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a) The Bard of Wooddale. He was creative in everything he did -- as an ad executive and mentor who retired young, as a family man, as a writer of essays (collected in a book) and short stories (published in literary journals). His name was Al Sandvik. Tall, of Scandinavian good looks, he walked a lot in his retirement, including by my house. I liked that he was part of the neighborhood. As he walked by, I often thought, "There goes a kindred spirit." One of his columns in the local newspaper was about his delight in collecting bits of overheard conversations from his walks, something I, too, delight in doing. He saw, as I do, the poetry of the everyday talk of ordinary people. With affection I called him "the Bard of Wooddale," our shared street in our great neighborhood. Al, who was 77, died a few weeks ago -- as one might expect, at home. I'll miss his poetic presence.
b) Jenny of Wooddale. It's been my good fortune to be blessed with great neighbors. One I've delighted in watching grow from a sunny girl to a sunny woman is Jenny (Young) Schroedel. Once when she was in high school she told me she wanted to be a writer. Among many other wonderful thing, including wife and mother and counselor, she is that -- a writer whose essays and children's stories are getting published right and left. Among her recent publications: a) Fallen Beauty, in Boundless; b) "Pen-Pal Angel," in Angels on Earth (May-June 2003), a Guideposts publication; c) "Letters to an Unborn Daughter - Anna," in Portland - The University of Portland Magazine (Spring 2003). I love this excerpt from a "letter" she wrote to her daughter, Anna Pepper, before she was born:
As soon as I knew you were coming I bought clothes for us and packed the cupboards with food and went for walks every night. I took down a closet door to create a room for you in our tiny apartment. I began scrubbing the walls of my soul. I wanted your home to be pure. And I began to write letters to you, a stranger, my own flesh and blood, as you took shape inside me....You are born and at night I nurse you in the dark room, candlelight flickering on an icon of Christ. The full moon shines through our window. A friend says that our apartment is awash with Pascha -- the Orthodox word for Easter, meaning the dawn....
Jenny's husband, John Schroedel, is also a writer -- and theologian and priest in the Orthodox Church and student of ethics in the Ph.D program at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Whenever they're in town, I always enjoy conversing with him on various and sundry topics. And I enjoy the fact that he's web savvy (albeit with the questionable taste to link to this site!). I always find something interesting when I visit him online. His quotes page is particularly thought provoking. He is webmaster for the University of Chicago Orthodox Christian Fellowship's web site, which is a model of web usability principles that anyone interested in producing an organization's web site would do well to study.
c) Gentleman John. "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer." Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (1899-1985). I had lunch the other day with my long-time loyal friend, Justice John Simonett, now retired from the bench but, thankfully, not from legal practice. Justice Simonett, who would be one of my personal picks if I were to assemble an all-time "dream" Minnesota Supreme Court (or any other supreme court, for that matter), was, inter alia, a master of the short, elegant opinion. One of the best "short, elegant opinions" ever written by any member of any court was one he "ghost-wrote" for that famed Swedish jurist, Per Curiam. I suppose I would be breaching an ethical rules if I revealed the name of the opinion, so you'll have to take my word on it. My first mentor in the law, the late Justice C. Donald Peterson, another of my dream picks, wrote of Justice Simonett that he "is thoughtful and unfailingly courteous in court conferences...[h]ighly literate and the court's most graceful writer." The Professional, Public and Judicial Career of C. Donald Peterson 163 (1987). Well said...and true. A naturally witty man, Justice Simonett kept his wit (but not his wisdom) out of his opinions and instead found (and continues to find) a public outlet for it in speeches and short pieces published in bar magazines, etc. In 1998 I compiled many of his witty (and wise) observations in a well-received piece I called "Quotations of Chairman John on Law, Life, and Other Things That Matter (Such as Fishing and Pulltabs)," which was included in a volume on his judicial career published in 1998 by the Minnesota State Law Library as part (No. 11) of its Minnesota Justice Series. I wish I could provide a hyperlink to the piece, but, alas, it is not available online or widely available even offline, although xerographic copies of it were distributed to attendees at the book presentation ceremony. One of his more recent speeches is available online and it wouldn't hurt if every member of our troubled profession were to read it. I refer to Civility and 'Generalized Reciprocity' Bench & Bar (Feb. 2003).
April storms - present and past. In Snow, the poet Louis MacNeice writes that "World is suddener than we fancy it" and "crazier and more of it than we think." Perhaps it is because we expect April to be benign that we are so surprised by its storms. On both Monday (April's Fools Day) and Tuesday of this week we've been surprised by significant snowfalls here in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.
If one is swimming in the ocean and is caught in a powerful undertow, one has a better chance of surviving if one doesn't fight it. Many a person who has done that has drowned. One survives such an undertow, as one survives sudden grief, which is an undertow of sorts, by temporarily yielding to it, until it releases you to swim away without great effort.
If one can, that is how one should respond to a sudden snowfall in April. If one does so, if one gives it its due and temporarily yields to it, one usually will be okay. In fact, one may find, as I found on one of my outings this week, when the snow was falling quite heavily, that the birds -- the robins and the cardinals -- were still singing the same spring songs they were singing days earlier, when it was sunny and the temperature in the 50's.
