Sunday, July 17, 2011

An Abandoned and Malignant Heart

November 13, 2006

Every day now is filled with intense human dramas, each distilled down to a few pages of tiny type and packed up like leftovers in the judicial opinions that fill our casebooks. I can't help but wonder about these people whose passions, frustrations and failures I plumb every day. Does the family of John Sheckells, incapacitated by a motorcycle accident in the early 1990s, know that law students like me are reading about his claim against the motorcycle helmet manufacturer for inadequate product labeling? Would they feel gratified or violated if they found out?

I spent a few hours walking around downtown today, people watching and shopping. Where do these young suits go at night, what misdemeanors or negligences hide under their wool coats and in their cellphone cases? In my neighborhood, could the man passing by my house, yelling at his companion, harbor a malicious will that could, under aggravating circumstances, erupt into a 2nd degree murder? Who among us has not been compelled to recognize the voice of God speaking to us, if not out loud, at least suggested by a physical sign?

The California penal code defines murder as killing with malice, implied by evidence of "an abandoned and malignant heart." Law school, instead of teaching me rule and order, is dissolving my faith in any impartial system which could possibly regulate the chaos. I write haikus about criminal statutes, and limericks instead of case briefs:

A short angry man named Goetz
fired an unlicensed handgun with zest
At four kids from the sticks
who stole quarters for kicks
and put his fear of crime to the test.

My second year at Oberlin, I flip flopped over what to major in. Although I'd entered school with a love of writing, after learning more about injustice in the world, I decided that my energy would be better spent as a Politics major. But the more I analyzed government and society, the more I was convinced that only fiction made any sense. That impulse gave way to the post graduation plan, as a friend put it, of being a rock star, which gave way to some other plans, which gave way to law school... And now I'm back where I started, surreptitiously studying people on the bus, jotting down quotes I overhear, convincing myself that I can put it all together and maybe, maybe, turn it into something that for a second seems to make perfect sense.

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