Sellsword Right Livelihood

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

~ R. Frost (Two Tramps in Mud Time)

There are more jokes about lawyers than you can count. When I was in law school, the circulation desk in the law library was covered in New Yorker cartoons about lawyers. Here, I’ll tell you my favorite lawyer joke:

Engaged couple is killed in a car crash & goes to heaven. They tell god they want to get married, but he says that’s never happened in heaven and they should go off and pray for a year. A year later, they come back and say that they still want a wedding. God tells them to pray another year, so they do. They come back and say they want a wedding. Same thing happens. Next year, when they come back, they tell god, “Look. We want a wedding. Really.” He sighs and says, “OK.” There’s a big wedding in heaven. Angels play their harps, saints dance the wedding chicken dance, even Satan shows up and plays the fiddle for the throwing of the bouquet. A year later, the couple shows up and tells god, “Look, we’re a little embarrassed, but we want a divorce.” God says, “A divorce! It took me three years to find a priest up here. How long do you think it will take me to find a lawyer?!?!?

And that’s my favorite. But the one that involves sharks and ends “Professional courtesy,” and the one that ends “Oh, that’s our summer program,” and the one that ends, “God: ‘I’ll sue you,” Satan: ‘Hah! Where are you going to find a lawyer?'” are close contenders.

But jokes aside, I love what I do. Our legal system is the worst one possible except for all of the other (formal, recored) ones there are. And it’s built on the idea that anyone accused or injured gets to have a sellsword step into the ring and fight their case for them. And that’s what I do. I’m the sellsword.

And although I ply my trade in a business suit instead of armor, and although I step into courtrooms instead of arenas, and although I wield precedent and rhetoric rather than a broadsword, there isn’t a single day when I don’t understand my role: I’m a sellsword.

I was reminded today that it’s holy work and work that I am privileged to do. When it’s good, it takes everything that you have and more. It whistles and sings and sounds like star song. It sends you to a place where you are with your mother’s mother’s mothers and with your children’s children’s children. It lets you light candles to Columbia and it makes you more humble than you can believe.

May your work be so for you.


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