Of disabilities and pride

I understand the concept of celebrating the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Quite frankly, though, I don’t want to be associated with something known as “disabilities pride month”.

Hear me out.

I’ve “had a disability” since before the word became vogue and sparked an industry.  I became critically ill at eighteen months, and when I got through the torture of 1950s medicine, I had a “walking problem”.  My mother coined that term.  For the next couple of decades, I bounced from orthopedic doctors to neurologists to physical therapists.  None of them knew what to make of me.  They predicted all kinds of dire outcomes, none of which has yet come to  pass.

Doctors shrugged and gave me Valium, Darvon, Lithium and Librium, Depakote, Baclofen, Flexeril, and a bunch of other things that I can’t recall.  I spent my twenties, thirties, and forties building a solid dependency on prescription painkillers.  To be honest, they did not relieve the pain. I could still feel it, but I no longer cared — about the pain, and, increasingly, about anything.  Nearly ten years ago, I made an appointment with my primary physician and begged him to take me off the stuff.  I took my last Percoset on 31 December 2013.

Through grade school, high school, college, and even law school, I fended off varying levels of what folks now consider bullying.  Boys followed me down the street imitating my walk.  Girls whispered and pointed.  Young men bluntly asked if I could have sex.  Others honestly rejected any notion that they might consider intimacy.  The curious asked questions.  The impolite made suggestions.  Mothers pulled their children away from me and smirked.

The physical barriers which confound me have not been greatly alleviated by the regulations flowing from the ADA.  Most of the biggest concessions made by public facilities benefit people in wheelchairs, especially if they have an attendant or drive a powerchair.  Others help the sight impaired, like the little inverted cups which signal a crossing or danger, but pose a tripping hazard for me.  Parking spaces by curb cuts only help if the access can be next to my driver’s door and the spaces are situated by the entrance of the building.  Accessible hotel rooms need to be near the lobby or elevator, and often are at the end of the hallway.

Please do not mistake my intention.  Any modification which makes a building or facility easier for any disabled person to use should absolutely be required.  However, as an ambulatory person with spastic legs, weak lungs, asthma, and unrelenting fatigue, most of those accommodations do not help me.

I recently went for a blood draw at a Stanford facility.  I parked in the patient garage in one of the available handicapped spaces.  I grabbed my sturdy stick because the distance to the elevator surpassed what I currently can independently navigate.  I saw no sign telling me the floor for the lab (there were no signs whatsoever) so I got out on the first level and approached a guard.

I asked the location of the laboratory.  He told me to go out the front door and walk to the next entrance.  I asked if I had used the wrong elevator.  He assured me that I had not.  He repeated his instructions multiple times.  He showed me a wall map.  I asked how far it was.  He opined that it was “not too far”.  I asked if there was an entrance at which I could park that put me in the correct building.  He shook his head and repeated the directions to the lab, assuring me again that it was “not far”.

After about fifteen minutes, the guard moved his body to within six inches of mine and said, “Lady, I’m trying to tell you where it is.  Go out the door, walk down the street, go in the next door.  Okay?”  He thrust his face almost to a point of touching mine.  I asked him to step back.  Then he got closer and said, “I’m going to get you a wheelchair and I’m going to take you there myself.”

Two things were crystal clear to me:  I had no desire to use a wheelchair after spending sixty-six years staying vertical; and, perhaps more importantly, I would never, under any circumstances, allow this man to push any wheelchair that I did use.  I told him that I did not want a wheelchair and I started toward the door.  He came even closer to me, muttering over and over that he was trying to help me.  I told him to leave me alone.  He said he was going to escort me next door.  I told him to go away.  He said he was not leaving and that he would walk with me.  I told him that if he did not leave me alone, I would call the police.

He followed me all the way over to the building.  I have never felt quite so vulnerable in all my years of having “a walking problem” and being a relatively small, relatively weak person who spends most of her time alone.

I feel no pride in being disabled.  I feel no pride in having to bludgeon the world to begrudgingly yield its contours to admit me.  In fact, most of the time I am tired, sad, and angry that in 2022, it is even necessary to mention the injustice of barriers.  To paraphrase a reaction which I read online to the newest legislative proposals attempting to preserve marriage equality, the fact that you have to vote on whether or not I get equal access to the grocery store infuriates me.

So please excuse me for not displaying whatever color you’ve assigned to disability pride month.  I’m over it.  I’ve abandoned the hope that I will ever be able to get around with the ease of the able-bodied.  I’m taking my stick in hand, and I’m going to consider using it to whack the next person who suggests that I’d be better off in a wheelchair.    That patently absurd and false assertion insults me and, even more, insults people whose medical conditions require dependence on wheels.  They face as many difficulties as I do, just different kinds.  Don’t try to justify the clumsy and feeble attempts that you make to level the playing field.  Fix it, or get out of my way and let me figure it out on my own.




I never doubted that the despicable force in Russia would invade Ukraine.  Despite my education and age, I don’t possess the kind of political savvy which completely understands the nuances of war, but I have lived through enough to expect evil to strive for self-perpetuation.

Nor did the former, twice-impeached, losing president’s praise of Putin shock me.  That person, whose name I do not at this moment care to utter, has also shown that he cares little for democracy.  His lack of empathy and humanitarianism characterized his term of office and continues to reflect in his post-loss behavior.  That his minions flock to his feet in this despicable display only confirms his unsuitability for office.

Like many children of the 50s and early 60s, I huddled beneath my desk during missile drills in early elementary school.  My mother stocked our fruit cellar with food, blankets, and basic needs.  I folded my afghan over a little cot in the cold basement.  I knew to run downstairs if the sirens blew, whether during tornado season or the nightly news.

In graduate school, I studied the warped passions of international terrorists and the oppressive regimes of eastern Europe and Asia.  One professor, whose name I cannot verify so I will not butcher, used to tell a joke about Stalin which he found enormously funny but which none of us understood.  He intended it to illustrate his Ukrainian disdain for the U.S.S.R.  The joke involved Stalin going to Hell and feeling quite comfortable there.  I shuddered on hearing it, but the professor snickered, his natural resilience seemingly displayed in this smear upon a defiler of his beloved homeland.

During the 2014 invasion of Crimea, I listened in horror to NPR.  That year held much personal trauma for me, but even so, I understood how small my burdens — death of a beloved father-in-law, decampment of a disloyal spouse — in comparison to the devastation of war.  Yes, I realize that suffering should not be seen as a competition; but indeed, I go to bed each night knowing that soldiers will not shell my tiny house while I sleep.(fn)

And so, to 2022.

We arrive at Putin’s fourth act.   Employing a tactic too familiar to Americans, he creates a pretend problem and then marches over his neighbor’s borders in a proclaimed effort to redress or forestall the imaginary threat to his security.   He fooled no one with that pronouncement, but perhaps some men and women of good conscience actually hoped that diplomatic talks would turn the tide.  That’s the trouble in dealing with tyrants.  They do not play by the rules of decency, another sad reality that Americans learned during the last presidential administration.

Yet here we stand.  The world must and hopefully will do what it can to support Ukraine.  Personally, if I ran the zoo, I would immediately grant Ukraine emergency membership in NATO.  I would oust Russia from every committee or office it holds in the UN.  I might even cast aside my innate anti-war leanings to put NATO and US boots on the ground in Kyev.  Perhaps it is just as well that I do not run the zoo, because, as I’ve noted, my education only prepared me so far.

I do what I can.  I share news stories, photos, and links.  I make donations to charities such as World Central Kitchen which has established an effort in  Poland to feed Ukrainian refugees.  I cannot do much, but I know that my small effort will be part of the incremental actions of thousands.  With luck, with the good auspices of the universe and, perhaps, with divine intervention, Ukraine might withstand the onslaught of the bully Putin.  I can only hope and yearn for that outcome.  With the Ukrainians huddled in the basements of their buildings, with Russians marching in the streets of their cities, with Ukrainian-Americans desperately trying to reach their families back home, I watch and lament; but I also pray.

May President Zelensky and his people reach into the enormous well of their national strength, and repel the ruthless, criminal Russian forces.  May they prevail.  May they save their democracy.

I #StandWithUkraine.


(fn)  So far, at least; though some residual fear lingers at the thought of what might happen if the would-be dictator wins a second term in 2024.

It Happened Here: One Year After The Insurrection

My political voice fell silent for the last eight months.  I resigned myself to occasional posts on social media.  I shared the writings of more famous persons.  I watched news reels in ten- or twenty-minute segments, after a long day at work.  Gradually, happier subjects drew my attention.

But the renewed commentary awakens my outrage.  Truth told, in the last year, I have lost four friends over our differing values.  They would say that I chose “politics” over them.  They do not understand.  I saw what they supported, the deep digression from my own standards.  I knew that anyone who could continue to praise the conduct which tore at the fabric of our democracy did not share my views.  The staggering contrast between what I find acceptable and what they tolerate could no longer sustain a relationship.

I mourn the loss of the relationships which I thought that I had.  However, I accept the flimsy illusion of closeness that must have hidden our immutable differences.  Democracy lies at the very core of my social and political identity.  The four people who cast me aside — or who claim that I pushed them away — turned blind eyes to the preaching of their leader, a man who incited a riot by which our Republic came under dire and continuing threat.     To support such a politician defies claims of patriotism.

I started my political life in my teens.  I joined the American Freedom From Hunger Foundation and aided the cause of raising funds for impoverished communities in rural parts of our nation.  I never looked back.  Cause after cause drew me; and always, my efforts aimed to improve the social fabric of this country so that it provided for everyone.  Call me a Pollyanna, but I believed in the American Dream and in its availability to everyone who came upon our shores.

So much about this country touches my heart.  Its people and their goodness stand chief among its virtues.   Anywhere I walk, any street upon which I trod, will bring me to a restaurant, a store, a museum, a bar, a field, a school, a bus stop where a hand will reach out to steady me.  When crisis strikes, someone grabs a microphone and implores our collective effort in uniquely American tones.

But America has her seamier side, mostly in the backhalls of Congress and the once-smoky boardrooms of its corporate conglomerates.  In the virtual world, too, messages of greed flow.   Sadly, most of us have no idea who really runs this place, the nation which many of us hold dear.  Still, I for one believe in its ideals, and in the people who manifest the best part of this great experiment.

On 06 January 2021, I sat at a computer in my place of employment.   An alert on my cell phone told me that news had broken.  I opened a web browser and sat in stunned silence, just as I did on 9/11, just as I did when the tornado hit Joplin and the hurricane barreled down Bourbon Street.  As the woman for whom I work ushered clients out, I stood in the hallway, gesturing, You must come see.  They’ve overtaken the Capitol.  We stared at the live coverage together.  We could not believe what we saw.

As time has passed, I’ve watched America split into two public persona.  One half condemns the attack on Congress and the building which houses the mechanism of our Democracy.  The other side barely and rarely mentions it, choosing instead to urge us to continue our daily existence, and to forget that horrendous event.

But we cannot, and should not, ever forget.

Sixty state and federal judges, respected officials of both major parties, and elected state officers across the country confirmed that Joseph Biden won the presidential election, securing the popular vote and the majority of the electoral college.  Yet to this very day, the losing candidate insists that he actually won, and praises those who stormed Congress in an effort to block the certification of the free and fair election.  With not one shred of evidence, the losing candidate gathers his party to his chest and bleats, over and over, that he, and not Joe Biden, should occupy the White House.  He will stop at nothing, which we know, because he made not one move to stop his mob in 187 minutes.  Instead he seemingly stared at a television, by all accounts pleased at the riot which bellowed his name.  All the while, people beat, broke, and battered their way into a sacred building, trampling stalwart defenders of Democracy who will forever bear the scars of that awful event.

Until 06 January 2021, many people believed that we stood far above authoritarianism and fascism.  “It can’t happen here,” we boldly asserted.   We felt immune.

But that day slammed us with the knowledge that it can, and it nearly did, and it might yet.  The January 06th mob nearly succeeded.  But for a few dozen amazingly brave officers, quick-witted pages and House employees, the peaceful transfer of power would have failed.

If ever we had the luxury of casual regard for our Democracy, that moment in our collective history has faded into the abyss of time.  Make no mistake about my sentiment.  The policies and practices of our governments, from local to national, have failed many of our people.  The need for reform cannot be ignored.  But that message will be told another today.

Today I stand on crippled legs, and raise my spindly spastic arms to plea for our nation.  We must not let the fascists overtake our Republic.  They claim to be freedom-loving patriots, but they want freedom only for themselves and those who look like the mirror’s image.  They avail themselves of the opportunities of America but would deny those opportunities to many.  They do not understand the intersection of social and personal compromise; the balancing act between freedom and safety; and the daunting but noble objectives upon which our country was founded.  A nation of the people, by the people, and for the people cannot submit to the narrow, bigoted ruling of a small fraction no matter how wealthy.

