“Ever and ever have I been casting my line into the great unknown sea, and generally drawing it up with the hook as bare as when I threw it down; and still this in no way keeps me from dropping it in again and again, for surely sometime something will come along and bite. We are all fishers, -- fishers of fish, and fishers of each other; and I know that for my part I have never managed to get others to nibble at my hook one-half so often as I have swallowed theirs.”
The words are those of Clarence Darrow, written in his loosely autobiographical piece, Farmington, published in 1904, when Darrow was in his mid-forties. I like his hopelessly hopeful futility. It seems to sum up something about the human condition. We are hoping things. This is never so obvious to me as on the Labor Day weekend, the last big pause before another year of trial and tribulation.
I confess to being a summer-time fool. I goof off as much as I possibly can from the end of June until the beginning of September. This summer I managed not to go to trial once during the summer. So it’s been a couple of months since I stood toe to toe with a hostile witness in a room full of strangers. I’ve slept better, gotten more exercise, lost some weight. The world seems a lighter and more lively place without the harsh discipline of trial.
But come the morrow another year begins. I’ve mapped out the next four months, the next set of trials that will help define this thing I call my career. Tomorrow, I face witnesses in a habeas corpus trial. My client drew a 50 year sentence for his role in a manslaughter. We claim his lawyer put at least one witness up to lying on the stand, that the jury smelled the deceit and punished my client for it. The witness in question has since been convicted of perjury. I am casting a line tomorrow, fishing for a judge who will listen and give my client a new trial.
Yes, the odds against my client are significant. But we are nature’s fools. Listen to Darrow: “Nature, after all, is not quite so brutal as she might be. However old and gray and feeble her children grow, she never lets them give up hope while life remains.”
The fall promises hard struggles. Claims of child sexual abuse, of domestic violence, of financial fraud, of drug sales and witnesses silenced by violence are on my docket. These trials are scheduled, and preparation for them has been a summer’s work, work that is ongoing. I count the months in my mind -- September, October, November and December -- there are four of them between now and the next meaningful break I will enjoy, the Christmas break. I can do this, I tell myself. I have done it before. I am rested. I am strong. I am a warrior, and proud of it.
But some part of me quakes each year at this time. It’s been a while since midnight terrors were a familiar friend: How to approach this witness? What of that damning case law? Have the subpoenas been served? Do I truly understand that statement, given so long ago, to police? No trial lawyer sleeps soundly. The most vicious cross-examinations I have seen are the wee-morning hour interrogations I endure. No court day is every quite so bad as the night spent tossing and turning in anticipation of the day.
I let go of summer with regret. I’ve enjoyed the company of my wife. My children and I celebrated a wedding and the simple joy of relaxed time together. My dogs have grown accustomed to long stretches of cuddling and stroking. Our tables are filled with books recently read -- and one written this summer -- all waiting now to be shelved and cast onto the shelves that fill our homes and offices. We are awash in the written word, and need a librarian now, late in life, to sort through the words that have shaped us. I let go of the summer with regret because I expect it offers as much leisure as I shall know: Retirement is not in my future.
I am no longer so young as to view the world as an endless stream of change. Yes, I hope. By I know my hope to be the irrational demand of a soul that must be silenced by fate before it comes, finally, to rest. There simply is no rest for either the wicked or the good. Life is strife, as Theodore Roosevelt once said.
So come strife. Come struggle. Come sweet resolve.
What is it that Darrow said of death? Ah, yes. There it is:
“I am like all the other men and women who were ever born; we eat and drink, and laugh and dance, and go our way along the path of life, and join the universal conspiracy to keep silent on the momentous event that year by year draws closer to our lives.”
Happy Labor Day, all. Labor on. The day is short. Night comes. Happy trials.