are here for, and somehow, some way, all shall be well.

Maybe not exactly the way you might imagine it (but then again, what ever has been?), but all right. I have learned that Death ends a life, but not a relationship. And holding on to that assurance in your heart, still and small, can change everything.

Commissioned Mosaic by George Fishman, Miami Shores, FL


My book is called Death is an Impostor: Life, Death, and the Path of the Heart.

I will start sharing it, here.

Advertisements

“Blessed are They That Mourn,” He Said

February 21, 2008

Now, why would Christ have gone and said that, about the walking wounded? What might he have seen that we are missing completely? What exactly is so blessed about the agonizing journey of grief, that awful and all-consuming process of coming to terms with a damnable, incomprehensible fact: the always-present felt absence, forever, of one without whom life cannot be imagined?

“Blessed?” Thank you no, I’ll pass. That’s one club I sure don’t want to be part of. Yet I am, for I have loved, and loved well.

“…His mother loved him dearly, and used to rock him to sleep with her trunk, singing to him softly the while.” The Story of Babar

The greater the love, it seems, the more intense the sadness at its loss, the sharper and more various the shards of its ruins. There are no words for the whole experience, really. Those suddenly left bewildered in that desolate landscape wander within the shadows of a night that seems beyond the cycle of coming daylight, and thus unnatural and out-of-place. They are “mad with grief” in the words of the late great Paul Monette, and beyond real consolation. They are paying the price of their love.

The wicked hunter shoots Babar’s mother The Story of Babar

They are having an experience, truly an ultimate experience, but it makes “the rest of us” uncomfortable because we have no idea what is to be done. It’s not like we have not suffered grave losses of our own, often in the same deaths. It’s not even really that we don’t understand. The challenge may be more that we do. And we are utterly horrified. So we start watching the calendar and making pragmatic assessments as to “stages of healing,” we pass along to one another books on “Death and Dying” and “Grief,” we consult the experts and think about whether to start them on medication, and when. We love these lost souls so dear to us, and feel their pain. With all of our hearts we want to help them, to really reach them. We pray to see them back to their old selves, really enrolled in life again, to want to be here.



Yet we have no clue how to help get them there. All we find at hand are cliches in clusters, misunderstandings, and judgmental pronouncements that may be easy to pass, with the best of intentions, yet serve no useful purpose. The Human heart must rate high among the most mysterious of things. It is strong and deep. It is amazingly resilient. And utterly fragile.

Scott Richard Gillen Sept. 27 1959 – Mar. 1, 1996

I have lived through it myself. In a very real sense, when Scott took his last breath that morning I died too. At least the “me” I had always known. A new journey had begun, birthed in pure mystery and thus one of great power, that is still very much always unfolding, taking shape. Along the way I have come to understand that some part of my purpose is to help others lost in grief, those inexplicably “left behind,” those now feeling as pain the love that should have died along with their beloved, but (most cruelly) did not.

“Oh, Paul,” she wrote me in one of her beautiful, nearly illegible letters from California, “You really can’t know what it’s like.” My first reaction was to bristle, ever so slightly. “How can she say that?” Then, I settled down and stopped to listen to the thought she’d expressed. I realized, “That’s true, I really cannot.” Each experience of grief must be unique, exactly as much so as the relationship that gave it birth. So I wrote to her and said, “That’s true, Carol. I thought about what you said, and you are absolutely right. If each love is unique, and they certainly are, then so must be a survivor’s experience of its loss.”
“But for that very reason and in that same sense, Carol,” I wrote,” with all due respect, you cannot ever really understand the nature of my loss.” And it seemed true; it seemed to address her unspoken cry.
This is the way it is. We are all in the experience, together and alone.

But as I see it, It is love that led us into this mess and it is Love that will see us through. I feel more than I see, and know more than I understand. But this I see, feel, and know.

________________________________________________

Blessed are they that mourn,” he said. Blessed how?? Maybe because this is the human plight: the highest and best that we can hope for is to be left utterly heartbroken. Because the greatest dream that guides and lifts us is that one day (and may it be soon, we pray) we will find the one that will complete and fulfill us. Yet we cannot, need not, really forget that all things are temporary, and that as a matter of certainty death will part us, sooner or later. Is it not insane to give ourselves over in love, fully and without reservation, knowing the rules of the game? Part of us pales and gasps Yes!, while another deeper, more ancient voice says No, it is all right. It is in love alone that we are to seek our salvation. Relax: we have no choice. We are here to live, not engage in a decades-long preparation for our deaths.
If we are only here for a while, let’s not keep fear as our chosen companion. It offers no real safety, anyway. And it cannot keep us warm at night, or give us a reason for awakening with gladness unto a new day.

