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9/18/2007
On Becoming A Lawyer


justpostsept2007

Thank you all for your comments on my
rant post yesterday about breastfeeding. It's nice to know that there are friendly voices out in the crowd straining to be heard.

Today's post is one of Julie's
Hump Day Hmmms. She asked us to write about what we do or have done to make a difference. I don't believe that she could have set a more difficult task for me. I'm not sure if this post is what she had in mind, but I certainly discovered a few things about myself while writing it. That alone makes this post worth something to me.

Please be gentle. I bare my soul in all its flawed glory.

When I was in high school I once read that people attracted to the field of psychology are frequently those who are themselves emotionally flawed in some way. Although I can't recall the source, this theory resonated with me. Studying psychology solely for the purpose of self-analysis or to develop an awareness of some flawed familial structure or unhealthy parental dynamic made perfect sense to me at the age of 17.

So, of course, I majored in psychology in college.

I had dreams of saving the world as a brilliant analyst or researcher, or at the very least using my copy of the DSM IV to diagnose the whacked out troubled members of my family. If my family wouldn't cooperate, perhaps I could use my empathy and superior intellect to bring peace to whackadoos troubled souls in the general public. Clearly, I did not have a self-confidence problem. Nor did I know much about the world.

Along the path to my brilliant career, however, I found real people.

In college, I began volunteering for the YWCA's Violence Against Women program. I answered phones for our local hot line for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The stories were heart breaking. I spent too much time on the phone with each caller. Unable to really help, only to give information, but wanting to just listen, to let each of them find a voice.

Discussing the most private details of people's lives over the phone can be both incredibly intimate and incredibly limiting. There is a distance to it, a removal. At least there was for me. It was as if I was playing the role of calm confidant and informant. When I hung up the phone, it was over for me.

Over time, I took on more responsibility as a volunteer. I began facilitating group sessions for victims of domestic violence and, as I was applying to PhD programs in clinical psychology, I began acting as an emergency room advocate for sexual assault and domestic violence victims.

As you can imagine, most of my calls came in the dead of the night. At 2am I would race to a local emergency room and wait. Wait to speak with the doctor. Wait to speak with the victim who had requested me. Wait to speak to the police. Wait for the rape kit to be completed. Wait for the broken bones to be set, the sister to arrive, the father to call. If there was no sister, no father, no family, I would work the phones until I found a shelter.

The hardest visits were the ones where I wasn't permitted to call a shelter. Where the woman, the young man, the middle aged wife insisted that she or he was going home. Insisted it was an accident. Insisted the police had misunderstood. Insisted that I wasn't needed. While their eyes screamed.

As a mandatory reporter, I was very careful to discuss my obligations to report suspected child abuse before beginning any discussion about domestic violence or sexual assault with a parent. This was part of my training. I understood. The Y did not want its advocates used as a weapon against a victim by an abuser. We wanted the women to understand that we were on their side, but that there was a line they shouldn't cross.

I spoke with many women, a few men, but mostly women, with children. Women who insisted their boyfriend/partner/husband would never harm the children. Had never harmed the children.

And then it happened.

The story on the nightly news. A woman's face I recognized and, after consulting my notes, a name that was unmistakable.

A child in the ICU.

Something in me broke.

I faced an identity crisis. At 22, my whole sense of right and wrong shifted. The sheltered bubble in which I'd floated along for most of my life popped. Everything felt raw and new to me. Sand abraded my feet and gritted in my eyes for the first time.

The path ahead of me was no longer clear and straight. I would not become a psychologist. I could not become a psychologist.

I realized that I could not be an impartial witness to suffering. The distance I felt on the phone and in small conference rooms full of battered women? I couldn't maintain it when dealing face to face with reality. I felt responsible for every woman and man that crossed my path beyond those steely white emergency room doors. And unlike Atlas, I could not bear the weight of the world. If I tried, I would break.

To save myself, to save the humanity I failed to discover until my third decade, I chose an easier path.

I do not save lives. I will not cure cancer. I will never fly to the moon.

If I have an Achilles heel, a tender spot in my self worth that can be breached, this is it. The feeling that I am not living a life of meaning. The fear that I won't leave this world a better place. The fear that I chose the path of least resistance. Perhaps this is my curse in life? Wanting to help, to cure the ills of the world, but unable to shoulder the responsibility or bear the weight on my all too narrow shoulders.

I don't know.

But I do know that in stumbling along this winding path to my current life, among those very real and imperfect people, I found my soul.

So maybe this is not a story about how I make a difference but about how all of us, even those who seem beyond hope themselves, make a difference.

For me, that's enough.

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40 Comments:

Blogger Lady M said...

I got goosebumps reading this - powerful writing. I don't think you chose an easier path, just that you can sustain. There are so many good things we do and can do, and it's a marathon.