But there are storms and there are storms. The worst April snow storm in Twin Cities history -- one remembered in part because it caused the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome's huge roof to collapse -- occurred on April 14, 1983, when, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, 13.6 inches of snow descended upon us, changing forever the lives of some people I know.
At the time, I was working in St. Paul. My 19-mile drive to work at 6:00 a.m. was uneventful. But then the storm picked up and the condition of the roads worsened. I got a call from my wife saying that school for our kids had been cancelled. She had to drive to work for a 9:00 meeting, which meant I had to drive home to care for the kids. I left work at 9:15, taking work with me. It turned out to be the hardest trip home ever. When I got onto Highway 62 west from I-35W south of Minneapolis, there were times when I couldn't see anything and feared I would run into some stalled or stopped car. But I had no choice but to keep ploughing ahead, because I couldn't pull over (there are no real shoulders on Highway 62 at that point) and if I had stopped I would have risked being hit by someone who could not see me. Undoubtedly, the robins and cardinals were singing, but I couldn't hear them. All I could do was keep driving through the mesmerizing white cloud, concentrating on getting home.
Back at work others soon decided they should go home. Might it have made more sense, at least for those who didn't have to go home, to give the storm its due and temporarily stay put? Yes. But home has a pull on us when storms befall us. From 12:00 until 2:00 a co-worker of mine helped give people the pushes they needed to get their cars out of one of the lots. At 2:00, two people helped him out. In doing so, they pushed him right into a parked car, damaging that car's fender. My co-worker, who now had an insurance issue to deal with, said to me, "That's what you get for being a good Samaritan." I don't know if he heard the birds singing during the two hours he was being a good Samaritan. I like to think he did.
The next day I learned that the brother of a young woman I'd known for a couple years had taken a gun and walked outside into the heart of the mesmerizing storm and, surrounded by white, shot himself, ending his life and changing the lives of others.
When something like that happens, people search for reasons. Some will say, "It was my fault" or "It was because he suffered from manic-depression" or "It was because his girl friend left him" or "It's a fact that in the United States more people commit suicide in April than in any other month." I've wondered since then if "it" in part was "because of" or had something to do with "the storm," in the same or similar sense that a fatal traffic accident that day might have been "because of" or had something to do with "the storm." That is, I've wondered if things might have been different, for him and for others, if the sudden perfect mesmerizing white storm -- which was surely as seductive as the "lovely, dark and deep" woods were that snowy evening in Robert Frost's great poem about contemplating suicide -- had not descended upon us.
Robert Bly, Minnesota's de facto poet laureate, has written:
A man often follows or flies on an ascending arc, headed toward brilliance, inner power, authority, leadership in community, and that arc is very beautiful. But many ancient stories declare that in the midst of a man's beautiful ascending arc, the time will come naturally when he will find himself falling; he will find himself on the road of ashes, and discover at night that he is holding the ashy hand of the Lord of Death or the Lord of Divorce....
R. Bly, J. Hillman, M. Meade, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart 95 (1992) (an anthology of poetry for men that every man and every parent of a boy should own).
In the late winter and early spring of 1995 a student at a college out east -- who appeared "headed toward brilliance, inner power, authority, leadership in the community" -- found himself for a time on the "road of ashes." Contemporaneously, his father found himself "holding the ashy hand of the Lord of Divorce." The father's most helpful friend at the time, it turned out, was the woman who lost her brother on that road of white in 1983. One day she (or perhaps her brother speaking through her) told the boy's dad she thought he should go out east to help his son.
There was such force behind her soft, kind words that he was on a plane the next day, making the first of several trips to help his boy -- the last, it turned out, to help him return home when it became apparent he simply could not continue. He put his son on a plane home on April 14, 1995, which was Good Friday. (He only recently realized, in reading through some old papers, that, coincidentally or not, that was 12 years to the day after the big mesmerizing April storm that changed so many lives.)
He thought at the time that it was possibly the darkest day of his life, as he stayed behind and cleaned out his son's dorm room. But now he says as he looks back upon it, that he finds himself believing that was one of his finer days, that, with a gentle prod from a friend, he maybe helped save his son from the awful white storm surrounding him, not by trying to flee it, but by giving it its due, by temporarily yielding to it, by taking his son's hand and letting him know he'd walk through it with him. As he believes he has done, as he has been privileged to do.... (04.03.2002)
Announcement. We've finally gotten around to launching our new webzine/blawg: BurtLaw's The Daily Judge:
It is not an online newspaper and is not affiliated with or intended to be mistaken for any existing or previously-existing newspaper or journal. Rather, it is a so-called "blawg," a law-related personal "web log" or "blog," one with a subjective, idiosyncratic, and eccentric sociological and social-psychological slant that focuses not on the latest judicial decisions of supposed great importance but on a) the institution of judge in the United States and in other countries throughout the world, b) the judicial office and role, c) judicial personalities, d) the great common law tradition of judging as practiced here and throughout the world, e) judges as judges, f) judges as ordinary people with the usual mix of virtues and flaws, etc. We link to newspapers and other sources in order to alert the reader to ideas, articles, stories, speeches, law books, literary works and other things about "judges" that have interested us and that may interest the reader.
We don't promote our blawgs, but readers of this blog and of our affiliated political opinion blog, BurtonHanson.Com, may be interested in it. We don't think there is another blawg quite like it.