On any given day my life is filled with conflicting and contradictory moments of beautiful grace and bitter sorrow. Four kids, four dogs, a lively legal practice, and a commitment to living in a manner that lets the divine sparks flicker and fire in every one I meet and everything I see. I feel like I am surfing on a spiritual surf board, gliding across beautiful waters and wiping out continually.
This week was no exception. I spent time in jails, I spent hours talking with people facing life in prison, and I watched my son Caleb play soccer with a lot of other little Spirits, near the tobacco and cotton fields of Wilson. I talked with a parent who has lost everything, and I helped Nate hit a pink ball, with a pink bat, wearing a pink batting helmet at the baseball field around the corner from our house. As much as these experiences cannot be reconciled, they are miraculously reconciled, integrated, and weaved in the fabric of my life.
When my wife was called into the birth center at 2 am to help deliver babies, I knew I was going to be late to federal Court in Wilmington that morning. I had already made arrangements for another attorney to stand in for me until I could make it, but this didn’t lessen my anxiety because I had never appeared before Judge Fox, or visited the federal court house in Wilmington. I packed lunches, dressed kids, cleaned up after dogs who didn’t make it outside in time, put on a suit (and tie), and headed to Wilmington – once I tagged my lovely tag-team partner who had been up since 2 am. She drove the kids to school as I headed to the Atlantic.
I almost ran out of gas, I almost got lost. I parked too far down town and walked several blocks to the court house. When I arrived there was a bomb squad from the coast guard disassembling an unattended back pack, and I had to convince them to let me through the crowd on the street and into the court. It didn’t occur to me the stupidity of trying to get near a potential bomb and into court, just because I was late.
The old court house is marble and beautiful. Exactly as court houses should be. I could feel the history, the race riots, the civil rights battles, the great trial lawyers, known and unknown, who devoted themselves to the art of advocacy. Judge Fox is a kind and proper old federal judge. His breathing is labored, like he needed oxygen. He sat on the bench with the clerks desks, jury seats, counsel tables, all laid out around him in the old fashion of courts. It was like they built his nest around him, and he would have to be carried out.
I came into court, and soaked in every drop of that classic court room. I saw some familiar fellow trial lawyers. I was called to the bench, and cordially welcomed by Judge Fox who was not bothered in the least by my late arrival. Much ado about nothing. My routine hearing is over in the blink of an eye, and I almost hate to leave. This court room is worthy of great and lengthy trial, and I am already finished.
I go to the United State’s Marshal’s office and wait to visit my client. I look out the window at the Cape Fear River, and I can see the Battleship North Carolina moored in an inlet, populated by tourists. I wait and wait and wait. And I read Dorothy Day as I wait. I love Dorothy Day for her deep spiritual center, her commitment to social justice and activism, and her writer’s razor sharp commitment to painting the truth – showing the world for what it is – for what it could be, and not preaching. The bright blue sky and clear white clouds are a stark contrast to the wire mesh between me and client as we speak. I laugh and joke, and try to raise her spirits. She has a good humor, even though she is separated from her children. I take a walk along the Cape Fear River, and marvel at the water and the sky. I see the Hilton where I stayed to learn about the Wilmington “Race Riots,” when a white racist coup attacked and deposed an affluent black middle class – the Cape Fear River was red with innocent blood.
I look for a place for lunch. I see a sign for “Hell’s Kitchen,” and sense another spiritual wave to ride. I sit in Hell’s Kitchen, in Wilmington North Carolina, reading some more Dorothy Day. I chuckle and know this matriarch of social justice would be pleased to be read in a detention room, federal court house, and then a restaurant called “hell’s kitchen.” And so I finish up the last paragraph as my food arrives: “To change the hearts and minds of men,” he said “To give them vision — the vision of a society where it is easier for men to be good.”