Anonymous Emily said...

"If I have an Achilles heel, a tender spot in my self worth that can be breached, this is it. The feeling that I am not living a life of meaning. The fear that I won't leave this world a better place. The fear that I chose the path of least resistance. Perhaps this is my curse in life? Wanting to help, to cure the ills of the world, but unable to shoulder the responsibility or bear the weight on my all too narrow shoulders."

That is EXACTLY how I feel. Who invited you into my head? :)

Thank you for your honesty.

Blogger Gwen said...

You got it right with the closing lines: there are many ways to make a difference.

Really great writing, LM.

Blogger NotAMeanGirl said...

You make a difference every day you take even a single breath. We all do. You helped so many when you were working at the Y... and you help others now. You're just finding different types of justice. :)

Anonymous mayberry said...

Wow, this was amazing. I agree with Lady M; you chose a path you could sustain. And in the end that will make it all the more productive and useful.

Blogger PunditMom said...

As always, an amazing post and so beautifully written and revealing. It's hard to know whether we've chosen paths of meaning. I have a feeling you have, but just don't know it yet.

Anonymous PT-LawMom said...

Awesome post, LM. Did you read my diary? I was a SANE unit volunteer in New Mexico and it completely turned me off my half-completed lifelong dream of a psychology degree because I realized I took too much of their troubles to heart. No way could I do that day in, day out, especially if people wouldn't listen to my advice and instead put themselves in harms way. I ended up majoring in Sociology instead and now see that being a lawyer (where hopefully your clients listen to your advice!) is close enough to psychology. I'll probably still take it to heart, but hopefully it won't break me the way that year of middle-of-the-night hospital treks did.

Blogger Jen M. said...

I think you're amazing for choosing law; you sound so dedicated! Not just in it for the big bucks, eh? ;) As a former DV counselor, I burned out five years ago and never plan on returning. It's very draining and can take a huge toll on your personal life.

Blogger slouching mom said...

All I can say to this, LM, is me, too. I even went so far as to obtain a PhD in Psychology. Am I practicing? No. Could I be? Yes. Will I be? No.

That makes me feel pretty sh*tty sometimes. Though I like to believe that once in a while my writing has some psychological truths in it.

But LM, you are doing so much good as a lawyer. The world really needs lawyers with consciences, as well as strong, well-considered ideals and ethics.

Very thught-provoking, as always.

Blogger slouching mom said...

umm, thought-provoking, that is.

Blogger ExPatSW said...

There are many, many ways to make a difference. It's not always about your chosen profession. It's about the kind of life you lead, the example you set for your children and others. It's about using your voice to protest injustice and ignorance. It's about impacting your small world in a positive way. If each person strove to do these things, think of the collective power they would have to make a difference.

Many people have expressed to me their admiration for what I do. Yes, social work can make a tremendous difference in someone's life. But, the persons who have had the biggest impact on my life and made the most significant difference in my well-being have been ones with an personal connection to me. That's not to say that I don't credit a former teacher and a former therapist with having a positive effect on me. I do. But, at the end of the day, the people who have made me who I am and supported me in finding my path have been those with whom I had a personal connection.

As a child protection social worker I have come to realise that, first and foremost, parents make the biggest difference in one's life. LM, you are making a tremendous difference in your children's lives and they in turn will make a tremendous difference in others' lives who will make a tremendous difference in others. This is truly an accomplishment worth my admiration!

Blogger Christine said...

you bared it all here--thanks for that. and don't ever believe that you are not making a difference. you are.

Great post!

I too majored in Psychology with the intentions of the PhD and the glory of fixing all of those broken, sick minds.

Now that I have Payton as a son, I view "broken" minds in a very different light.

Blogger Lady Liberal said...

I would argue that you are doing one of the most significant things you can do to leave the world a better place- you are raising two boys to be kind, loving people and to recognize right from wrong. You are bringing up your little men to live with integrity and to act with respect for others. Everything you teach them, the examples you set, the love you show them- those things will show up in their adults selves.
If that doesn't leave your (good) mark on the world, I don't know what does...

Anonymous Momish said...

You have already made a HUGE difference! HUGE! Every minute on that phone line and in those hospital rooms made a difference that compounds with each generation for each of those women you reached and helped and healed.

And I know the burn out. I studied psychology and worked with adults with mental illnesses. I lasted roughly five years and had to save myself. I hear you!

Blogger NotSoSage said...

You know what I'm going to say, right? Of COURSE you made a difference.

And you're making one, too...If nothing else (and I'm sure there's more), you are raising two children, two men-to-be with the values that you express here in the hopes that they will never, ever treat a partner or a child.

But I know, I understand. I have to lean on Joe sometimes because I feel like my plans to make the differences I want to make are so far ahead in the future and I need a (not-so-) objective observer to reassure me both about the present and the future.

