Present Tense, but Lose the Tension
It’s been a rough week here at the Levison Towers. A sewer line broke in the basement and the plumbers had the whole floor torn up. We take pipes for granted in that they move water out of our sight. There are however other unpleasantries associated with moving sewage. Suffice it to say that what happens in the basement does not stay in the basement.
This was the only time when I thought having a cold was a blessing. My impaired sense of smell made me one of the few folks able to stay in the Towers. Even I had to bail out around 2 o’clock.
Rather than rush in to the stink pit the next day, I met my good friend Stuart Thomas for breakfast. Our usual haunt is not a Hemingway type writers’ joint. It is a café in the front of a grocery superstore. Breakfast is more enjoyable when you aren’t in a hurry, and nothing punctuates our ease than the folks hurrying through the store at 8 in the morning. Schadenfreude at its best.
Our discussions turned, as they often do, to philosophy. I was grousing that the legal profession is backwards. Lawyers are at our best experience-wise as our energy levels and youth begin to wane.
Stu was pressing me to “live in the present.” Usually, when my football team is in the dumps, I look to the future—basketball season. Living in the present is the opposite of what I do. This is exactly backwards of how we practice law as well. We spend our working years saving money for our retirement rather than enjoying it in our youth. By the time I get to retirement I may have some money put back but it will not be nearly as much fun as spending that money in my 30s would have been.
Maybe he is becoming a late in life Buddhist, but Stuart argued that the journey of life is the reason for our existence, not the destination. I should mention that he is a motorcyclist—that speaks volumes about his life.
“When we take a vacation, we look forward to time on the beach, not the travel to get there,” I argued. “Travel agents, with the exclusion of cruise directors, promise great fun upon arrival at a vacation destination. They never say, ‘enjoy your time in the airport.’”
“Think about your last trial,” Stuart replied. “You may talk about the jury verdict, but the best tales happened along the way. A cross-examination where you crush an expert or when your witness falls apart on the stand. A ruling from the judge that derails one side or the other. Those journeys are more memorable than any destination. I’ve endured enough of your stories to know that the end result is more of a punctuation mark.”
I winced when he said “enduring my stories.” I am downright delightful to listen to, after all. Still, I wasn’t ready to admit defeat.
“What about your motorcycle ride last weekend? Weren’t you trying to get somewhere?”
“Absolutely not! I enjoy the sights and the sounds and taking each turn. The fall leaves were breathtaking and a wet pile on the road would have been an adrenaline rush. Arriving at some greasy diner for a burger before returning home may be an excuse, but it is not the reason I ride,” he said.
If he rode an old, unreliable bike that made questionable arriving at all, I might believe him. Mr. Thomas sits astride an Italian masterpiece that he readily concedes surpasses his skill level 3 fold. The real number is probably higher, given that he has never read the manual to know all of the features his carbon horse possesses.
“Didn’t the Buddha say that all life is struggle? What is the point?” I asked.
“Exactly. The struggle is the point. You may work in part to have money when you hit your golden years—which is a sucker bet given the amount of bacon and BBQ you eat—but your memories will come from the struggles and joys along the way.”
I was about to question Stuart’s Buddhism when an older fellow came in and sat two tables away. For me to say older meant really old. Past his seventies.
He put a bag on the table in front of him and pulled out three donuts. I tend to consume my donuts shamefully, directly from the bag like a wino with a bottle of cheap stuff. This man put out his donuts like an artist. He was not ashamed to eat a donut. Three donuts.
He arranged them like a face—two at the top, one at the bottom—and sat there for a moment. I would have expected this behavior from a seven-year-old, not a seventy-year-old. I looked at Stuart, and he was sitting back in his chair, beaming confidence.
“That guy gets it,” he said.
Well played, Universe, well played. We got up without a word and left. I only wish that I could have seen how he ate his breakfast—one eye at a time, bottom of the face first, or a bite from each. That, and I now wanted a donut.
©2014 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. His favorite donut is the chocolate glazed from Krispy Kreme. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this newspaper or directly to the Levison Group via email at email@example.com.