Tellingly, the supporters of the failed, twice-impeached, single-term former president always groan and whine about their rights without acknowledging the rights of groups whom they disparage.  Those supporters also either fail to see or choose to ignore the intricate balancing act between individual freedom and the greater good.   They refuse to acknowledge the untruths upon which their cause relies; and the twisted purpose to which they give themselves in service to those untruths.

When the ability of all to vote leads to the failure of their chosen candidate, they set about to deprive any opposition of meaningful access to the ballot box.

When they stand in the majority they proclaim their superiority.  The dilution of their majority leads to their cry of victimhood.

I watched Merrick Garland, the Attorney General of the United States of America, speak today.  I wanted to feel hopeful.    He seemed sincere.  He seemed measured, intelligent, and earnest.  He offered a quiet dedication.  He pledged accountability.  He vowed to seek justice.   My head bowed.  I felt like weeping, that we should come to such measures.

I know many young and passionate people who work for the betterment of a system which they perceive as failing the neediest among us.  I applaud them.  Nothing I say should be taken as unqualified endorsement of any action by our federal government.  I question both major parties.  The inability of our government to serve its people frustrates me.  The intolerance of immigrants, the erosion of reproductive rights, the staggering cost of medical care, and the failure of our government to provide the most basic of needs for those whom it serves saddens me.

But none of these problems should be used as an excuse for the likes of the January 06th storm.  Indeed, that angry mob did not protest any failure of government to serve its people.  They merely and grossly protested the lawful certification of a new president in place of the one which they had wanted.  Such conduct cannot be tolerated.   If we allow those who organized, funded, condoned, instigated, encouraged, and committed the January 06th attack to go unpunished, we will lose the Republic which most of us hold dear.

It can happen here. 

An explosion caused by a police munition at the Capitol Building, January 6. Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the seat of Congress last Wednesday, forcing lawmakers who were certifying Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory into hiding in a harrowing assault on the heart of American democracy that left five dead. REUTERS/Leah Millis

All Eyes Are Watching Us

I can never understand the experience of being black in the United States of America.  However, I can and do accept that discrimination and abuse levied on generations of people in this nation created a climate which perpetuates profound disadvantage.    I do not have to be the victim of this atrocity to recognize its truth.

But the centuries of mistreatment of black, indigenous, and other people of color in this nation  did more than just economically cripple an entire segment of society.  In every corner of this country, tacit tolerance of discriminatory treatment of people based on their race or ethnic identity invites injury.  Because society repeatedly excuses killing, assault, and disparagement, safe zones arise.   Police departments shirk their sworn duty to protect those whom they serve and instead shelter each other from exposure.

When Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, he and his associates immediately began spinning an alternate narrative.  By their immediate words and actions, they sought to raise the illusion that yet another uncontrollable black drug addict died from too much of what he had done, rather than too much of what they felt free to do.  From the hurried release of the Minneapolis police department’s first statement to the tale which Chauvin’s lawyer would eventually spin for the jury, the small cadre of Chauvin and the other officers present that day strained to blame George Floyd for his own murder.

That house of cards worked on so many occasions.  I can only assume that Chauvin must be overwhelmed with disbelief that the traditional blue wall of silence did not protect him as it has protected so many others.

And why?  Why did Chauvin’s trial result in a guilty verdict when so many others have gone free?

Because of one brave woman who faced and dared their wrath.  Darnella Frazier, still a teenager at the time that she held her cell phone towards the awful sight of a man who could have been her father or her brother under the knee of a police officer.  Without Ms. Frazier’s courage, we might have suspected the truth but Chauvin would likely have succeeded in hiding the shameful truth of what he did.

Darnella Frazier kept her eyes opened, and because of her, the eyes of the world focused on Minneapolis today.

I do not think the statements of Maxine Waters or Joe Biden made any impact on the verdict in that Minnesota courtroom.  The prosecution rested its case last week.   The jury listened to what little evidence the defense submitted, but in truth, that evidence consisted of barely disguised supposition and excuse.  The jury had already seen the  only evidence which really mattered:  Nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds during which an emotionless uniformed officer with his hands in his  pockets pressed the life from an unarmed, handcuffed, prone black man crying for his mother.

If the world keeps its eyes trained on the United States of America, we might have a chance for genuine change.  If the nation keeps its eyes on those in power, the tiny crack of today’s verdict could be pried wide enough to shatter the system.

Sadly, even if this first verdict starts a domino effect which results in genuine reform, George Floyd cannot receive justice.  Nor can his daughter or his brothers.    Even if the City of Minneapolis opens its coffers, George Floyd will not be resurrected.  Make no mistake:  This is not justice.  We have merely seen a murderer called by his true name.

But still:  This jury has set us on a path that we can reject or choose.  We can announce that we will no longer tolerate the rank abuse of power by law enforcement; the economic degradation of more than half of our citizens; or the  appalling practice of allocating privilege based on skin color.  We hold the light which can drive away the generations of shadow.  All eyes are watching us, especially those of our children.  Let us not disappoint them.  Let us hold high the Lady’s torch, and cast the light of Liberty in every corner of our nation.


Clear and Present Danger

On 01 January 2017, I began this bog because I felt that the nation in which I had then lived for 62 years faced a potential crisis that I wanted to help document if not forestall.  I knew that my lone and insignificant voice would only influence my small circle of largely like-minded cohorts.  But I also knew that many tiny voices swell into a great chorus.

Over the last four years, I have not been as faithful to this venue as I intended to be.  Though most of what distracted me involved personal pursuits and problems, another nagging sensation stood in my way.  I perceived myself to be helpless to make any difference, regardless of how small or seemingly irrelevant to the greater good.

I have never felt as futile as I did on 06 January 2021, watching the events unfold in Washington, DC at least to the limited though horrifying extent that those of us outside of the Capitol follow.  My phone had blipped with an alert.  Though working, I casually glanced at the message and then, alarmed, opened a fresh browser on my computer.  My mouth fell.  I wanted to interrupt the meeting in our conference room, to blurt out, The Capitol has been breached! and drag the clients and the California attorney for whom I work to watch with me. I could scarcely bear the horror on my own.

In the ensuing days, more facts have been revealed.  We now know that Donald J. Trump, his son, and his attorney stoked the fury of a crowd of thousands by repeating lies which court after court has rejected.  We know that the riot and insurrection of January 06th had been planned for weeks and in specific.  We know that as terrible as the live feed we saw might have been, what we didn’t see live was much worse.

I do not pretend to be a Constitutional law scholar.  I took a course in law school and, many years prior to law school, as a political science minor at St. Louis University during my under-grad years.  But I took Civics in eighth grade, as every Missouri student had to do in order to pass.  In Civics, I learned about the separation of powers; the three co-extensive branches of our federal government; and the seriousness with which anyone elected to office must take their oath.

Like every president before him. Trump took this oath of office:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The source of his oath is our Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clause 8.  He did not swear allegiance to party or to himself.  He swore to preserve, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution; and to faithfully execute his office.

Yet in the hour after the insurrectionists stormed our capitol, calling for the execution of our Vice President,  Trump assured the mob that he loved them and considered them to be “very special”.  Trump and his cronies had whipped their supporters into a frenzy with lies and false accusations about the 2020 election.  Trump drove the mob to what he wanted: An attempt to foil the Constitutionally mandated installation of the winner of the electoral college votes.

Many Trump-supporters believe his lies.  I have a family member who seems to genuinely think that the massive voter fraud claimed by Trump actually occurred despite the failure of Trump’s attorneys to produce one shred of actual evidence.  She claims that the country is in “a Constitutional crisis”.

I agree.

The crisis in which we find ourselves flows from the predictable but nonetheless tragic failure of Donald J. Trump to faithfully discharge his office and defend the Constitution.  His treachery found solace and assistance not only in his close associates and adult children, but in the likes of Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of my beloved home-state, Missouri.  Those two Republican senators led the charge to object to counting  electoral votes citing debunked claims of fraud and other irregularities.  Their challenges had no good-faith basis on January 06th, assuming arguendo that their objections ever had any legitimate basis.  Sixty-plus courts, including the U. S. Supreme Court, had rejected the claims.  Cruz and Hawley spewed the same lies that Trump shouted from every corner of the internet, and did so even in the resumed joint session after the bloody riot had been quelled.

Yes, we have a crisis.  This crisis unfolded between my first entry and this one, born of Trump’s demagoguery and fueled by the greed of his family and associates.  I have no words for the 74 million Americans who voted to re-elect Trump, or the voices which raise to defend him even now.  I see the disparity with which the Capitol police treated the MAGA-mob as compared with law enforcement abuse of the largely peaceful protests of last summer.  I strain to digest the comparisons with Nazi Germany and the dire warnings about the violence planned for the next two weeks by Trump supporters.

The very few Trump supporters with whom I still have any contact mostly whine these days about their First Amendment rights.  One castigated social media for finally silencing Trump.  Putting aside that the First Amendment does not apply to private companies, I remind us of the test by which government — to whom it does apply — has long been held in curtailing our speech:

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. delivered the classic statement of the clear and present danger test in Schenck v. United States (1919): ‘The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree. When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.’ ”   Richard Parker, “Clear and Present Danger”,  The First Amendment Encyclopedia.

Trump and his cohorts stood before that well-funded crowd in D.C. on January 06th and exhorted them to be strong, to cancel out the “zeroes” in Congress, to employ combat, and to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to stop the Constitutionally mandated process. I can hardly watch the entirety of their awful speeches, but the portions which I have seen and the transcripts which I have read fit squarely into the definition of clear and present danger.

Representative Alexander Ocasio-Cortez reminds us that the Twenty-fifth Amendment and the Impeachment process do not exist as mutually exclusive remedies.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment allows the Vice President and the majority of the Cabinet to transfer power away from an unfit president.  Invoking the Twenty-fifth Amendment would prevent Trump from taking disastrous and deadly actions in the next ten days.

Impeachment by the House would remove Trump from office if convicted by the Senate.  Though more time-consuming and less certain, impeachment followed by conviction also would bar Trump from holding federal office in the future, a goal which we should not leave to chance.  He presents danger to all of us, and dangerous people should not be left to wield power.

Our nation has a considerable way to trudge if we are to reach the goal of justice and equality for all.  In continuing to pursue that quest, we need all honorable voices.  While I do not agree that all voices speak from a place of justice, I do believe that peaceful disagreement should be encouraged as we go forward.  Weak or unjust arguments should be exposed, and solutions that promote an equal country for every person here should be sought by all who wish in good faith to join our grand experiment.

But the voice of tyranny has no place in this country; or whatever place it has claimed must be forfeit.  Ours is not a dictatorship, nor a Fascist regime.  Though this Republic has failed for its lifetime to afford the equality it claims to espouse, nonetheless, that equality cannot be found in the principles of rule that Trump and his cronies promote.  He must pay the price of his attempt to overthrow our democracy.  He should not be spared in the name of unity.  The head does not allow cancer to remain in the limbs for the sake of the heart.  Instead, the heart is protected while the knife eradicates the disease.   We should do no less for these United States of America.


I’ve been ruminating over this post for several weeks.  On the offchance that the five or ten people who read this occasional blog might care about my pre-election view, I finally decided to record my thoughts forty-eight hours before the end of the most significant Election Day of my life.

My thoughts gelled over the last week because of a few pointed exchanges on social media.  One involved a person whom I know who professes to be a conservative and who has admitted supporting Trump’s re-election.  This person and I diverge on most social and political issues.  The most recent clash involved a meme which I shared that called on anti-abortionists to answer a simple question, to wit, “If the fetus you save turns out to be queer, will you still support it?” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s close.

My conservative friend proclaimed this to be “drivel” and to trigger a diminution in the respect which my friend claimed to  previously have had for me.  A lively discussion ensued among my liberal and progressive acquaintances, most of whom appreciated the meme.  One identified herself as pro-life but not anti-LGBTQ.  My original attacker added another slur, calling me a hypocrite for having a “COEXIST” sign while (in the speaker’s view) spewing hate.  I answered that charge in carefully phrased nonviolent communication, asking for the person’s response.  I described my first-hand experience with the evangelical christians to whom the meme had been directed, listing beliefs which I’ve repeatedly heard members of that group express:  White people are God’s chosen; women should be submissive to men; homosexuality constitutes immorality.  “What say you,” I asked.  Radio silence ensued.

The other thread which awakened my desire to comment on the election took place in a political Facebook group.  I can’t recall the original post, but my response to it predicted a further loss of women’s rights with Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court.  Several self-proclaimed Trump supporters professed ignorance of any civil rights erosions under Trump.  I dropped out of the discussion; I see nothing to be gained by such debate and should not have even joined the fray.  I could have mentioned the religious group with which she has been associated which is alleged to endorse the subjugation of women.  I could have pointed to her originalist views, which remind me of the famous West Wing bible scene.  I did not; I saw no basis for believing that my words would be seriously considered.

