I despise preparing for oral argument.
The process of readying oneself to stand before the Court of Appeals for fifteen minutes justifying one’s position requires a review of everything that’s been filed in the appeal. Three briefs, a transcript, and a legal file (the official compilation of the pleadings in the lower court), plus the text of any cited cases; all must be re-read and synthesized.
I have no problem reading that much material. Reviewing what I myself wrote invokes my shudders. I see the typos and the lousy page breaks. I groan when awkward sentences reveal themselves. I re-write whole paragraphs and wonder outloud how I ever thought I could practice law, much less appellate law.
Today is no different. I’m the respondent, which means I won the trial. But I’ve re-read and made notes about the issues, the record, and my own brief, all the while wondering how I failed to see such a glaring error as calling the Appellant’s statement of the issue, a “Points Relief On” rather than a “Points Relied On”. Awful!
This undertaking resembles all the post mortems I’ve ever conducted after a job change, relationship end, failed job application, and every other unsuccessful pursuit of my life. I spend hours picking at the scab, finding fault with myself, devising ways to blame myself for the unfortunate turn of events. The other participants in these sad affairs usually provide great assistance by making sure that I’m aware of their blame of me. I gather evidence, make notes, sort the arguments, and when I am fully prepared, I stand and make a case against myself.
I’d make an excellent prosecutor if I were the defendant.
I have read everything in preparation for today’s oral argument. I know the weaknesses of my brief in support of the judgment, for which I have soundly castigated myself. I’ve devised ways to rephrase my poorly stated points, in case the panel before whom I stand criticizes me as thoroughly as I criticized myself over the last twenty-four hours of preparation. Then, too, I know the other side’s arguments, the record, and the pleadings. I should be fine.
The microcosm of personal deportment which characterizes my review of my own work shows me that I have miles to go towards self-acceptance. I’m willing to believe everyone’s condemnation of me. I blame myself for every failure. I assume that I’ve done wrong, that I’m unworthy, that I’m worthless. I have my clumsy words to reinforce my beliefs. I have the accusations of others. The record supports the judgment.
But now, at this phase of my personal post mortem, I have to decide if the cadaver still breathes, if there is life after loss, if there is forgiveness after felony.
I mix my metaphors here. I started out thinking that I’d write something about blogging being like picking a scab, letting the wound bleed anew, hoping the blood-letting will wash away infection. But then I rose at 5:00 a.m. to continue my preparations for oral argument and realized that most of last evening’s work involved my scolding myself for filing an imperfect brief. In the process of unnerving myself, I have forgotten that I won this trial; I did a good job of marshaling and presenting a full record of evidence. And the trial court agreed with my position in a lengthy and detailed opinion.
I am quick to judge myself and find that I have failed. I’ve been focusing on forgiving myself for failure. But some of the time, I have made good choices for myself; I have been kind to others; I have been helpful to many. I have expended enormous effort, against formidable obstacles. And sometimes, even those whom I have wronged acknowledge that I am not a bad person. Sometimes, even those who judge me and find me wanting nonetheless see my virtues in ways that I cannot.
Perhaps I should be forgiving myself for my failures but also praising my successes. Quietly, of course; but surely. Perhaps my post mortem of my life should allow for acknowledgment that from time to time, I made a difference in the lives of others. Perhaps I should bear in mind that from time to time, I was loved.