Blessed are they that mourn, indeed. For they have not only loved, as in past tense. They love still, though they may be enshrouded in pain unbearable with no hope visible on the horizon, and have no idea what to do with their love. My God! How they love. And their longing is not in vain. It may be heard in Heaven like the most sweet, soft kind of music. Received as a parched flower bed drinks in the falling rain. Received as a prayer.

But for those that mourn, especially, Heaven or anything remotely like it can seem impossibly far away. It is for these people, the lost and love-scarred, it is for myself and for you that I have told my story. I have written a book about my journey of life and death, about finding and losing my soul mate, and then (much to my astonishment) finding him again, forever. It is a story about healing, and the presence and everyday involvement of angels. Its essential message is Listen to your heart: it will tell you, sure and certain as your heartbeat: Love never dies. Follow love where it leads you, holding nothing back. This is what we are here for, and somehow, some way, all shall be well.

Maybe not exactly the way you might imagine it (but then again, what ever has been?), but all right. I have learned that Death ends a life, but not a relationship. And holding on to that assurance in your heart, still and small, can change everything.

Commissioned Mosaic by George Fishman, Miami Shores, FL


My book is called Death is an Impostor: Life, Death, and the Path of the Heart.

I will start sharing it, here.


My Mom, Dreaming of Elsewhere

February 19, 2008

(Or, Playing with Photos # 1!)

My parents, Anne O’Quinn Crockett and Jerry Bruce Crockett, are genuinely extraordinary people. As an adult, now 47, I can see that now more fully and clearly than ever before. They are both, thank God, in very good health despite some challenges, and in their late 70’s still throw one hell of a great dinner party. Essential facts: they are deeply and most unusually still in love after 54 years of marriage. Their daily experience– pleasure, struggle, all of it, is informed by a real faith (by which I mean one that opens one’s world and tends to include, rather than making it smaller, inviting a sort of calcification of the soul in which dogma takes center stage, no matter the human cost). And, they are all about family. Always have been.

I don’t want to go Norman Rockwell on you, because nothing in real life is ever really all that easy or simple, I know. I’m not about painting a pretty picture that reflects more fantasy than fact, leaving others feeling “less than” because their reality doesn’t live up to a perceived ideal.

And besides, all of that is another story. Today I just wanted to share with you an old photograph, the way it hit me, and the image birthed as a result.


This I will do with no more words, other than to explain that above is my maternal grandmother, Flora Frye O’Quinn (a huge soul if ever there was one), my Mom, and her sister Pat at their home in Lillington, NC. Gammy had sewn for her daughters dresses made of silk, and the photograph marks the occasion.

I was immediately struck by the photo, especially my Mom. Just look at her! I thought, “Where is she?” It got me to thinking, and wondering.

Here is where that wondering led me.



My Mom, dreaming of elsewhere.

What I Told the Law Students

February 19, 2008

“Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering.”
— The Buddha

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
Philo of Alexandria

“Love to love you, baby.” Donna Summer

Damn!
How can I digress before even getting to the text of a posting? Oh well! It’s a Sunday, noontime, and it’s my blog and I’ll wander if I want to : )

Anyway. Here is what I wanted to share, today. Let me get this out of the way, because it seems to melt peoples’ minds: I am a lawyer. A good one, in fact, and proudly so. I’ve heard the question countless times: “How can you be an artist… and a lawyer?” And I refrain from rolling my eyes and sighing in an exaggerated manner (suggestive of the most irredeemable ennui), and commencing to pronounce “Well, really, to me those things are quite consistent. Just two different mediums.” Blank stare. “To be a really good lawyer, in fact,” I add, “one must be creative. You’ve really got to be. The more creative, the better.”


I suppose my irritation is not at all with the question. It’s a completely fair one, because many people have never met an attorney that would acknowledge in public having any more than one (rather narrow and grey) dimension, if that. But the issue is larger by far than any one profession.