I can't imagine how hard that work was. I have so much admiration for you...I think every healthy person would need to take the opportunity to step away at some point.

Blogger PinkPowerSuit said...

That was gripping. And I so related. I'm worried that I'm going through a similar crossroads. My husband, as you may know, deals with this all the time. As a prosecutor, he meets with children, looks at gruesome photos of evidence, and has the most atrocious stories to tell, that he usually doesn't. So, I've come to know with a certainty, like you, I could never do it either.

Blogger thailandchani said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger thailandchani said...

Wow.. what an awesome post... and what a significant statement about a switch from focus on the individual to focus on justice for all people.

Love it! Absolutely do.

And thank you for your kind words in my comments this morning. Coming from you, the author of a blog on which I admittedly lurk but admire a great deal, they are really significant to me. :)



Peace,

~Chani
http://thailandgal.blogspot.com

Blogger Jenn said...

You found your soul and undoubtedly have helped heal others.

That is the biggest difference one can make.

Your heart astounds me.

Blogger jen said...

what a fantastic post. when you think of all you could have chosen, and to know why you chose this...it's amazing.

we are so lucky to have you.

I really enjoyed reading this. I bet you've touched more lives than you'll ever know.

Blogger Ally said...

Oh boy, fantastic post. I was riveted by your ER advocate descriptions, and I completely relate to how you feel about saving the world, wondering if you've taken the easy path. I feel the same way.

Blogger Mommy2JL said...

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this post. It was incredibly touching.

:)

Blogger kim said...

I'm not sure why we feel like we're not contributing unless we're tortured by it, I chalk mine up to Catholic guilt. Great post.

Blogger Oh, The Joys said...

The thing about service that is continously amazing to me is the way that those serving usually receive far more than they expected - sometimes much more than those served.

Those women gave you such a gift, friend.

Blogger Julie Pippert said...

(((You)))

This is such an awesome revelation, through the history, what you gave, what you received, and the insights you picked up along the way. Not the least of which is your ultimate calling.

You so matter. You are in hearts and minds more than you know, I'm sure.

Julie
Using My Words

Blogger Ruta said...

What a beautiful post! I walked a not-dissimilar path: before law school, I was a DV advocate for a year, helping women navigate the courts (restraining orders, emotional support when preparing to testify, etc). It was good but exhausting. I don't know that I have the strength to do it again.

One thing I've found as a law firm lawyer is that the ability to do pro bono work has let me feel like I'm helping the world in some small way while not burning out by doing it full-time. A case here or there does not sound like a lot, but it's HUGE to the person you're representing. And if you find the right match (foster care/adoption, for me) it's very rewarding and affirming.

Anonymous Jenny said...

I feel this post so much.

I used to do volunteer work with kids when I was in high school. It broke my heart. I could never do it again.

I try to help in other ways but still, I feel a little like a failure.

Blogger Amy W said...

I don't know how you did what you did at such an young age....

Blogger Catherine said...

Wow, thank you for sharing that...

I, too, studied psychology...and I too will never become a psychologist...

Blogger kris said...

I'm in tears. I understand this more than I can communicate in a simple comment. Delicately and brilliantly written, just as I'd expect from such a beautiful person.

Blogger Mrs. Chicky said...

I'm speechless.

No really. I can't think of a single thing to say except that I really admire you for giving it a try. A lot of people don't even attempt that type of work. At least you did and I bet there are some people who are better off because of your work.

Blogger Kevin Charnas said...

You ALREADY have made a difference...an INCREDIBLE one. And I feel GREAT comfort in knowing that you will continue to.

I have no doubts that in all the roles you play, you have touched countless, and that has allowed them to touch countless and so on, and so on, and so on...and that's how the story goes.

BRAVA!!!!

to you.

Blogger Alex Elliot said...

You absolutely made a difference! Not just any difference either, but a big difference! It's funny because after having an internship in a battered women's shelter, I went to law school to become an ADA. Actually I even worked at a District Attorney's office for two years after college. I absolutely hated it. I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian.

But maybe you did make a difference, but didn't know it. Often people help us and we never let them know the small thing they did that changed the direction of our lives.
Who knows what great things you will do after age 62...
Catherine, the redhead
http://www.aweekinthelifeofaredhead.com

Blogger Mad Hatter said...

What an amazing, honest and meaningful post. Thank you for writing it. Thank you for leaving it here for me to read.

Blogger ewe are here said...

Amazing post. Just amazing.

And you're right. There are many ways to make a difference....

Blogger Jessica said...

Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing what you experienced. At 22 you made a bigger difference than most people have made their whole lives.

Blogger Ruth Dynamite said...

Awesome and honest. I'm so glad you've found your way to making a difference without paying the price.

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