But these brief interactions with a point of view alien to mine underscored the uncertainty of our nation’s future.  The vision of tomorrow held by persons advocating for Trump’s re-election profoundly differs from what I prefer for this country.  The vision of Trump-supporters vastly deviates from the vision of liberal and progressive Americans.  The nation with a re-elected Trump will in no way resemble the nation which would evolve under a Biden presidency.  Under Trump, everything that has happened in four years will intensify; everything that happened from 2008 – 2016 will continue to be eliminated or further reversed.

So I went to the search engines and ask the questions:  What did Trump do for civil rights?  How did that compare with what Obama accomplished?  The answers frightened me.    For the eight years of the Obama administration, civil rights broadened.  The Trump administration effected profound rollbacks in advancements which took  decades to accomplish.

I asked myself:  Why would Trump want Americans to have fewer and more narrow rights?  Similarly, why would Trump profess to want Americans to have access to affordable health care but attack the laws which provided that access?  Where was the wonderful replacement that Trump promised during his campaign but to this day has not delivered?  I never expected him to promote a viable replacement, but those who voted for him did and still do.  Yet the Republicans controlled this issue for the last four years, and have failed.  What makes anyone seriously think that success will suddenly spring forth in January 2021?

I have never heard a Trump supporter clearly articulate their position on civil rights.  I only hear their negatives — no “illegals”, no “Muslims”, no “terrorists living off the federal government and murdering Americans”.  Their protests echo the dire predictions of their candidate but have no basis in truth.  Generally, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal benefits.  Conflicting research and a lack of cohesive data detract from conclusions about crime rates among immigrants.   However, researchers often associate lower crime rates with higher concentrations of immigrant residents.

I read the comments of Trump supporters with dismay.  They seem to actually believe his  baseless assertions, such as his recent claim about doctors inflating the list of Covid-19 deaths.    His supporters give him a pass on all of it. They overlook his lies and broken promises.  They listen to his divisive and abrasive rhetoric and find something appealing in what he touts.  They choose to believe that his view of our nation represents greatness.  Yet time and time again, Trump utters comments that his own party faithful can barely stomach.   The list of top Republicans who will not support Trump and of those who have publicly proclaimed support for Biden continues to grow.   Stark and staggering videos by The Lincoln Project signal a singular dedication to Trump’s defeat by a broad, powerful, and well-financed faction of the Republican party.  I cannot recall any prior incumbent fighting against his own party to retain power.

Compared with Trump, Joe Biden seems an easy choice for many voters.  He talks of unity, togetherness, and harmony.   He wants to rejoin America’s allies and reaffirm our willingness to work with other nations.  He believes in the threat of climate change and he listens to scientists and doctors on the issue of the corona virus pandemic.  He was part of Obama’s national strategy for combatting AIDS, and disdains Trump’s rejection of a national strategy for fighting Covid-19.  And do not get me started on the striking difference between Democrats trying to get all ballots counted and Republicans fighting to curtail the voting process.

So we walk into the end of this month of voting with our country split into enormously different camps.  While the winner of the presidential election might not be known for several weeks, eventually a new president will emerge from the hours and days of tabulation.  Court battles might ensue but eventually will be resolved.  Uprisings and riots and demonstrations could be launched but those, too, will be quelled or will fade as the situation rights itself.  Inauguration day will dawn, and the country will continue its great experiment.

But I believe that we will be eternally marred by the events of the 2020 election.  Neighbors have lost trust in each other.  Young people stare in horror at their parents.   Prejudice and bigotry have emerged from the dark, dank corners in which they once hid.  Our illusions have been irreparably shattered.

Yet hope still abides in our hearts.  People stand in the long lines waiting for their turn in the ballot box.  Children wear American flag stickers longside the Rainbow emblem of their same-gender parents.  Last night I sat around a bonfire with two Republican Trump supporters and four men who identify as gay or queer.  We watched the full moon rise in the eastern sky.  Confidences emerged. Laughter rang in the night air.    That little group gave me reason to believe that our nation might survive this terrible year after all.  I can only pray that we live to see a glorious dawn.






In Which I Confess To Taking My Heritage For Granted

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg stunned me.

I have not been an RBG groupie.  In fact, I considered her to be like the illumination from an overhead light — always there when I needed it, quietly unobtrusive as I went about my day elsewhere.  I didn’t scour her briefs and opinions, but I understood her impact.

My law school class (UMKC School of Law 1983) had a nice balance of genders.  Marcia Baldwin led the class; we never doubted that she would get all the honors.  Her gender didn’t seem to make a difference to us.  I graduated with distinction but only barely; my gender didn’t inhibit my achievements.  I did that for myself, not quite diligent, a semester in the hospital after an accident, a bit too much Scotch on the weekends.

People like Justice Ginsburg and my old classmate Marcia Baldwin had the drive and fire to attain their goals and the purity of heart to choose broader objectives which served humanity.   I lost track of Marcia; but of the notorious RBG, I heard plenty over the last four decades.  Because of Justice Ginsburg, women have attained a measure of equal treatment that we might otherwise still be longing to share.  I assume that equality in my daily life; perhaps we all do.  Though vestiges of gender discrimination tenaciously cling to the fabric of our society, their foothold finds slippery perch because of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Twenty years my senior, RBG forged a path that I carelessly trod behind her.  Now I read the adoring words of other female lawyers, and I cringe at my thoughtlessness.  I realize that I took RBG for granted, as I take the lamp for granted, and running water, and the gentle nod of the tired lady on the other side of the cash register.  I studied her cases in law school, fresh off the press but clearly significant even then. Cases in  which she argued for equal gender treatment in jury selection and federal benefits established Bader Ginsburg’s bona fides before she assumed the bench.

She continued her thoughtful and powerful trailblazing as a judge and then a Supreme Court justice.  From the bench, she considered and commented upon injustice after injustice, voting to bring the United States infinitely closer to a structure which embodied the ideals upon which this country purported to be founded.

She fought her  own battles with equal vigor.  Personal tragedy and loss; debilitating illness; her husband’s death; Bader Ginsburg bore these travails with courage, perseverance, and grace.

I will not spare much room for the travesty which would flow from her hasty replacement, with or without the political malaise at work in Washington.  My French friend Louis asked me yesterday, How can such a big and great nation go so far backward?  I had no answer for him.  With the loss of this magnificent warrior for justice and equality, I fear that we will quickly and irretrievably recede from the previous progress which we have so painfully garnered.

I confess that I have taken the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg very much for granted.  But I have awakened to the glory of the shining star.  I shall not forget.   I can never be great; I do not have time to accomplish anything like what her 87 years have given the world.  But I can be part of the revolution which her work inspires.  I can vote.  I can donate.  I can write.  I can join my voice to those who sing in her honor.  I owe her that much; it is a debt that I am not loathe to keep paying, until my own dying day.




Black Lives Matter: One White Woman’s View on Racism

Adapted from a post on the MO-SOLO Listserve, written by me this evening:
Good evening to all from the lovely contours of an RV park and tiny house community in the California Delta.   For those who do not know me, an intro:  I am a 1983 UMKC School of Law graduate (with distinction, for what it’s worth).  Born and raised in Jennings, Missouri, a small town which is part of St. Louis County and is situated just east by northeast of Ferguson.  My mother’s sister raised her family in Ferguson and some of them still live there.  I am Irish/Austrian/Lebanese, which makes me read as white in social construct parliance. My mother was 1st generation and my father descended from the Doctor Mudd who fixed the leg of John Wilkes Boothe as well as from Irish immigrants to Kentucky.  I am 64, disabled (all my life), vote largely Democrat skewing liberal-to-progressive.  I am the proud mother of a Chicago union activist working with BLM in Chi-town.
That said:
I have first-hand witnessed mistreatment on the basis of race, starting as a child in the 60s and 70s when our newly integrating community found the “first black families” to be suspicious; to the mid-70s when I was evicted for having a black boyfriend; and continuing to the 1980s, when I was refused service with a black friend on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City because, and I quote, “we don’t do salt and pepper here” . (In those last two cases, myself and each friend filed complaints, prevailed, and in both cases donated our awards to causes helping under-served in each community.)
 During (so far) thirty-seven years of practice, I have seen black attorneys treated with less respect than white attorneys by court clerks, judges, witnesses, other attorneys, and police officers.  I have seen similar treatment of female attorneys.  I have represented people who were considered to be presumptively criminal or negligent because, and I quote, “you know how their kind are”.  I have heard judges describe a colleague whom I didn’t know by saying, “He’s usually late; he’s black, you know.”  (I sh*t you not.)  I have never been harshly judged because my skin is pale, but I have seen people be nicer to me than a friend or associate because my skin was light and theirs was dark, so I don’t say I have never been judged by my skin color — I have; and come up well for it.  In other words, though I’ve suffered by being female and disabled, I have gotten advantages for being “white”.
[Oh, once a black social worker objected to a black foster child being placed in my home because I was white.  Imagine her shock when my five-year old chirped up and said, “We’re not white, we’re beige.”  But that’s another story.]
My younger brother has seven children, of whom one is Vietnamese and four are black.  I have one Korean nephew.  I have in fact always had friends of many varieties — black, white, beige, Asian, gay, straight, bi.  I even have one or two friends who are Republican, though that’s getting harder and harder to justify, though I try.
So now you know my background and the framework from which I speak.  And here is my opinion about the question of racism in our courts [the debate being, as to courts in Missouri, where I practiced for 35 years].
I have observed a substantial amount of racist behavior in our courts and among our bar.  I have observed a substantial amount of sexist behavior in our courts and among our bar.
There must be a systemic solution to racism.  There must be a systemic solution to sexism.
If you are white. you have less room to comment on racism than if you are black.  If you are a man, you have less room to comment on sexism than if you were a woman.
I’ll use my circumstances to illustrate: I am disabled and have been since I was two.  I am somewhat sensitive about my disability.  But I try to make light of it.  However, if you are not disabled, I would prefer that unless you know me very well, you not make light of it.  No crip jokes on the first date, so to speak.  That’s a simple, harmless example.
But take it a step further.  In law school, I struggled for two months to get to classes in the three-story building because the elevator was locked.  I asked numerous people how I was supposed to get to/from class when it took me sometimes 30 minutes to climb a flight of stairs.  Finally, one of the professors (I think it might have been Jeff Berman but I could not swear to it any more) decided that I should be given a key to the elevator.  That gave me a more level playing field.  But still:  Several classmates complained that they did not get keys to the elevator.  They were not disabled, mind you; they thought I was being given advantages that they were not being given.  Get it?  I wanted a level playing field; they felt I was being given extra help.  What I would have preferred was a different style of architecture — a building all on one level, built in pods like a wagon wheel so that I could park in the middle and everything was a short level walk away.   That would have been true accessibility.  I had to settle for a key to the elevator.
To my complaining classmates, the situation looked one way.
To Prof. Berman, it looked a different way.
To me, it looked yet another way.
And none of those appearances was the same.
Which view was correct?
The reality:  As a disabled person, I found the environment of the law school inherently unfair due to it being traditionally constructed — three levels, long hallways, stairs, heavy doors, locked elevator.  Prof. Berman’s solution was to at least give me a key to the elevator.  I wanted the building to have been designed to be accessible to everyone.  My classmates thought I was being given undue advantage.
I hope this example helps someone here think about different perspectives.  It’s a simple example but maybe it will open someone’s eyes.
I encourage everyone to speak with empathy and to listen with open minds and hearts.  But at the end of the day, I am on the side of progress.   We must stand for justice.  I fall on that side of the debate.  The [Missouri] Bar and the Bench [like the rest of the world] need to rebuild to make the building accessible to everyone, not just begrudgingly tender a key to one locked area of the house.

Helpless But Not Hopeless

Words have eluded me this week.  I have sat for hours in front of live news broadcasts, first from Minneapolis and then from other US cities.  The killing of George Floyd; the angry protests; and the destruction clutched at my heart but  I felt disconnected.  I felt unworthy to comment.  Anything which I might say comes from a detached perspective, passion once removed.   As a white woman, I do not know the anguish of being abused, shamed, and hunted because of my skin color.  I have black relatives, and black friends, but mine is not their story.  I asked myself, what right do I have to comment?  On what basis would I protest?  How feeble would my apologies sound? 

But I find myself unable to remain silent.  George Floyd should not be dead.  Ahmaud Aubrey should not be dead.  Eric Garner should not be dead.   The list spans two centuries.  Emmett Till.  Nine good folks in Charleston.  Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson; Carol Denise McNair.  The anguish mounts in my chest as I type each name.  I could fill the page with their sacred names; with links to their stories; with outrage at the savagery which claimed each of them.

My social media fills with competing threads.  The few conservative voices left among my contacts lament the rioting and its aftermath, including several deadly incidents.  I do not disagree with their condemnation of the looting, arson, and destruction.  I do not blame every law enforcement officer for the acts of the men who killed George Floyd, or Eric Garner.  I yearn to restore order.  I wish the deaths which have occurred during the riots this week could be retracted.  They cannot, any more than life can be breathed back into George Floyd.

