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)