An Annotated Pslam 23 for Trial Lawyers
"The lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."
Oh, that it were true, that there were a shepherd to stand beside me in the well of this court, when I want so much, so often, and with such desperation. I have become the good shepherd to the man beside me. He has placed his entire trust in me, and I, I am left alone with nothing but my wits as the maelstrom descends.
"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters."
What green pasture? What still water? This courtroom is as still as death, and when it is not still, the waters roil, yielding boiling trouble. There sits the cauldron, there the prosecutor, there the judge. Can I keep you, my client, from harm’s way?
I will be still; I will be calm; I will rise up from these waters and protect you.
"He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake."
Righteousness? Save me from that, please. The righteous are like stiff reeds that refuse to bend in humanity’s breeze, in the torrent that springs from the unrestorable soul. I will never see you, my friend, simply as the sum of your worst moments. You will be more to me than the state’s caricature of you, bounded, as it must be, in the iron logic of the law, by claims of materiality and relevance.
I will lead you and seek to protect you from the righteous; I will stand between your soul and those who refuse to see it.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and they staff they comfort me."
We are both chilled by this valley’s shadow – you by the fear of the unknown; I, because I know that coldness of handcuffs applied after a judgment is imposed. I will be by your side every step of the way, never leaving you, never forsaking you, like a loyal dog with eyes only for you, and teeth bared at every foe, but I cannot follow you into the darkness beyond the cell door. I fear that most of all, my desertion of you, should I fail. Such comfort as I can offer is simply not to forget you, to fight wherever I can, so that you are not alone when the world scorns you.
"Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over."
When we meet in this sterile place, this courtroom, we will always greet one another as friends, one hand extended to another, a moment stolen from the docket’s rush to inquire after one another’s soul. Your enemies can wait this one moment, forced, in our simple exchange, to acknowledge your humanity, your dignity, despite all they seek to take from you, all they have already taken from you. The silent cup we share is one from which the self-righteous will never drink; let sterile lips never pollute the nectar we share.
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all of the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
It takes more faith than I possess to tell you goodness and mercy await you. Instead, I see cold indifference, a place where names become numbers, and wards become numb to human need. But you can teach me to dwell in peace amid this Hell. Your quiet dignity reminds me always to seek your face first in a room of strangers, yours is the hand I want to clasp when darkness falls, the cheek I shall kiss to let you know that love will not desert you, despite the prisons, the cells, the shackles, and all the dull hatred the state calls justice.
A new psalm, then:
You have become my shepherd, you see. Your calm and your quiet restores my soul. Your love leads me to lie still when all is blind rage and hurt. I walk with you in the valley of the shadow of death, but fear no evil; I am with you, and your trust comforts me. You prepare a place for me in all that is left of your life, the living heart within you. You embrace me, anointing me with kindness and love. I am not good and I am not merciful, but you love me still; we dwell, one with another, broken vessels, forever. And that is enough for me today, and forevermore.