From the Federal officer in Oakland to the two people shot and killed in Indianapolis,  the tragedies which we witnessed this week flow from one ugly cause:  Racism.   We’ve seen enough video to understand that people with criminal inclinations have taken advantage of the turmoil.  Much of the looting seems to have been in that vein.   Such disgusting opportunism and its devastating impact should be halted and the perpetrators punished.  But make no mistake:  Those who took advantage of the climate of chaos must not distract us from the larger goal:  Finally, and irreversibly, ending the unequal treatment of black Americans by our society and its designated vanguards.

I am white.  My son is white.  I might fear for his safety, but never because of his skin color.  My brother and his wife have three black sons.  I cannot imagine the horror which they face.  I do not have to walk the shaky, angry, fearful path that every parent of a black son must traverse each day.  I do not know, and will never know, that relentless terror.  I do not know, and will never know, the sorrow of having to coach my son to respond to a police officer in the way most likely to insure his survival.  I do not know, and will never know, the tragic necessity of sending my son out into the world knowing that his skin color might get him killed regardless of the virtue of his conduct, the pureness of his speech, or the stellar content of his character.

Because I feel helpless to contribute to this conversation, I sit in silence watching the events unfold.  I text my sister who lives in the Twin Cities area.  I ask about her son who has an apartment and a job in Minneapolis.  Then for good measure, I send texts to my own son in Chicago and my other siblings in Missouri.  I read commentaries, mostly by folks with progressive political views.  I try to understand.  I examine my own beliefs and experiences.  I scrub away the veneer of liberalism and hold a blazing beam to my own internal dialogue.  I ask myself whether I have contributed, in any small way, to the perpetuation of racism.  I ask myself whether I have contributed, in any small way, to its eradication.

Trevor Noah delivered the most powerful summation of these times.  Everything which happens in the world is connected in some shape or form,  he tells us.  Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Christian Cooper.  He calls out the smugness displayed by Amy Cooper, who knew how to use Christian Cooper’s blackness against him.  He minces no words, nor should he.  As the New York Times observed,  a rising inability to suppress the deeper impulse toward racist conduct continues to permeate daily life in America.  My feelings of helplessness flow from such inescapable and awful truths.  What can I do, as a sixty-four-year old woman in the waning years of her life, with my crippled body and my weak voice?

I do not know.

I keep watching the news.  Here and there, a glimmer of glory shines through the billowing clouds of despair.  Volunteers emerge from the morass, armed with shovels, brooms, and wheelbarrows to begin the sad process of cleaning their community.  In Louisville, black men formed a human chain to shield a police officer who had gotten separated from his cohorts.  I play the news on every website, searching for other stories of empathy and compassion.

In my past lives, I have picketed, protested, and pontificated.  I have marched.  I have raised money.  While I have not been a part of the civil rights movement on behalf of black America, I have fought for fairness in other arenas — on behalf of abuse victims, mostly; but also to increase the safety of women and girls;  fund services to the forgotten in America; and to provide equal access for disabled people.  Now  I face the sickening thought that my energy could have been misspent.  There is just so much injustice in our country.

What can I do now, to root out the choking weed of racism?   I fade into the woodwork of late middle-age, a time of ineffectual floundering as I succumb to the worry of work undone.

Desmond Tutu said, “Little bits of good together can overwhelm the world.”   I might be left with nothing more than my kindness, small acts cast upon the pool of humanity to send ripples across the still waters.    I watch and wait for any chance.  I gather all the broken bits of charity into my heart.  I dole them out, one by one.  I make a lantern out of them, which I hold aloft amid the hurricane winds.  I stand, one single voice in a quiet, growing chorus which rises from the rubble and the dying embers.

I will speak truth, and I will speak love, and I will speak justice.  It is little enough but I will hold true.  I will not fail.  I feel helpless, but I am not without hope.




To Mother Earth From Her Humble Daughter

Rural Arkansas held many splendors.  In the five years during which I called myself an Arkansan, her springs and the crevices deep within her hills intrigued me.  But I had a city girl’s pallor and a driving need to return to the hustle and bustle of Kansas City.  I shook the dust from my skirt as I fled with my child.

Until I first beheld the broad expanse of the Pacific where the mountain road crested at the Great Highway, I did not think I would ever find comfort in the sweet air of a country setting.  Yet here I dwell; where the river sits just below the road to home, and the birds  sing me awake long before the persistent chirp of my alarm breaks the silence of my tiny home.

The current shelter-in-place orders have given me time to walk in the park where my house sits; to stop along the roadway on my morning commute; and to contemplate the world as I have not felt compelled to do in a very long while.  You do not have to convince me that climate change threatens this planet.  I read the science; I find the potential that we will kill this place genuine and sobering.

This morning I paused to study two birds high above me on wires extending across the fields of Andrus Island.  I often see these majestic creatures poised next to the high voltage warning signs.  I yearn to understand why they choose the milled timber over the wild branch.  I wonder if they perceive the difference, as they clutch the square lines of the utility pole.  They seem to hold the human trappings in low regard.

All across the nation, people post articles and photos showing animals reclaiming paved streets and city skylines shaking off their customary fog.  My sister St. Louisan would spare a small smile, silent and sorrowful.  Spring herself, she would saywhen she woke at dawn, would scarcely know that we were gone.

And so I cry to my mother Earth, I beseech her.  Give me your soft arms, a blanket of your tender blades, that I may find my comfort here.  I raise my face to the spatter of a light rain as evening falls.  Do not forsake me, I implore.  I need your refuge.  

Today marked the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day.  I attended no celebrations; I posted no pictures; I exhorted no one to join any effort to reverse the human impact on this beloved planet.  In fact, my single acknowledgement of my regard for this place consisted of parking alongside the San Joaquin, at eight o’clock, straining to capture the image of a shivering bird peering at me from behind a metal coil.  I almost felt a little shabby.

My one excuse for inactivity consists of my age — my general fatigue for causes and activism.  I have marched; I have proclaimed; I have written countless letters to the editor — for the environment, and the safety of my sisters, and the rights of my neighbors.  I have grown weary.

But my child:  I’ve given my child to the future.  I did not even need to pass my torch with its dying ember.  He lit his own ablaze, in the name of his future and the future of his generation.   He fights for the homeless and for justice and for equality.  He stands with others.  He supports those who protest the ruination of our water and our resources.   The collected efforts of my son and his contemporaries might save us on all fronts.  They give me hope; and on the wings of that hope, I send my love and humble gratitude to my mother Earth.

I only hope it is not too little, too late.



The New Normal

For the last decade, I have struggled to force myself to get used to cataclysmic change every twenty-four months or so.

My son left for college and my second husband decamped from my life at nearly the same time, the summer of 2009.  I met my third husband that year also.  I went from assuming that I would eventually move to New Hampshire and live free or die, to figuring out what to wear to a Republican cocktail party.  I morphed from a mid-life orphan to the beloved daughter-in-law of two elderly Johnson County, Kansas suburbanites.

That incarnation lasted four years, at which time I experienced a huge upheaval followed by a divorce.  The experience of representing many others in their own evolutionary moments should have prepared me but I handled the tumult with a breathtaking gracelessness.

I didn’t stand idle long.  I tore myself from the town in which I had raised my son; the house that I had so loved; and the cozy klatch of friends with whom I had surrounded myself.  I took to the road with a cedar house on wheels and parked myself in the California Delta.  After three decades as a solo practitioner, I relinquished the reins and became a contract worker.  My world narrowed to 199 square feet and ten miles.  For recreation, I started driving to the Pacific coast and exploring the fog at dawn.

In November of 2016, we all feared that bigotry would become the new normal.  We were only partly mistaken.  We had no idea that 2020 would bring something more shattering: A pandemic, badly handled by the federal government with its seemingly incompetent leader.  Though some predicted that Trump’s lack of empathy, foresight, and experience would cause disaster, only a prescient few truly understood the enormity of the potential for failure.

So here we are.  My personal background of periodic swings from one reality to another gave only a microcosmic foreshadowing of the chaotic  daily life which I now share with 40,000,000 fellow Californians, 330,000,000 people in the U.S., and 7.5 billion humans on Earth.  We gape at stunned announcers intoning the death toll from this insidious virus.  We stand in grocery stores torn between chagrin at purchase limits and gratitude that anything remains for us to buy.  Today I felt a little thrill that the one grocery store in my small town had eggs, a sensation enhanced by the discovery that they had finally gotten my preferred brand.  My second thought:  Who cares what brand?  EGGS!  The last time I checked, the entire display had been stripped bare.

I tuck a mask in my handbag before I leave the house.  I’m still working because the firm with which I contract has been deemed essential.  But we don’t let clients or tradespeople into the building.  The letter carrier rapped on the glass during my last shift, displaying a parcel that wouldn’t fit through the slot.  I unlocked the door and took it between two fingers. I offered him some water.  He smiled, shook his head, and retreated.

The new normal.

My community halted its weekly dinners and bolted the clubhouse.  The restaurants in town have closed.  Neighbors walk the meadow and wave, but only the few and the foolish venture close.  I stood on the bridge over the creek and talked with the woman who lives on the other side.  Normally we would embrace.  We kept our distance.

I listen to the governor’s daily press briefings.  I hear the fatigue in his voice.  I try to focus on the president’s babbling but my stomach knots.  His gross incompetence terrifies me.  I click the corner of the browser window and make his madness disappear.

I cling to rational discourse.  When Trevor Noah interviews anyone intelligent, I play the clip over and over. I post them on social media.  His conversation with Bill Gates encourages me beyond reason.  Actors and musicians lend their voices and talents to charity.  I would not normally care but now, in these times, their generosity touches me.  Jon Bon Jovi talks about washing dishes in his soup kitchen.   Guy Fieri lends his name to a relief effort for suddenly unemployed restaurant workersSingers hold live concerts to raise money for their fans in need.

I hear a politician or a personality attribute our collective  virtuous response to some inner grit which Americans share.  That could be true.  Given enough time and enough space, the best in anyone can rise.  When the house burns, when the thunder rolls, when the wind ravages the land — the noble grab their shovels and waders and forge ahead.  Perhaps we all have enough of that nobility to enfold a nation and carry everyone to safety.

My son has shown me that the system which has taken hold in this nation does not serve its people.  I cannot say that I would advocate a revolution.  But I see no reason to return to whatever drove our country before the virus came.  If we do, only the richest will survive.  Those of us in the middle class, those of us who live in poverty, cannot sustain ourselves in the face of this onslaught.  It takes a village.  The wealthy and powerful must be fully vested in the salvation of the whole.   Ego cannot govern.   Self-interest must yield to the common cause.

If my certainty about the impact of the new normal means that I have become a socialist, then so be it.  Call it what you will, but we have reached a juncture at which one road leads to doom and the other to dawn.   Our passage has been booked.  We hold one-way tickets.   We must choose.   It’s all or nothing, and eternity waits for our decision.




The Better Angels of Our Nature

I had a friend in high school named Jane who said her mother felt that life was a birthday party and she, Jane’s mother, was the guest of honor.  Jane’s rueful smile as she described her mother’s naivete still amuses me.  At seventeen, Jane already understood that some people would never allow themselves the luxury of cynicism.

I want to be like that.  Someone I used to know repeatedly suggested that I should assume only good of others.   I nearly embraced that philosophy but saved myself short of complete surrender.  Still, the notion tempts me.  Time after time, though, I reach for the pan on the stove; and time after time I snatch burnt fingers to my mouth.

With the present world-wide catastrophe, we all watch for the true character of others to emerge.  From our elected leaders to the neighbor three doors down, anyone whom we encounter has an instant and immutable opportunity for nobility.  Weakness exposes itself.  Charity rises like uncurdled cream and froths in the pitcher.

I came home from work with a fever on Tuesday, a day or so before the official state-wide lockdown in California.  I immediately self-isolated.  I cancelled social plans.  I sent for remote work assignments and a doctor’s opinion.  If I had the novel corona virus, CoVID-19, I would not give it to anyone else.  I had already become obsessive about hand-washing.  Now I secluded myself in my 198-square-foot tiny house on wheels.  I spoke with friends by text or through a closed door.

In the microcosm of my world, nearly everyone within my immediate radius proved to be of indefatigable good character.  Groceries, packages, bottled water, offers of assistance, and cheerful encouragement surrounded me, delivered from the socially acceptable distance of at least six feet.  I did not assume; but now it seems that I could have.

My period of sequestration has given me an opportunity to devour demonstrations of solidarity manifested around the world.  Italians sing to one another from their balconies.  Young entrepreneurs make face masks from 3-D technology for nearby hospitals.  Hollywood stars read to children online.  Countless examples of the kindness of strangers blossom in every nation.