This is a quintessentially human issue, and I suppose that my real pain with the inquiry is the limitation implicit in the question. Maybe some of these sad compromises we might’ve made unaware, some of these self-imposed limitations we’ve come to see as self-evident, are neither necessary nor true. Maybe the path you have chosen might not have necessarily shut the door on your most tender dreams. Maybe you can be “both” of whatever you might want to be, if that truly be your desire. Maybe life can be viewed more as a buffet of choices than an “either/or” pair of doors. Maybe at least some of the brutal costs of living, real and inevitable though they may seem, are rooted in a lack of belief, or even attention.

Maybe we should never stop listening for our passion!

____________________________________________________________________

All of which brings me to the subject of my posting. A few years back I was asked by my friend and colleague Martha (“Marnie”) Mahoney, law professor at the University of Miami Law School and noted firebrand of an accomplished academician, to come and speak to a class she had brought into being, something like Social Justice and the Law. To everybody’s surprise, the elective seminar became phenomenally popular. It turns out that law students, among the most talented and even idealistic of people (and thus sometimes most cynical), carried this tremendous thirst for meaning, integrity, and real contribution to community. Not all, but many, law students had undertaken the studies motivated primarily by a desire to help people. (I know: Stop the presses!!) And nobody was talking about this or even addressing the issue, much less helping teach them how. And then, God bless her, came Marnie.

So I went and spoke, and as it turns out the transcript of my little chat with the students wound up opening a big fat real legal textbook (the kind of book I NEVER thought I’d see myself in!), published by West Publishing, the “big guys”:


That was unexpected enough to make me feel good. So, with no further ado, here is what I said to the law students that day. The text is seen exactly as printed in the textbook. I hope you enjoy it.

5. Consider these comments by attorney Paul Crockett, reflecting on his practice and the importance of learning “the vocabulary of power.”

How many of you are brave enough to admit that you have no idea what you are doing in Law School? While at the University of Florida, I wondered what I was doing in Law School. I would like to say that I knew what I was doing when I got there and where I was going, but I cannot. I did realize my purpose, as most law students do, in time. This is the story of integrating my personal and professional lives, and the realization of my sense of purpose. God help you if all you are is a lawyer.

A law school education is great. Even if you are not going to be a lawyer, the education makes you literate in the vocabulary of power. It opens up all your options. The hope is that you find something to be passionate about.

I’m with a four-lawyer firm. This is a “gay and lesbian” niche firm: we have three gays, a lesbian, and a transgendered person in this office. Lawyers are a dime a dozen. There are a million lawyers out there; so to the extent you are going to be successful, you’re going to have to find a niche, and work on it. Those that generate business are the ones that are really valued in a firm, because the ‘grunts’ are a dime a dozen. The people who can generate the business are always the highest paid. Ideally, your professional life and personal life are both part of you; you become engaged in what you are doing.

I started as a lawyer in 1988, and I was not yet out to my employers. I had a sense that litigation was wasteful and inherently loathsome, and I had a sense that I wanted to do something positive with my life–but I wasn’t sure what it was. [So I went to a small firm and began work in estate planning.] Subsequently, the lawyer who hired me has come out as gay. I think that’s part of the reason he hired me. He was teaching me to be an attorney and I was teaching him to be gay. (Actually, he didn’t need any lessons; he took to it quite naturally.) I had to come out to these people because there was a steady stream of gays and lesbians coming into my office, and an explanation seemed warranted. I am openly HIV positive, and I have been since September 20, 1990. It has been both a blessing and a curse. I started practicing at roughly the same time that AIDS was really taking off among the gay community in Miami. I began getting calls in my office from people who were anguished by the loss of their loved ones. A lot of people were dying, a lot of people were getting sick. My peers, and people a little older than me, were facing challenges that their grandparents had to face: burying all your friends, burying your life partner–the people you thought you would grow old with. I had to pick up the mess, and I realized that this was a part of life, my life. * * *

There’s more than educating people about the laws and respects for gay people. * * * It’s important to find something that works for you, whatever makes it more real than something you just do from nine-to-five; find something that allows you to put your heart into it. * * *

I have been involved with HIV issues since 1988. In a bizarre way, HIV has become a bridge between me, and people whom I would have not perceived to have anything in common with. We all have different color skin; we all have different backgrounds, but we’re one soul. What do I have in common, as a fairly privileged, white, gay man, with a struggling black mother or a Hispanic IV drug addict? I have HIV, a common challenge. My concept was to establish a framework for AIDS advocacy, since the issues do overlap, because HIV involves homelessness; it involves racial issues, gender issues. Why did it take so long before they studied the effects of inhibitors in women? Why did it take so long for them to realize that women had symptoms that were unique? The answer was [that the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical research companies] did not care. ***

