According to my calculator, I’ve lived more than 22,000 days, give or take a leap year. What I’ve done with all those days, I’m not sure. Most of them are a blur, at best, or clustered into the loose and sloppy categories of my life (e.g., the Early Parenting Years, when my husband and I never completed a sentence; the Moody, Miserable, Whining Adolescent Years, when I moaned and cried and read a lot; the Hippie Summer; the Secretary Year; the Pregnant Years).
You know, life: sometimes lived well, sometimes squandered, but in any event, spent. I was there, but I’ve forgotten so much of it. Except for those days I can never forget, such as our hippie wedding, my first publication, our children’s births, 9/11, graduations, cancer diagnosis, the cat’s getting run over.
One of those personally unforgettable days is the day I started law school in 1973. I was 23, I was awkward and shy and half-formed, I was scared to death. I still have no idea why I went to law school, except they’d accepted me and I was a feminist, so I needed a serious profession so I could stop being oppressed as soon as possible.
Step into law school and you enter a new world, full of new, long, important words and phrases. They seem powerful, since nobody else knows what you’re talking about. By my second week there, I was — I kid you not — giving my opinion, as a law student, on Watergate to laypeople at parties. I’m sure I threw in some of those long, important words I’d just learned. God knows what I said — but you didn’t need a law degree to know Richard Nixon was guilty.
Thirty-eight years later, I’m standing with some of my old classmates on the windswept patio of a high-rise in downtown Austin. We’re here to celebrate the 35th anniversary of our law school graduation as the sun goes down and the lights in the new skyscrapers begin to appear. We all talk about how much Austin has changed, how — wasn’t it amazing? — that our class had had only 18 percent women and now it’s more than half, how we could have used the Internet when we were in law school, so why did it take so long to invent?
There was some talk about work, but mostly, we talked about families. I thought, once again, what a comfortable time of life it is, with so much of the strife and posturing and ambition gone. We are who we are. Sometimes, at this age, I feel as if a great storm has passed and everything is simpler and calmer.
Based on the conversations I had, I think I may have set the class record for getting out of law (a long, hard couple of years). The strange thing is, I’ve never regretted going to law school. I worked harder than I’d ever worked before and I lived on caffeine and adrenalin and muted terror. I can’t tell you much about contracts or torts any longer, but I learned I could push myself hard and compete. Law school made me think I could do anything and it gave me nerve. Almost 14,000 days later, how could I ever put a price on that?
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read about why I can’t lie about my age, even when I want to
Love this line: “I still have no idea why I went to law school, except they’d accepted me and I was a feminist, so I needed a serious profession so I could stop being oppressed as soon as possible.”
Thanks for the laugh, and congrats on the anniversary of your graduation.
“I worked harder than I’d ever worked before and I lived on caffeine and adrenalin and muted terror. I can’t tell you much about contracts or torts any longer, but I learned I could push myself hard and compete. Law school made me think I could do anything and it gave me nerve. Almost 14,000 days later, how could I ever put a price on that?”
Hopefully I can type through the tears welling up in my eyes. I am 48 years old and tonight I take my first final exam of my first semester in law school. While you went to law school early on in your adulthood, I am experiencing it well into my adult years and yet, the thoughts you have expressed ring so very true to me today. Thank you. Your thoughts and feelings expressed in the entirety of your post are such a gift to me. Truly, thank you.
“Step into law school and you enter a new world, full of new, long, important words and phrases. They seem powerful, since nobody else knows what you’re talking about. ”
HA! It is my opinion that “legal language” is a conspiracy and is intentionally bewildering in order to promote the need for lawyers.
Ruth, I never went to law school but get why you did and admire you for doing so. I have been thinking along the same lines as this post recently, about life, and dividing it up into periods. Then it occurs to me how strange our youth-oriented culture is. They have got their values all wrong …
Loved this!! Passed along to a dear young friend who is in law school studying for finals at the moment. I think she enjoyed but likely will not “get it” until she is our age looking back as you have.
You can’t put a price on it. Confidence builder, I imagine.
My favorite part of your post:
I thought, once again, what a comfortable time of life it is, with so much of the strife and posturing and ambition gone. We are who we are. Sometimes, at this age, I feel as if a great storm has passed and everything is simpler and calmer.
Because I can imagine feeling that way…some day. Even if it isn’t until I’m 80…
When I think back on all the pursuits and schooling that I never really pursued, I think of them as all sort of melding together to bring me to this particular spot in my life, which is darn near perfect for me. Those things like law school or, in my case, music school give us so much more than just the “thing” itself. Especially the friendships we make along the way, and it sounds like you scored a lot of those during your law school/profession years.
Hmmm…left a message earlier in the week but I don’t see it here.
I am going to share this with my son who is presently studying for finals after his first year of law school. Aside from learning a lot about law, I think he learned so much about himself this first year. I learned a lot about him, too: that he is able to apply himself and work harder and better than he’s ever worked before. I hope he’s able to look back on it with the same kind of insight and appreciation you have for that time.
Interesting that after all those years your conversations were about families, not who’s done what. As always, I enjoy reading through your reflections Ruth.
I can’t imagine going to law school when only 18% of the class was female. It took never to break into a male dominated world. Good for you. I wonder what the talk would have been about at the 10 year reunion? I’m for skipping all reunions until we are formed – 38 years sounds about right to me.
Interesting that you took on that challenge and then left the law, but still feel comfortable with all your fellow over-achievers. I didn’t go to law school,but I did take on the hardest choice when confronted with two choices, all the way through school. We somehow knew that we had to work hard — that success was not going to fall from the sky. Good for us.
Would those Moody, Miserable, Whining Adolescent Years be your own — or those of your offspring (or both)? Just curious…
No matter what we do in life, what heights we climb, etc, everything seems to come back to the relationships we share…being the most important part of everything.
As the parent of an 18 year old who is unsure if he’ll even go to college, this was interesting. I think the act of pushing ourselves does teach us something. I wonder if my son will learn to push himself without formal education?
Glad you still feel like getting your degree was worth it after all that time. I’d never go back for yet another degree, but I don’t regret the experience – actual education, life education, and then some.