I do not pretend to know what outcome awaits the world.  We might disappear into the ages, or we might slog our way through this crisis.  No one can say.  No model can take into consideration the collective resilience of humanity.  For if we have any chance of survival, that chance lies only in cooperation; in rising to this intimidating occasion; in forsaking the desire for personal aggrandizement and instead pursuing only action intended to serve the greater good.  The moment for personal profit has faded in the murky, careless distance of our troubled past.  The way forward requires that we follow the brightest imaginable light, the glow of candles raised by eight billion hopeful hands, illuminating the path to salvation of the planet we so dearly love.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, 04 March 1881


There Will Come Soft Rains
Sara Teasdale – 1884-1933

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Birds at Daybreak, Andrus Island. c. C. Corley 2020

Enduring Conviction: In Which I Recognize That Which I Have Always Believed

My son and I flew the rainbow flag beside our customary Stars and Stripes after the massacre at Pulse in 2016.

Note:  My current pursuit of editing 7 years of my initial blog into a book as taken me to dark alleyways of memory and little nooks of lost wonder.  Today I found this passage.  By way of background, my Saturday Musings began in June of 2009 as a weekly post to the erstwhile listserve SFIG, the “small firm internet group”.  The below entry appeared on the noted date in response to controversy which I  had inadvertently triggered that day.  This passage, only lightly edited, expresses an enduring conviction which I now recognize I have always held and will always hold.



Saturday Musings, 01 December 2012

Good morning,

A maelstrom of messages flooded my inbox as I worked yesterday, seemingly triggered by a remark which I had made on this listserve, a place where I have felt that I could be reasonably honest with my expressions of thought.  I admit that some of the more vehement posts that I read trouble me still.   I will summarize the original subject for anyone reading these musings who might not be on the listserve where they are first published.

I had encountered a woman who acknowledged fabricating a vicious lie about her own son because her son is gay, (a word here which means “homosexual”, not “happy”), and she harbors fear that her “gay” son will infect her young grandsons and “turn them like him”.  The woman and her daughter, the outraged mother of the grandsons in question, found themselves in a  quagmire of legal complications due to the false allegations made by the grandmother.

I firmly believe in freedom of speech.  I don’t recall who defined the First Amendment as a citizen’s right to say any damn fool thing he wants, but that’s my philosophy as well.  Am I not the daughter of a union organizer?  The sister of two brave souls who lobbied for the teachers’ union, one of whom might well have been derailed in his career due to his staunch support of his fellow teachers?  Did my mother not picket the convent when a rabidly angry nun pulled me from the floor that I was mopping on  my hands and knees, and shook me vehemently, decrying the fouling of her chapel with the sister of hippies?  Was the family Ford Maverick  not adorned with handmade bumper stickers which read, in my mother’s careful print, “Vietnam…Laos…Cambodia…But I have four sons!”?

Freedom of speech should carry with it a mandate of responsibility, and to some extent, it does.  We must not cry “Fire!”‘ in a crowded theatre where none rages.  We have to be mindful of other limits that have been carefully crafted by our courts — inciting violence, disturbing peace: the time, place and manner restrictions which have their origins in the words of Justice Louis Brandeis in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927):

“[A]lthough the rights of free speech and assembly are fundamental, they are not in their nature absolute. Their exercise is subject to restriction, if the particular restriction proposed is required to protect the State from destruction or from serious injury, political, economic or moral….To justify suppression of free speech there must be reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced…[N]o danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehoods and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression.”

Having affirmed my kinship with Judge Brandeis, at least in these beliefs, I come, then, to the reason that my Musings this date have no warm-and-fuzzy memory, no heartwarming, tear-tugging, rosy recollection.  I find that sentiment and nostalgia have abandoned me.  I can usually depend upon my mind to lull itself into a Saturday stupor, eased into the comfort of reverie by the gentleness of the morning breeze, the cheerful glint of early sunlight, and the wandering of those portions of my mind which are not needed for the week’s challenges and have been left to their own happy resources.  But this day, this Saturday morning, those extra brain cells had another chore.  While clients’ work commanded some ten or twenty percent of the brain trust afforded me by whatever force created my genetic code, the rest of my thought-power has been cogitating over the competing viewpoints expressed on the subject of whether persons who have a same-gender orientation have committed sin, should be able to marry, violate general precepts of propriety, or however one would characterize the various threads on this listserve that shot from my original post with a vengeance.

I despise bigotry; I embrace diversity; I shudder at the thought that a divine entity could condemn anyone for anything other than intentional inflection of harm.  [I have enemies; I have friends; while I am glad of that, I hold my views regardless.]  [From friend or foe,] I reject the suggestion that while “all [persons] are created equal (note the edit)”, there are some persons who might just be a tad bit less equal than others.  The smug suggestion that God certainly loves people who are of a certain sexual orientation, despite that sexual orientation, sickens me.  The further proposition that there should be an intertwining of the condemnations that religions espouse with the law which governs our civilian business enrages me.

And into the mix, [as I read responses on the listserve about these critical issues], someone threw a wrench that hit me squarely in the gut:  “The race card” — a suggestion that “we whites” should heed an “urgent warning” that “we will soon be the minority”.  I had to leave my desk and go into the bathroom and vomit.  Really.

There [were at the time] a thousand people on  the listserve where I post[ed] these Musings and happily [had] done so for four years.  They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, both genders (maybe some that have themselves experienced each gender) and multiple sexual orientations.  Our members live in cities, and suburbia, and rural Missouri, or, even, heaven forbid, rural Missourah. The posts generated on the listserve land[ed] in inboxes throughout the state [of Missouri] and in the Virgin Islands, and in other states, too, since some of the good members of the Missouri Bar have ventured elsewhere in this nation.  I am haunted by the hidden horror of members of the Small Firm Internet Group whom I don’t even know, or whom I know but who belong to a category of persons that is unknown to me:  The SFIG listserve member who sits at his or her desk wrapped in brown skin, or the subtle tones of Vietnamese pigmentation, with a picture of his or her same-gender partner on the desk nearby.  I picture that attorney raising his or her fingers to hit “delete”, feeling the nausea that beset me during this discussion, overwhelmed by the decades of the suppression of his or her basic nature that society demands.

In 1977, I got a job at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri as an assistant to Patricia Martin, their lobbyist.  Because of space limitations, I couldn’t office on the same floor as my boss, but hung my cape on the back of a door in the Housing Unit, working at a little steel desk.  One of the housing lawyers, Nina Balsam, took pity on me, inviting me to lunch now and then, talking to me about her work.  Others in that unit let me into their social circles.  I recall that time with considerable nostalgia. I often imagine myself in that unit still, decades later:  my first taste of the law, long before I decided to embrace it as my vocation.

Let me be clear:  I have not seen Nina Balsam in thirty-two years.  [And eight years later, I still have not.] I don’t even know if she is still alive, or what she is doing. I don’t know if she is, or was, gay or straight, married or single, partnered or alone.  I make no statements about her by recounting this incident.  I don’t think she would be insulted if I did, but as I have no knowledge to form the basis of any pronouncement, any I would make would be based on pure supposition and hence irresponsible.

That said:

One day Nina came into the office with a dejected look on her face.  Someone inquired as to the reason for her foul mood.  I did something last night that I never thought I would do, she answered.  We waited for the pronouncement, expecting some wild event, or some profound decision.  I shaved my legs, she said, and slumped into her chair.

Later, she explained to me that she thought judges were looking askance at her because of her unshaven legs.  She didn’t care if they didn’t like her, she acknowledged.  But she cared if they ruled against her clients because they didn’t like her.

I learned a valuable lesson from Nina that day, one of many that she and her colleagues taught me. Who we are, and how we are perceived, contributes to the response that others have to us.  This immutable fact haunts us.  Are we genetically driven to like certain people, because they are like us, because they conform to what we expect of others?  Are we socially conditioned to reach certain conclusions about people based upon the minute nuances of their personal comportment?

Is beauty really just skin-deep?

All of these principles  swirl in my subconscious.  My dreams [at times] contain troubled imagery, symbols that I do not comprehend.  I have remained both troubled and intrigued by what I saw in the various posts [on SFIG], those by outraged Christians, the humorous ones, the thoughtful and intellectual examinations of these most weighty issues, even those containing what I still perceive as disgusting prejudice.

The First Amendment allows us to speak as we will, provided we honor what the law proscribes as speech that violates certain time, place and manner restrictions.  The law in turn must make those restrictions as sparse as possible, to serve the greater good but not drive it, to protect order but not demand it, to allow others to traverse society without itself defining what the society will be.  I would not have it any other way.

My quarrel is not with the freedom to speak.  My quarrel, then, must be elsewhere, and as I reach the end of my ability to muse this morning, I know at last where it lies.  It lies exactly where that grandmother found herself, in the inevitability of impact, the bell that has been rung, the insult that has been hurled, the tar that sticks to the surface of its victim.

I realize that the fundamental flaw in freedom of speech is that once spoken, words cannot be withdrawn.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Dividing Lines

Here it is, for the ten people who might want to read what I have to say:  My reflection on “divisiveness” in the 21st century.

A week or two ago, I shared a meme on Facebook which three of my friends found objectionable.  I’d like to include the meme in this post, but I deleted my own Facebook entry and I can’t find the photo anywhere.  I’ll paraphrase, though.

Essentially, it alerted people knocking on a front door to group themselves by category:

Republicans should repent their evil ways;

Democrats should accept thanks and the sure knowledge that the home-owner had their backs; and

Sales people should get the h*** off the lawn.

“We should avoid extreme language like this,” my best friend sighed.

“Go ahead, promote this kind of attack!” one of my few conservative friends snorted.

“Oh, Corinne! Please don’t be so divisive!” came a milder rejoinder from my conservative friend’s wife, also a friend of mine.

About forty other folks “liked” the meme.  Many praised the general sentiment.  Some folks chuckled, given the humorous overtones of the actual wording.

I deleted the post because I respect all three of those who protested.  I decided to write a blog entry talking about the feelings which drove me to share the meme in the first place; and addressing whether I agree or disagree with my three friends.  For the record, of the three, one is definitely Democrat, one is conservative and probably Republican, and I do not know how the third leans or votes because we rarely talk politics.  (The fact that two of those three almost never comment on political posts prompted me to take their having done so to heart.)

I’ve had a few days to think about this situation, and here’s where the pondering took me.

The meme articulated a basic principle of US versus THEM.  If you’re “us”, we align and praise. If you’re “them”, we condemn and castigate.

Once upon a time, I would have avoided such extreme statements.  In retrospect, perhaps a more serious and accurate announcement would read like this —



On 21 September 1983, I stood in a bar in Kansas City, Missouri in front of my then-boss and mentor, attorney Loren G. Rea.  I raised my hand and took the oath of admission as a Missouri attorney.  Here is the text of that oath, which I renew every year:

I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Missouri;
That I will maintain the respect due courts of justice, judicial officers and members of my profession and will at all times conduct myself with dignity becoming of an officer of the court in which I appear;
That I will never seek to mislead the judge or jury by any artifice or false statement of fact or law;
That I will at all times conduct myself in accordance with the Rules of Professional Conduct; and,
That I will practice law to the best of my knowledge and ability and with consideration for the defenseless and oppressed.
So help me God.

I have watched the actions of the current administration through the lens of my duties as a Missouri attorney.  I have studied the actions of this administration and of those who seek to implement its policies.  On so many levels, the Trump administration spurns the dictates of our Constitution as I understand it. Certainly, if I supported Trump’s policies, I would fail to honor my oath of admission.  I could not support Trump and still promote “consideration for the defenseless and oppressed”,

The rollback of rights, protections, and programs at the behest of this administration pursued in the last three years astounds and offends me.  How can I condone the atrocities which Trump pursues?  How can I tolerate those who condone them?

With this in mind, I asked myself:  What do you gain by sharing a meme which draws a line between Republicans (who presumably support Trump) and Democrats (who presumably do not)?  Putting aside that it was on Facebook and was phrased in a joking way, I asked myself, Does it do more harm than good?

I played around with the meme:

What if it said, “Red-haired people, go away; Brown-haired people, you can stay”?  Clearly a joke, right?

What if it said, “People who hate red-haired people, go away.  People who love red-haired people, you can stay.”  Still funny?

What if it said, “People who hate Latinos, go away.  People who love Latinos, you can stay.”  Throwing a gauntlet down, perhaps; but I have no problem with that distinction.  Do you?

What if it said, “Cross-burning members of the KKK, go away; Frightened African-Americans fleeing the KKK, come inside and take harbor”.  Do you disagree with the division still?  Do you object to my expression of that “divisiveness”?

You see, I believe that all humans are equal and should be treated equally.  I reject discrimination and I acknowledge that discrimination permeated much of society and governmental actions for most of our nation’s history.  I support a rule of law which forswears discrimination and promotes equality and inclusiveness.

I welcome immigrants into our country; I see this as a nation built by immigrants without whom we would not exist.

I welcome Muslims into our country; I see diverse cultures as crucial to the beautiful tapestry of my community.