A lot of people ask me, “Why do you need to talk about it?”? And I tell them, “Excuse me, I really need to talk about it. This is who I am.” Heterosexual men hold hands with their wives when they walk down the street. People have photographs of their spouses in their office. Are they flaunting their heterosexuality? When did they choose their heterosexuality? ***

*** I am uncomfortable walking down the street with my partner holding hands, because it’s asking for trouble. So, that is a constant reality. There are certain things you learn as a matter of survival. ***

Even when crusading for something so worthy, there comes a time where you need to step back for a minute, and have a life. Having a life has always been very important to me. I think it’s a primary duty for all of us.

If you are going to be an effective lawyer you’ve got to be creative. You need to find out what is it that you individually have, as a result of your experience, to bring to the client’s benefit? And, do you really care, why are you doing it? If you’re doing it just for the money, it’s probably a bad decision, because it is not an easy way to make a living. We all need to make a living. Our landlords don’t get paid on good will; you don’t walk into a restaurant or a grocery store and pay with your positive wishes. But sometimes you actually get a feeling that you’re helping somebody with the case that you are arguing, and then that makes it all worthwhile. You get caught up in learning to be a lawyer; studying for the bar exam. Why are you here? That is the fundamental question; that’s a good question; a question you need to keep on asking yourselves.

I think there is a big thirst for meaning generally, in our society, where people realize that just making money is not everything. What is prestige at the end of the day? Nothing, it’s dust. * * *

I have spent 10 years doing this. There is a while where you can take your passion and you burn like a flame, as you try to shed light on an area. Then your flame feels like it is dying. But it is better to get burnt out on something with meaning, than to waste your existence and a brilliant, powerful education.

Paul Hampton Crockett, A Law School Education: Learning the Vocabulary of Power, Address delivered at the University of Miami School of Law, 1999.

Is passion or outrage at injustice an important aspect of social justice lawyering?


My Mom, Dreaming of Elsewhere

February 19, 2008

(Or, Playing with Photos # 1!)

My parents, Anne O’Quinn Crockett and Jerry Bruce Crockett, are genuinely extraordinary people. As an adult, now 47, I can see that now more fully and clearly than ever before. They are both, thank God, in very good health despite some challenges, and in their late 70’s still throw one hell of a great dinner party. Essential facts: they are deeply and most unusually still in love after 54 years of marriage. Their daily experience– pleasure, struggle, all of it, is informed by a real faith (by which I mean one that opens one’s world and tends to include, rather than making it smaller, inviting a sort of calcification of the soul in which dogma takes center stage, no matter the human cost). And, they are all about family. Always have been.

I don’t want to go Norman Rockwell on you, because nothing in real life is ever really all that easy or simple, I know. I’m not about painting a pretty picture that reflects more fantasy than fact, leaving others feeling “less than” because their reality doesn’t live up to a perceived ideal.

And besides, all of that is another story. Today I just wanted to share with you an old photograph, the way it hit me, and the image birthed as a result.


This I will do with no more words, other than to explain that above is my maternal grandmother, Flora Frye O’Quinn (a huge soul if ever there was one), my Mom, and her sister Pat at their home in Lillington, NC. Gammy had sewn for her daughters dresses made of silk, and the photograph marks the occasion.

I was immediately struck by the photo, especially my Mom. Just look at her! I thought, “Where is she?” It got me to thinking, and wondering.

Here is where that wondering led me.



My Mom, dreaming of elsewhere.

What I Told the Law Students

February 19, 2008

“Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering.”
— The Buddha

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

— Philo of Alexandria

“Love to love you, baby.”
— Donna Summer


Damn! How can I digress before even getting to the text of a posting? Oh well! It’s a Sunday, noontime, and it’s my blog and I’ll wander if I want to : )

Anyway. Here is what I wanted to share, today. Let me get this out of the way, because it seems to melt peoples’ minds: I am a lawyer. A good one, in fact, and proudly so. I’ve heard the question countless times: “How can you be an artist… and a lawyer?” And I refrain from rolling my eyes and sighing in an exaggerated manner (suggestive of the most irredeemable ennui), and commencing to pronounce “Well, really, to me those things are quite consistent. Just two different mediums.” Blank stare. “To be a really good lawyer, in fact,” I add, “one must be creative. You’ve really got to be. The more creative, the better.”