I welcome those who are LGBTQ+,  recognizing that sexual identity, orientation, preference, and fluidity stem from biological determinants like hair and eye color.

I believe that government should not curtail the resources for those whom government officials are elected or appointed to serve.

I believe government exists to feed the hungry; house the cold; educate citizens so that they can excel and achieve; elevate the oppressed; encourage dialogue; and equalize opportunity.

If I posted that meme again, I might avoid party affiliations.  Instead, I would caution anyone who agrees with the principal policies, practices, and priorities of the current federal administration that such policies find no defender in my home.   They could enter if they needed a place to rest, but I would freely condemn their beliefs as antithetical to my values and the rights protected by the Constitution which I have sworn to uphold.   In contrast, I would applaud those who recognize the dangerous direction in which the current administration attempts to steer our nation.  For anyone still undecided, I would offer a chair on my porch, a glass of cold lemonade, and my promise to answer any of their questions and to listen to their concerns.

I’m not sure that would fit in a meme. . . or please anyone who disagrees with me. . . or that it would be considered less divisive.

In the final analysis, I suppose I’ve decided that the meme expressed my sentiments.

If you support what Trump is doing, I must strongly protest.

If you object to what Trump is doing, I applaud you.

And yes, if you’re selling something. . . get off my lawn!

These times threaten our freedom, our future, and indeed, the very foundation of our country.  Yes, Virginia, you have a right to your own opinion.  But if your opinion promotes bigotry, bias, and discrimination, I do not mind standing on the other side of a bright line from where you have chosen to place yourself.  In fact, I am duty bound to do so.





Why I Will Never Call Myself a Christian

I started this blog during the terrible weeks after Trump got elected because I felt compelled to record the travesties which I knew he would perpetrate.  After a while, though, the horrible policy decisions and cruel implementation of his agenda wore me down.  I could no longer pay the emotional toll to write about his ruination of the grand experiment which this country had been for centuries.  I love this country, even though I felt shame for its darkest hours when slavery gripped an entire segment of society or later, when civil rights began to emerge and its champions paid a terrible price in the name of our collective freedom.

A recent conversation with a Christian friend stirred so much bile in my belly that I fell into another period of gloom and confusion.  I love this person, and I value this person, but this person (note the avoidance of pronouns so as to conceal identity) saddened me with Christian rhetoric about people who love and desire members of their own gender.  My friend flatly and unequivocally stated that folks who identify as gay or lesbian commit sin.  The following, hasty qualification that Christians must love sinners did not redeem my friend’s pronouncement.

Whatever common values my friend and I have, we diverge at that point.  If my friend reads this, my friend will nod and say that I lack enlightenment.  My friend will no doubt encourage me to “love Jesus”.  My friend would try to assure me that Jesus “loves sinners”.  But I find those arguments disingenuous at best, and criminal at worst.

I have lived to nearly sixty-five years of age.  I have known men who loved men. I have known women who loved women.  I have known people of both the male and female gender who loved both men and women. I have known people who struggled to accept the gender with which they appeared to be born, yearning to embrace the gender with which their souls identified.  I have seen ugliness levied at folks in each of these groups; and once or twice, I have failed to speak against that ugliness, falling silent when I should have defended those under attack.

My opinions about gender, sexual orientation, and gender identification result not from a lack of enlightenment but from knowledge acquired in my six decades on earth.  I speak not from an uninformed state lacking only some sudden awareness afforded by exposure to “Christ”.  Rather, I speak from experience, study, and exposure to psychology, sociology, literature, and science.  My beliefs form after knowing both gay and straight people, as well as reading the scholarly works of those who study sexuality and biology.  From all of this comes a certain and true conviction that the diversity of human sexuality comes not by accident but design.

Moreover, I understand the scope of the word “divine” well enough to conclude that no divine entity would judge humans in the way that my Christian friend suggested.  I believe that some type of divine entity does exist.  The judgment of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-gender, and queer people as “sinners” does not comport with “divinity”.  To paraphrase Ethel Waters,  “God don’t make no junk.”

So, to my friend, to any of you who might care:  This is why I will never call myself a Christian.

I do not think that people who love and crave intimacy with someone of their own gender sin when they love.

I do not think that people whose skin aches for change from the gender of their birth sin when they seek re-assignment.

I do not think that people sin when they reach for someone of their own gender in the night, longing for closeness and comfort.

If there is a God, I don’t think he/she/it would want me to hold such a narrow definition of love as to preclude the natural and normal instincts of so many humans.  I do not think he/she/it has such a small, cold heart as that.

The human experience has broad and breathtaking potential.  If we come from dust, and if we return to dust, why would any hand that made us fashion creatures of beauty without allowing for the fullest and most awesome spectrum imaginable?  To what corruption must I surrender to reject anyone who does not look or love as I do?

I will never call myself a Christian because I reject the judgment with which Christians view the rest of us.  I choose acceptance and empathy instead, and with full knowledge and forethought, with full recognition of the divine spirit which I believe has room in his/her/its heart for all of us.

Pride Parade, Fayetteville, Arkansas, June 2014, c. C. Corley




In a climate which encourages state legislatures to pass anti-abortion laws, I must rethink my personal position on this matter.  I have spent many decades silent on this issue.  I can be silent no longer.

My home state of Missouri is poised to adopt an “eight-week” abortion statute which, I read in the news, will outlaw abortion after eight weeks of gestation.  Alabama just passed a near-total abortion ban, with the only exception being to save the life of the woman in an extreme medical situation.  These acts intend to set the stage for an eventual reversal of Roe v. Wade.

I have refrained from joining this debate because I understand the impassable divide.  If one believes that human life begins at the moment of conception, one will consider any volitional act of terminating the pregnancy to be the killing of a human being.  If one believes that human life begins at some later point, one will move the classification of terminating the pregnancy as “killing” to that later point.  Moreover, if one believes that the question of terminating the pregnancy should be personal, one will laud any judicial or legislative pronouncement which allows individual choice to some extent.  The first-articulated position cannot be reconciled with the later-articulated positions, each of which can co-exist with the other.

If you think the fetus is a human being from the moment of conception, then the termination of the pregnancy is killing a human.

If you think that killing is never justifiable, then you must be anti-abortion.

If you think that the fetus is not a human until some later point; or that ending the pregnancy up to a certain point is justifiable regardless; you are likely “pro-choice”.

If you think that you are unable  to really know, and therefore cannot make the choice for anyone other than yourself, you are . . . me, until this week.

Consider two small, key snippets of the Supreme Court’s  pronouncements in Roe v. Wade:

“We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified, and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.


“With respect to the State’s important and legitimate interest in potential life, the “compelling” point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

The new legislation surging forth from conservative states does not balance these competing interests.  Certainly, Alabama cannot say that “viability” vests at the point of conception.  My searches show viability still estimated in the 24-week range, with 20 – 27 weeks gestation considered “periviability”.  Hence, this new legislation falls squarely in the “anti-abortion” camp, driven by the absolute determination.  “Human life begins at conception; terminating pregnancy therefore is always killing of human life; and killing of human life is never justifiable.”

I do not subscribe to those beliefs.  I have read too much science to believe that a fertilized egg inside a female human body instantly becomes a human being.   If science demonstrates otherwise, perhaps I will change my mind.  It has not.

Moreover, I’ve been unexpectedly and suddenly pregnant.  The first time occurred in late 1977.  I miscarried that child in early 1978, at about ten weeks’ gestation.  I had stressed for several weeks wondering how I would raise a child in the emotional, physical, financial, and personal state in which I then existed.  I do not know if I would have terminated that pregnancy had the option presented itself.    I did not have to make that choice because I lost the pregnancy.  But  the thought of going through a pregnancy at that time, in my unhealed post-abuse existence, frightened me.  Neither my mind nor my body could have handled the strain.

At earlier points in my life, I had been raped and sexually assaulted.  If I had become pregnant as a result of being raped, the psychological trauma would have been exponentially worse.  I suffered enough; I do not know if I could have survived carrying a pregnancy to term after those brutal attacks.

Not at eighteen.  Not at seventeen.  Nor younger.

And at eleven?  Unthinkable.  Utterly, overwhelmingly unthinkable.

Alabama stands forty-ninth in state rankings overall; fiftieth in education, forth-seventh in public health.  These statistics belie the public proclamations that the Alabama governor has made about the motivation of its anti-abortion legislation.  Value life?  What about the lives of the children of yourgrossly  under-served citizens?This stark contradiction cannot resolve itself.  A state cannot claim to value human life and yet let its children flounder without food, education, or health care.  If the tiny speck of cellular development inside a woman’s uterus comes under the state’s protection but the five-year-old standing in line with her mother applying for WIC does not, something has gone drastically wrong.

Moreover, the cells which Alabama, Missouri, and other states claim to be protecting exist Inside a walking, talking, functioning woman.  That woman has rights.  What about protecting her?  By requiring her to continue to harbor the growing group of cells inside of her, you subjugate the woman’s rights to the rights of a fetus not yet viable.  I have not heard anyone successfully defend that choice.

Anyone who believes that life begins at the point of conception probably stopped reading long ago.  Anyone still reading probably agrees with my pro-choice viewpoint.  But hear this:  If you believe that life begins at the point of conception and that terminating a pregnancy means ending human life; and, further, if you believe that ending all human life should be outlawed, then you also must be against capital punishment and war.  You cannot pick and choose.  If you do, you reveal your rank hypocrisy.

Society progresses.  Roe v. Wade represented progress, an acknowledgment the we all have a right to privacy protected by our Constitution, and that a woman’s right to privacy allows her to govern her own body.  The right carries qualifications founded in the scientific assessment of when a fetus can exist outside of a woman’s body.  In America, we allow the government to exercise reasonable restraints on our rights to serve the public good.  The determination of reasonable restraint must not be arbitrary.  These anti-abortion laws constitute unreasonable restraints on our rights, in their over-breadth, in their arbitrariness, and in their blind eye to socety’s failure to protect living, breathing children already clinging to their parents’ hungry hands.

The most devastating and inevitable impact of these laws must be exposed.  Abortions will continue, but they will retreat to the dark alleys and the unscrupulous, unlicensed practitioners preying on desperate, helpless impoverished girls and women.  Any decent practitioners will go underground, and those who need their services will search for them, often in vain.  Only the wealthy will receive safe and effective abortion services.

Pregnancy can bring joy.  But it can also bring heartache, pain, poverty, and peril.  To escape its burdens, helpless girls and women will seek aid wherever they might find it.   Those who enact anti-abortion laws announce that they do not care about the victims of  rape and incest; the mentally ill; the frightened teenagers; and the scores of women who just cannot endure what pregnancy demands.

Therefore the rest of us will raise the banner and protect a woman’s right to choose, a right  secured by the U.S. Constitution.  Our arms might grow weary; our feet might begin to ache. But we will not be silenced.



Taken outside the federal building, Chicago, October 2017.




An Open Letter to Parents Reflecting on the Vaccination Question

I decided to tell my story to you, Parents Reflecting on the Vaccination Question, because I might be the oldest living confirmed example of The Worst Which Can Happen to Unvaccinated Children.

I was born the sixth child of an eventual eight in September of 1955.  The illness which sent me back to the hospital struck shortly after I started walking.  My mother described that first, frightening episode for me.  She told me that my knees suddenly swelled.  I lowered myself to the floor with a thud.  A precocious child already talking at eighteen months, I told her that I would not walk anymore.  I simply refused.  She denied that I cried or threw a tantrum.  I just sat down.

What followed would make my life immeasurably complicated and sad.  The doctors first thought that I suffered from polio.  After ruling out that disease, at a children’s hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, the doctors loaded me with Tetracycline and said I had “septic arthritis”.  They inserted an impossibly long needle into my right knee and drained quarts of thick yellow fluid.  Years later, my mother shuddered as she described helplessly staring at my small form on the gurney, my blue eyes wide beneath a mop of dark curls.

My two older brothers dragged me through the hospital corridors in a red wagon.  I don’t remember this, but I can picture them doing it.  Kevin’s strong jaw and black hair would rise above Mark’s blue-eyed blondness.  They’d have earnest expressions.  Their small blue jeans would be secured with tightly cinched belts; their little shirts buttoned to their chins.  At four and six, neither could have managed the undertaking alone.  They worked well together in those days.

The critical point of illness left my legs  irreparably damaged.  I would never again walk in a normal fashion.  Pain would grip my muscles every day of my life.  Two of my sisters experienced similar illnesses at the same time; each has lingering issues.  But neither has chosen to be tested  or to tell their story.  I do not speak for them.  I mention their sickness only to underscore the contagion which probably affected me.  My mother certainly thought so.  “Why did three of my girls get sick at once,” she repeatedly asked.  No one ever had an answer — at least, not during her life time.

For the next few years, my parents and siblings learned to cope with a new reality.  I would walk again, but my awkward gait and looming fatigue necessitated adjustments.  These ranged from preferential chore allocation to defense from school yard taunts.  Mark frequently ran bases for me in the casual softball games of our childhood.  Kevin clobbered more than one boy who teased me on the playground.  I got called names like “the little red-headed crippled girl”.  Groups of children would follow me home from school or church, jerking their legs and arms in a crude imitation of my body’s spastic movements.

I’ve always acknowledged that I have it easier than someone who becomes impaired later in life.  I don’t remember ever being anything else.  Because my “walking problem” started so early, my condition defines my physical state.  I have no true understanding of what it means to “walk right”.  I literally do not comprehend the phrase “pain-free”.  When triage nurses ask me to rate my pain from zero to ten, I shake my head.  “That has no relevance for me,” I tell them.  In the last few years, a “pain scale” for those who suffer chronic pain has come into infrequent but growing use.  I have my own gauge:  The worst pain that I’ve ever endured followed the fall of an unsplinted leg with 32 breaks from an examination table.  The worst pain that I have witnessed was my mother’s agony when cancer hit her brain, a few weeks before she died.

Anything less than one of those can be tolerated.  On a scale of Nirvania to Bosnia, I’m somewhere in between.

But the decades between my early elementary school and my late middle-age challenged me in ways that I appreciate more in retrospect.  I never felt welcome in groups of children at any age.  Girls jostled me and giggled when I fell.  Boys grabbed my books to throw them on ledges that I couldn’t scale.  I stood apart from the dodge ball games, not merely picked last but ignored altogether.

When President Kennedy’s Fitness Challenge hit our high school, I quaked at the thought of being called into the center of the gymnasium to perform the contortions demanded of the regimen.  I fled to the principal’s office in hysterical sobs.  A phone call to my house drew an irate response from my father, who marched to the school demanding to know why his youngest daughter had to face this ordeal.  Eventually, I got excused, but the gym teacher made me dress out and sit by myself on the sidelines.  Nobody believed that my legs didn’t work, that I suffered the pain of constant spasming, or that weakness prevented me from running or climbing.  All of that was true.  If anything, we underplayed my symptoms from ignorance.

The ostracizing which I suffered as a child and a teenager worsened when college began.  In the competitive dating circle, I stood no chance.  The boys who courted my friends made crass inquiries about my capabilities which I won’t repeat.  In the 1970s of my college days, women fell into two categories:  Those whom you would date; and those whom you would not date.  I never emerged from the second group.

The emotional burdens of being “crippled” never abated for me.  I knew lots of people with worse ailments who seemed, at least outwardly, to take their plight in stride.  But I also know that many of them drank too much; used both legal and illegal drugs to mask physical and psychological pain; and even adopted a sort of sarcastic persona to disguise their loneliness.  I hit all those notes, often and repeatedly, throughout my life.

Late in the 1980s, my health plummeted to a new low.  I started experiencing aphasic incidents which no one understood.  Eventually, an Infectious Disease specialist speculated that I had a viral infection.  He went so far as to articulate what my mother had suspected, 30 years prior:  That a virus had been responsible for the initial problem and had now reawakened – in medical nomenclature, it had “reactivated”.  He speculated as to the type of virus, but did not yet have an antigen-specific diagnostic test.

At about that time, I married and moved from Kansas City to Arkansas.  My ID doctor put me in touch with a pediatric immunologist in Little Rock who was studying what he called “recurrence of post-viral symptoms originating in early onset viral infections”, one of scores of diagnoses that I would have over my life-time.  He added my data to his work.  Three years later, when I got pregnant with my son, that doctor followed my case even more avidly, speculating as to whether my child would be impacted by what they presumed to be my reactivated virus. (He wasn’t; I had him tested years later.)

I benefited from my pregnancy.  My health seemed to improve.  Unfortunately, though, I did not have chicken pox as a child.  When my son got that disease in 1993, I followed suit.  (He proved to be a much better patient than I.)

Then, in 1996, I had my first bout of shingles, which landed me in the hospital.   Thus began a downward spiral, the bleakest point of which came on Valentine’s Day in 1998, when a pulmonologist bluntly – and incorrectly – gave me six months to live.  “Your lungs have reached their limit,” he coldly stated.  “You’re worn out.”  My neurologist at the time agreed.

I lay in a hospital bed week after week.  I’d go home for a few days, then collapse.  In the middle of all this, I met my second husband and we got married.  Though our marriage would subsequently falter and fail after ten years, I owe him a very large debt of gratitude for not rejecting me as being too ill to be worth his time.

Thankfully I had moved my son and myself back to Missouri in 1992, In 1999, the Infectious Disease doctor who had seen me in the late 1980s and again during my 1996 shingles bout, happened to see my name on an admissions list at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City.   Dr. Brewer came into my room and gasped at the frail and failing woman whom he beheld.  I told him about the six-month prognosis (which had now passed, but which seemed only slightly inaccurate).  He studied my chart, and actually laughed.  “You aren’t dying,” he told me.  “We know so much more now.  We know what your virus is, and we know it causes you to be hypercoagulable.  Your blood is just too thick.”

He told me that I likely had HHV-6, the same virus which causes roseola.   There are three similar childhood illnesses:  Measles, roseola, and rubella or “German measles”.  All are caused by viruses; all can cause dangerous illnesses including  viral encephalitis, which is what everyone now agrees I had as a toddler.   See, e.g.,  here (measles); here  (roseola)  and here  (rubella).

While Dr. Brewer and I talked that day, the pulmonologist and the neurologist rushed into my room, alerted by the nurses to the unfolding treachery.  They accused Joe Brewer, a respected infectious disease physician, of being a quack.  They cautioned me not to listen to him or allow him to dictate my care.  They stood over my weak body and shouted at him.  He took the entire event with characteristic calm.

“Let me get this straight,” I finally told the two of them.  “You think I’m dying.  Dr. Brewer says he can save me by administering blood-thinner.”  Silence followed.  “You’re fired,” I snapped at the two angry men.  I turned to Joe Brewer.  “You’re hired.”

A few months later, I went back to work full-time.

I participated in several studies of possible supplements which Dr. Brewer hoped would help patients like me.  I did not find relief from them after an initial surge of improvement which could well have been a placebo effect.  But undoubtedly, Dr. Brewer saved me from a pointless death due to oxygen-starved organs.  My skin had been sloughing; my heart had been slowing; and my muscles had been growing increasingly weak to the point of collapse.  Properly nourished by oxygen in the now-thinned blood, my body slowly regained a level of ability close to what it had lost.

Over the next ten years, periods of reactivation of the virus increased my problems.  I had long experienced difficulty breathing, but I also developed heart issues and digestive problems, all likely caused by the virus.  I am always tired, experiencing what Dr. Brewer described as “fatigue even at rest”.  I have weird neurological problems.  My right eye shuts down towards evening.  I’ve had constant tinnitus for my entire life.  My propioceptor systems simply do not work. I walk funny, I stagger, I fall, I limp.  I’m deaf in one ear.  My glasses  horrify anyone who happens to peer through the lenses.  I have to take an anti-viral just to keep the shingles and a few other random opportunistic viruses in check.

But I’m alive.

About six years ago, I learned that a doctor at Stanford had developed a medication, Valcyte, which he had hoped would fight HIV.  When it didn’t, he and his team started to look for viruses that it might combat.  They discovered that it suppresses HHV-6, “my” virus.  My primary care doctor in Kansas City wrote a twelve-page referral.  I got accepted and started treatment under the Stanford team’s care.

I now take Valcyte twice each day.  I take Valtrex (for the shingles and other random viruses) once a day.  I have standing orders for increase dosages if I experience outbreaks of any of those viruses.  An outbreak of HHV-6 is like having a super-duper cold combined with being repeatedly smashed against a brick wall  until I collapse.  I used to get those episodes every six weeks.  I have had two this calendar year. I had about four last year.

I still walk funny.  That will never change, because the CNS damage flowed from the original encephalitis.  The spasticity worsens with age and external factors, like not stretching enough or working too much.  Stress causes flare-ups of everything, especially the shingles.  But those, too, have become less frequent.  In short, I’m far better than anyone expected.

So, Parents Pondering the Vaccination Question, you might be wondering why I tell you all of this.  Let me spell it out:

If I had gotten a vaccination for the roseola virus, none of this would have happened.  The measles virus can cause the same problems.  A vaccination exists for the measles virus.  If a child can be spared what I suffered by virtue of vaccination, what reason exists to deny this vital protection to a helpless child?

I’ve heard people say that children are “damaged” by vaccinations.  I’ve read plenty of studies which refute this contention. Here’s just one.  Critical analysis debunks the original flawed studies.  I’ve seen no credible studies which support it.  Moreover, I’m a walking case study of what happens to someone – one in a thousand, but still – who contracts an otherwise harmless childhood virus and experiences its extreme effects.

Do you want your children to go through what I’ve recounted?  I assure you:  I’ve given you the highlights and spared you most of the gorier details, including the many years of loneliness, depression, and despair which I have experienced.  I still struggle from an unshakable belief that I am too broken for anyone to cherish.

Medicine has considerably improved since 1957.  We have Valcyte  and other anti-virals now.  An acute manifestation of roseola, rubella, or even measles might be treatable.  But why even get there?  Why subject your child to the potential that he or she will be one in a thousand, and suffer what I endured, if a vaccination can forestall such tragedy?  Serious illness from the measles virus occurs more often than from HHV-6.  You can safeguard against your child succumbing to that malady by vaccination.

I hope telling my story helps you.  More importantly, I hope it arms you with information that persuades you to vaccinate your children against viruses that can and almost certainly will cause them some degree of permanent and painful harm.  Do your due diligence.  But avoid the influence of  sensational stories with no credible, scientifically sound data to support them.  In the case of the measles vaccine, the limited studies claiming that the vaccination causes autism have long-since been discredited.  Juxtaposed against such junk-science are endless studies proving the vaccination to be safe and effective.

I don’t pretend to know everything.  I’m not a doctor.  I’m just a woman who has walked this earth for the last sixty-one years with an agonizing and contorted gait, from whom normalcy has been stripped, and who yearns to spare your child the sorrow which my virus brought me.


Lucy Corley’s baby girl


Corinne Corley


My Last Day of Innocent Outrage

I want to write this before the details of Special Counsel Mueller’s report hit the airwaves.  My innocent outrage vanishes when we know what Mueller found.  I will cease being innocent, and I might cease being outraged.

I want to believe that we do not have a president who colluded with the Russians who hacked our election.  I want our country to heal.  On the brink of greater knowledge, I harbor a shred of hope.

If Mueller finds that Trump and his people colluded with Russian, or knew of the Russian interference and acquiesced in it, the splintering divide cracks further.  But if Trump knew nothing of the efforts undertaken on his behalf by Russia, we could ride this storm.

If.  If Trump does not luxuriate in his vindication, which I have no doubt he will do.  He will chortle if the report says, “Russian did indeed interfere, as everyone knows.  They did so intending to aid Trump.  Their efforts helped Trump win.  But Trump and his people remained ignorant of the Russian efforts”.    My innocence fades, and my outrage dampens.  I might be nauseous, because Trump’s personal brand of self-aggrandizement ill becomes the office which he holds.   Outrage would be misplaced.

But what if it says the opposite?  What if it says that Trump and his people knew, or further, that they actively cultivated Russian assistance?  My innocence fades and my outrage rises.

I have quite enjoyed the last few months.  Blissful oblivion overtook me.  I watched the trials and guilty pleas with something like disinterest.  Campaign manager indicted, ho hum.  Fixer pleads guilty, what’s on the next channel?  Fingers wagged, but why believe one liar over another?  I went about my business.  I could be outraged at the outlandish tweets and the disgusting speeches.  My outrage came to nothing because we did not know the depth of Trump’s treachery.

The man occupying the Oval Office has undertaken so many policies damaging to all that I value.  If exoneration falls on his shoulders, he will no doubt intensify his efforts.  The EPA, the immigrants, the National Parks, our climate — all of these already suffer under his reign.  Vindication will fuel him.

At the same time, if the Mueller report opines that Trump and his people promoted and benefited from the hack of our election, a fierce battle will ensue.  The genuine business of governance will shudder to a halt while we try to figure out how to deal with a probable felon in the White House.  The differences which divide us will intensify.  Everything now threatened will feel the strain even more acutely.

On my last night of innocent outrage, I went out for Chinese.  When I got home, I started another load of laundry.  I’ll watch a little news on YouTube, and go to bed early.  I will need my strength, if tomorrow dawns the revolution.



I’m warning you: Certain people should not read this blog entry.   Turn back, Dorothy.

If you don’t want to know anything about my tortured path to personal salvation, stop reading.

If you’ve ever made a nasty crack about a woman whom you presume to be promiscuous, stop reading.

If you’re a practicing Catholic who rejects the scandal of “clergy abuse” (gag me with a silver spoon), stop reading.

If you are related to me and would rather not know this about your sister/cousin/mother(sigh)/whatever, stop reading.