I suppose my irritation is not at all with the question. It’s a completely fair one, because many people have never met an attorney that would acknowledge in public having any more than one (rather narrow and grey) dimension, if that. But the issue is larger by far than any one profession.

This is a quintessentially human issue, and I suppose that my real pain with the inquiry is the limitation implicit in the question. Maybe some of these sad compromises we might’ve made unaware, some of these self-imposed limitations we’ve come to see as self-evident, are neither necessary nor true. Maybe the path you have chosen might not have necessarily shut the door on your most tender dreams. Maybe you can be “both” of whatever you might want to be, if that truly be your desire. Maybe life can be viewed more as a buffet of choices than an “either/or” pair of doors. Maybe at least some of the brutal costs of living, real and inevitable though they may seem, are rooted in a lack of belief, or even attention.

Maybe we should never stop listening for our passion!

____________________________________________________________________

All of which brings me to the subject of my posting. A few years back I was asked by my friend and colleague Martha (“Marnie”) Mahoney, law professor at the University of Miami Law School and noted firebrand of an accomplished academician, to come and speak to a class she had brought into being, something like Social Justice and the Law. To everybody’s surprise, the elective seminar became phenomenally popular. It turns out that law students, among the most talented and even idealistic of people (and thus sometimes most cynical), carried this tremendous thirst for meaning, integrity, and real contribution to community. Not all, but many, law students had undertaken the studies motivated primarily by a desire to help people. (I know: Stop the presses!!) And nobody was talking about this or even addressing the issue, much less helping teach them how. And then, God bless her, came Marnie.

So I went and spoke, and as it turns out the transcript of my little chat with the students wound up opening a big fat real legal textbook (the kind of book I NEVER thought I’d see myself in!), published by West Publishing, the “big guys”:


That was unexpected enough to make me feel good. So, with no further ado, here is what I said to the law students that day. The text is seen exactly as printed in the textbook. I hope you enjoy it.

5. Consider these comments by attorney Paul Crockett, reflecting on his practice and the importance of learning “the vocabulary of power.”

How many of you are brave enough to admit that you have no idea what you are doing in Law School? While at the University of Florida, I wondered what I was doing in Law School. I would like to say that I knew what I was doing when I got there and where I was going, but I cannot. I did realize my purpose, as most law students do, in time. This is the story of integrating my personal and professional lives, and the realization of my sense of purpose. God help you if all you are is a lawyer.

A law school education is great. Even if you are not going to be a lawyer, the education makes you literate in the vocabulary of power. It opens up all your options. The hope is that you find something to be passionate about.

I’m with a four-lawyer firm. This is a “gay and lesbian” niche firm: we have three gays, a lesbian, and a transgendered person in this office. Lawyers are a dime a dozen. There are a million lawyers out there; so to the extent you are going to be successful, you’re going to have to find a niche, and work on it. Those that generate business are the ones that are really valued in a firm, because the ‘grunts’ are a dime a dozen. The people who can generate the business are always the highest paid. Ideally, your professional life and personal life are both part of you; you become engaged in what you are doing.

I started as a lawyer in 1988, and I was not yet out to my employers. I had a sense that litigation was wasteful and inherently loathsome, and I had a sense that I wanted to do something positive with my life–but I wasn’t sure what it was. [So I went to a small firm and began work in estate planning.] Subsequently, the lawyer who hired me has come out as gay. I think that’s part of the reason he hired me. He was t
eaching me to be an attorney and I was teaching him to be gay. (Actually, he didn’t need any lessons; he took to it quite naturally.) I had to come out to these people because there was a steady stream of gays and lesbians coming into my office, and an explanation seemed warranted. I am openly HIV positive, and I have been since September 20, 1990. It has been both a blessing and a curse. I started practicing at roughly the same time that AIDS was really taking off among the gay community in Miami. I began getting calls in my office from people who were anguished by the loss of their loved ones. A lot of people were dying, a lot of people were getting sick. My peers, and people a little older than me, were facing challenges that their grandparents had to face: burying all your friends, burying your life partner–the people you thought you would grow old with. I had to pick up the mess, and I realized that this was a part of life, my life. * * *