If you don’t want to confront issues which cause you to  accept that not everyone leads a perfect life, stop reading.

Still reading?  Then — listen:  The Vatican conference on the “Church’s new position about the crimes of its priests sickens me.  

Or it would, if I cared about the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1971, a Catholic priest assigned to my high school presumed upon my sexual naivete.  I won’t recount the details; their relevance lies only in the scantness of my memory of them.

I did nothing about what I experienced except hide my face in shame, for the next 24 years or so.  In 1993, I disclosed what I suffered to the monk who had baptized my son.  I don’t know if my brother Frank knows that I did so, but it took place in his dining room. My words barely rose above a whisper.  They came in response to the monk’s query as to why I had not raised my son in the church.   “It’s complicated,” I replied.  “Try me,” he suggested.

So I did.  My explanation garnered only a blessing in reply.  I accepted his murmured prayer without comment.

A few years later, I told my best friend (slash) legal assistant, Alan White.  His outrage and support melded together with  such strength that I found myself able to act.  I wrote to the St. Louis Diocese. In return, a lawyer wrote to me.  We had some brief correspondence, during which I laid out my terms.  I wanted a small sum of money, a written apology, and to have the priest in question benched. I also insisted that I would not sign a non-disclosure agreement.

I got what I wanted.  I used the money to take my son and my  best friend’s sixteen-year-old daughter to Disney World and to buy a new car.  It wasn’t a lot.  Just enough.  I did make him re-write the apology.  His first draft put the blame on me.  After I stopped vomiting, raging, crying, and pacing, I called the lawyer.  I described myself in those days:  small, shy, virginal, and a victim of a chaotic home including severe abuse at my father’s hands for which I had sought help from the priest  in question.  The letter got re-written.

I never felt compelled to talk about the events of my sophomore year in high school even though I could. Over the next few years, I would occasionally get called for an interview. I’d answer their questions and a story would run somewhere. I refused the offer of counseling. I found the notion that the perpetrator’s employer would finance and monitor any therapeutic repair work to be patently absurd.

A half-dozen years later, I got a call.  My abuser had a chance to get his privileges restored.  My testimony was sought on the issue of his suitability for service.  I put on my only lawyer’s suit and drove to St. Louis in the now-rickety Buick which I had bought with my “settlement”.

The panel consisted of an elderly woman with exquisitely coiffed hair and too much pancake make-up; a psychologist; a deputy sheriff; and some priest — with fancy garb, so presumably high-ranking.  All acknowledged being Catholics.  They asked me a series of questions, as at any parole hearing.   What had he done to me (‘you don’t remember more than that?  Surely that wasn’t too bad?”)(“You did note that I was thirteen, right? And that it went on for an entire school year?  And that he was my teacher???“); what had I made of myself since then; did I realize that he claimed to have not done anything to anyone else?

The lady said, “You don’t look like a victim.”

I stared at her for a few minutes.  “What does a victim look like,” I finally asked. She glanced to her left and right, for moral support, I supposed.

“Well,” she finally managed.  “You’re a lawyer, for one thing.” She lifted her hands with their crimson nails.  That seemed to say it all for her.  The psychologist asked me if maybe I hadn’t been looking for love.  I had no answer.  Who  isn’t looking for love?  That doesn’t mean our sophomore religion teacher should oblige.

The cop showed the most understanding. He noted that the events which I described would have been prosecuted as felonies.  I thanked him for that, albeit silently, only with my eyes.  The priest threw his pen on the table.  I took that as a sign that my turn in the Inquisition had concluded.

When I got outside, I encountered a nervous woman in her twenties.  “How was it,” she asked.  I shook my head. “They’re clueless,” I told her.  “Except one guy, he’s in law enforcement.  The rest of them, don’t trust.”  She looked down  at the tissue which she had shredded in her lap.  I put my arms around her and squeezed her slender shoulders.

The priest who had coordinated my testimony walked me to the parking lot.  I could barely bring myself to be even nominally cordial.  He held my car door open for me.  Before getting into the driver’s seat, I remarked that the committee hadn’t taken me very seriously.  I asked if they expected me to be in a straight jacket, or covered with self-inflicted scars.

“We’re just getting started with this,” he replied. “We’re refining our approach. ”

That was 19 years ago.  Nineteen.  Now the Catholic church claims to have committed to doing more. They want the world to know that they consider “cover-ups” on a par with the actual abuse.  In the law, we call those “conspiracies”.  We talk of “accessories”.  We prosecute. We don’t just de-frock. We jail.  And if we don’t, we should.

I’m sixty-three years old.  A lot of terrible abuses have happened to me over the years.  I’ve inflicted some of them on myself. I’ve tolerated others because I felt worthless.  I’m here to tell you:  Don’t let the foxes try, convict, and sentence each other.  Don’t let them sit before a jury of their peers.  Let them be judged by a jury of my peers, the men and women whom they damaged, and from whom they stole even the solace of faith.

I daresay that would satisfy the requirements of due process by anyone’s standard.



Advice to a Young Lawyer

I started this blog to have a venue for social and political commentary. It fell into the latter, with the former taking a supporting role.   I suppose politics profoundly impact society, so any political commentary implicitly addresses social issues.

This entry takes a different tack, being a collection of lessons which I’ve learned in thirty-five years of practicing law. I don’t know who will find these musings helpful. Rather than “young”, I might stress “new”. Practicing law poses challenges that transcend the age when you commence. By the same token, I can only speak as a woman; male lawyers might encounter different issues or view the same questions from the unique perspective of their gender.

I find the practice of law to be a continuing challenge to my sense of morality. Each time I turn on my computer, even now, with only a few cases open in my Missouri practice, I cringe at the thought of work left undone or deadlines not docketed. Though I don’t do much hourly billing, I also have the Loren G. Rea Mantra playing in my head on a constant loop: Keep track of your time; keep track of your time; keep track of your time.    The immutables of law intertwine with the my old boss’s cardinal rule.  What deadlines cannot be extended?  Statute of Limitations; anything jurisdictional.  What else??

Have a good docket system, people.  Dual-docket, with each of them created from original sources, not each other.  Electronic or paper doesn’t much matter.  Do what works.  Bear in mind that systems only work as well as the people using them.

Acknowledge that which you do not know.  Most times when I have guessed without confirming my suspicion, I have been wrong in some material aspect.  How long do you have to file that motion? Do you count the last day?  The first?  If you know the rule by heart, you still need to be sure it hasn’t been amended since you committed it to rote recollection.  As my tax professor said, the first rule of statutory construction is read the statute.  The second rule?  Keep reading.

No judge will accept as authority the lawyer down the hall from you, or someone you once watched try a case.  In most jurisdictions, every action you undertake on behalf of your clients has already been attempted and contemplated by a rule, a statute, a regulation, or an interpretative appellate decision.  The lawyer who fails to ascertain deadlines, procedures, and controlling principles flirts with disbarment or worse:  prejudice to your client.

Yes, I said that prejudicing your client would be worse than disbarment.  We owe our clients a fiduciary duty, and, as you know, a fiduciary duty stands higher than any known to the law.  Fail yourself, and you have to find a new way of earning money to meet your obligations.  Fail your clients, and they suffer in immeasurable ways.  They lose property, money, causes of action, and rights.  Some of that loss cannot be reclaimed, even by your malpractice insurance.  Guard their rights more closely than you protect your own livelihood.  Bear in mind that protecting them serves you as well; if you don’t commit malpractice or ethical violations, you keep your ticket.

Disdain controversy.  If you scratch your head at that notion, go back to square one, to a pre-bar-exam state of mind.  The lawyer who says he or she intends to be in court every day overlooks the monumental evidence that trials lead to wins and losses but hardly ever at a level which compensates for the outlay in money and emotion.  You hear about huge verdicts, true; but you don’t hear about the over-turned awards, the hung juries, and the defense victories.  The percentage of successful appeals wouldn’t fill a quart jar compared with those in which the trial court’s decision passes muster.

The slim potential of a knock-out stands as only one reason that you should promote settlement.  The costs and attorneys’ fees eat at the gross recovery.  Emotional toil and length of time before payment add to the analysis in which you should engage with your client before recommending that they reject a reasonable offer.  Even more true for a family law client:  If you are in court every day for anything other than putting a stipulation on the record or attending a status conference, in most cases you’re doing it wrong.  Oh, there are situations where no settlement can be had in a family law case, but few — the marriage tainted by abuse or addiction come to mind.

Avoid controversy on a micro-cosmic scale as well.  Never choose a course of action in order to irritate someone, increase their legal bill, or thwart legitimate progress in litigation.  Get along with your colleagues, the judges and their clerks, and those on the front lines — court reporters, bailiffs, and administrative personnel included. In my darker years, I failed to understand the importance of good cheer to my survival in the practice.  People remembered me as the girl with the scowl.  It took decades to mellow; more importantly, it took many years for me to learn how to prevent my difficulties from poisoning the well of my greater world.

Avoid taking a case in which you have no experience solely because you need the money.  I’ve done that.  Make no mistake about my advice.  To a one, this essay contains lessons learned by trudging down my own rocky road.   If you add your incompetence to the troubles which besiege your client, you do them no favors.  Get experienced co-counsel; second-chair hearings and trials on a volunteer basis; observe; read; learn.  Enroll in CLEs designed to broaden and deepen your knowledge.  You can take a case with which you have little familiarity as long as you make full disclosure to your clients and do not charge them for your learning curve.  But as Professor Jim Jeans observed about objections, nearly everything we do in the practice of law can be resolved with two questions:  Can you?  If you can, should you?

My best advice applies to every situation in life.  Figure out what your client needs.  Employ tactics and strategies that provide maximum potential for success.  Compute a fair charge.  Tell your client everything; fully disclose the good, the bad, the difficult, and the distasteful.  Never guarantee result.  Promise only hard work.  Don’t overplay your talent or the chances for success. Apply yourself with diligence, thoroughness, and dedication. Know when to recommend a change of course or goal.

Keep your client informed.    Send copies of what you do and of what you receive.  Return telephone calls.    Listen to what they have to say.  If you don’t want to serve humanity, change careers or find a position which allows you to sit in an office and eschew contact with the recipient of the end product.

Check your arrogance at the door.  I tell this story often, so if you’ve heard it before now, my apologies.  I once dated a PhD / MD candidate at Washington University in St. Louis.  He took me to his department’s Christmas party. On the way home, he looked sideways at me in the darkness of the car.

“I saw you talking to Dr. So-and-so,” he remarked.  “What did the two of you discuss?”

I grinned and gushed.  “Oh, he was a good conversationalist!  He asked about my graduate work and my job in Jeff City.  I told him about my volunteer work and my writing.”

The car fell silent.  My friend finally asked, “Did he happen to tell you that he just won a Nobel prize for his research?”

The truly accomplished rarely need to brag.  Don’t put on airs.  Being an attorney is your profession.  It took hard work to get your law degree and your license.  But it doesn’t give you quality of character.  Your dedication to a sound set of values dictates your worthiness of respect.  Every job keeps the world  functioning, whether it be waiting tables, unclogging toilets, or brain surgery.  You aren’t better than others just because you finished law school.  I don’t use “Esquire” or “J.D.” after my name, nor do I use the label “attorney” as a title.   I don’t want anyone to think that I consider myself superior to them on any basis, least of all the supposed relative merits of our occupations.

Surround yourself with people who follow these rules.  The righteous road  doesn’t have to be lonely.  Despite public sentiment as evidenced by the plethora of lawyer jokes, most attorneys just plod away, surrounded by piles of paper that they despair of managing.  They wake in the night terrified of the dire consequences of those stacks of untouched files.  They race to the office at dawn, work furiously til late afternoon, then fall upon greasy carry-out like starving hyenas.  At dusk they limp back to their houses and fret through the evening.  At holiday gatherings, they endure the cackles of their cousins who needle them about how rich they must be.  They silently calculate how much they make by the hour, taking into account all the hours for which they cannot bear to bill.

I’ve been a lawyer since 1983.  I find this profession to be immensely satisfying.  Nothing quite beats walking on land that you’ve saved from foreclosure, or shaking hands with a family just made larger by adoption.  The gleam in the eye of your client when the puzzle pieces fall into place makes the anguish worthwhile.  I consider myself a helper, someone who thrives on assisting people to overcome their burdens.  The trappings of what I call “fancy law” never appealed to me — the luxurious office, the expensive suits, the cocktail parties, and the country clubs.  At the end of the day, I wanted every client who entrusted me with a segment of their lives to be glad that they did.    Win, lose, or settle, if your clients don’t regret hiring you, you’ve probably done your best.

The practice of law can be a field of landmines through which you must gingerly navigate, holding your client’s hand and calming the beating of your frantic heart.  When you collapse on the other side, your victorious relief will be sweeter if your good name and your client’s case survived as well.  Step carefully, my friend.  And remember:  We’re all bozos on this bus.



Social and political commentary from the Missouri Mugwump™.