There’s more than educating people about the laws and respects for gay people. * * * It’s important to find something that works for you, whatever makes it more real than something you just do from nine-to-five; find something that allows you to put your heart into it. * * *

I have been involved with HIV issues since 1988. In a bizarre way, HIV has become a bridge between me, and people whom I would have not perceived to have anything in common with. We all have different color skin; we all have different backgrounds, but we’re one soul. What do I have in common, as a fairly privileged, white, gay man, with a struggling black mother or a Hispanic IV drug addict? I have HIV, a common challenge. My concept was to establish a framework for AIDS advocacy, since the issues do overlap, because HIV involves homelessness; it involves racial issues, gender issues. Why did it take so long before they studied the effects of inhibitors in women? Why did it take so long for them to realize that women had symptoms that were unique? The answer was [that the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical research companies] did not care. ***

A lot of people ask me, “Why do you need to talk about it?”? And I tell them, “Excuse me, I really need to talk about it. This is who I am.” Heterosexual men hold hands with their wives when they walk down the street. People have photographs of their spouses in their office. Are they flaunting their heterosexuality? When did they choose their heterosexuality? ***

*** I am uncomfortable walking down the street with my partner holding hands, because it’s asking for trouble. So, that is a constant reality. There are certain things you learn as a matter of survival. ***

Even when crusading for something so worthy, there comes a time where you need to step back for a minute, and have a life. Having a life has always been very important to me. I think it’s a primary duty for all of us.

If you are going to be an effective lawyer you’ve got to be creative. You need to find out what is it that you individually have, as a result of your experience, to bring to the client’s benefit? And, do you really care, why are you doing it? If you’re doing it just for the money, it’s probably a bad decision, because it is not an easy way to make a living. We all need to make a living. Our landlords don’t get paid on good will; you don’t walk into a restaurant or a grocery store and pay with your positive wishes. But sometimes you actually get a feeling that you’re helping somebody with the case that you are arguing, and then that makes it all worthwhile. You get caught up in learning to be a lawyer; studying for the bar exam. Why are you here? That is the fundamental question; that’s a good question; a question you need to keep on asking yourselves.

I think there is a big thirst for meaning generally, in our society, where people realize that just making money is not everything. What is prestige at the end of the day? Nothing, it’s dust. * * *

I have spent 10 years doing this. There is a while where you can take your passion and you burn like a flame, as you try to shed light on an area. Then your flame feels like it is dying. But it is better to get burnt out on something with meaning, than to waste your existence and a brilliant, powerful education.

Paul Hampton Crockett, A Law School Education: Learning the Vocabulary of Power, Address delivered at the University of Miami School of Law, 1999.

Is passion or outrage at injustice an important aspect of social justice lawyering?


The Site, Tide Rolling In!

February 6, 2008


When
I started the day’s session, I sat on a little red folding stool I carry out with me in my backpack, my bare feet on dry sand. But in nature the only constant is change. Within an hour and a half the warm salt water was rising, and I had to fold up the stool and stand. No big deal. When I’m really on a roll, there’s very little that’s going to stop me. But by this point the tide was coming in fast, and seemed to be pouring in from countless different sharp angles into one relatively small root-tangled area, and thus forced to do battle before resolving into calm. Small waves suddenly crested and splashed all around, an undeniably insistent and choppy edge to them.

There is very little reasoning with it, really. Nature’s saying “Go,” finally, and I respect her wisdom. You have to, or she’ll clobber you over the head! Then it’s a matter of scrambling to pick up the occasional tube of paint or brush that is now tumbling around in warm salt water, inching away, grabbing the backpack and getting everything up higher, higher still, into the trees, and packing up. And then stumbling back toward the beach, where wet sands finally claim that old flip-flop that wasn’t any good anyway. The toe strap snaps on that one, and its partner is immediately lost in primeval muck, with a loud wet smack. And man! does that oil paint get on everything! “I’m a mess,” I think to myself, panting, almost tipping as I crouch now and then under head-level branches carrying my wet heavy backpack, trying to keep my canvas from taking sail, navigating my metal easel like some forlorn Don Quijote with no Sancho Panza in sight.

And you know what? I wouldn’t trade a second of it. For anything.

I carry away a new painting, in progress, and the memory of a moment strangely precious. I’ve long since made it to the car and made it safely home. And now, in the instant between that memory and the future session I anticipate, I feel to say, “Thank you, God, for all of my many many blessings.”