Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Looking at the books and what's left over when you've gone

There were four of us when we set up shop here at this Undisclosed Location, four solo practitioners. I've mentioned here, I know, that we're down to three. But I didn't write about how it happened, or when, I've just mentioned it in passing.

The man who died was our ringleader, the one who herded us into this move -- he didn't force us, mind you, because we had to go somewhere -- and we -- certainly I -- wanted as many of us to stay together as possible. But if the four of us who came here were equals, this man was primus inter pares, "first among equals," an appellation he would have particularly appreciated. He would quiz me on my (increasingly weak) Latin vocabulary from time to time. I usually failed the tests -- but passed often enough that he kept posing new ones.

My association with this man was relatively brief, only a few years. He taught part-time for decades at the law school I attended, since before the time I was a student there -- but I never took his class. I was hopeful though that we'd be able to use that law school connection to put together something here -- get in on the ground floor of the providing end of MCLE after it was imposed on us in Illinois.

(MCLE stands for "Minimum Continuing Legal Education," if you're talking to the Supreme Court -- "Mandatory Continuing Legal Education if you're talking to anyone else.)

And this man was a tax lawyer, not a litigator. He had a healthy roster of clients and he turned away a lot litigation work, or farmed it out. And I'm a litigator. Can you say "synergy?"

So I had hopes. And then he died. So I was disappointed professionally as well as saddened personally.

I can't say I knew the man well. I knew he'd battled some inner demons. I knew he'd never recovered from a bitter divorce. I knew he was estranged from his children. But I didn't know the details. Things like these are usually revealed in the fullness of time.

But not this time.

Since June we've been watching his operation wind down. Another lawyer was named executor of his estate. She'd maintained relationships with my colleague's ex-wife and children; she got them all involved in the process of winding down his business. This is one reason, however, why things have moved so slowly. When my parents died I got to know them a little better, I suppose, in looking through their stuff. But my colleague's daughters weren't just going through their father's things. They were literally getting reacquainted with their father. And they are so young. One is a college student, the other had just graduated from high school when her father died.

So the process has been slow. Healthy, I think, but slow.

In due course active files were reassigned to new counsel. Closed files have been called back from the warehouse, box after box, and returned to the clients whenever they could be found.

And now there are 15 or 16 bankers' boxes outside my office door, boxes of other things that my colleague had seen fit to store.

Books. The boxes are full of books. History books, some stuff on tax law, and a lot of religious books. Works on theology. Books my colleague couldn't continue to keep in his home when he moved to smaller quarters after his divorce -- but stuff he couldn't part with either.

His ex-wife took what she wanted; his daughters have done the same. We've been invited to take what we want. The family doesn't want to sell the books or throw them out. They want good homes for these books; they believe that's what my colleague would have wanted. Because of the subject matter, I've asked my pastor if his order would be interested (he believes they will be). And I am sure it will work out for the books; they won't be discarded. They will be placed.

But -- are these books all that's left over now that my colleague is gone? He was not a big part of his daughters' lives -- for whatever reason. Multiple reasons, no doubt.

This was what I thought about this morning, when I dropped Younger Daughter off at school and headed down here for another busy (read: largely non-blogging) day. It's not the things we leave behind that matter at all; it's the people we've shaped.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

well that made me cry.... thanks for sharing curmy. bee

Ben and Bennie said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing this one TC.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

A well told story; thank you for publishing it.

Where fibers meet mud said...

Having just gone through the process of cleaning the homestead of 50 years of living... the summation of your last sentence is the best summary of the last 5 months of my life.

Thank you very much. I found secrets and stories and memories and today I realize just how much the tears and the laughter have sealed all the lessons inside me.

Thank You so very much for writing that blog. Really, really helped me figure out something that was so nebulous that words were escaping me. Thank you.

Lawfrog said...

Extraordinairily well said! We leave a lot of material items when we go and it's amazing what insight those can give into our lives. But what really matters is the lives we've touched while we were here.

Thanks for sharing this.

Amazing Gracie said...

I first experienced this when my mom and I went through my aunt's things after her death. Her husband had died the previous year and she had never recovered, even though she was only in her early sixties and still working.
I was going through her dresser and found a silk negligee, carefully wrapped in delicate tissue paper. I was a young woman, not yet thirty, but I realized that this is the crux of who we are and what we hold dear.
I've had to do this job several more times in my life (my mother among them) and realize that there are things I don't want my children to have to deal with. I've let go of several things that are only precious to me so they won't have to make decisions or feel guilty about letting go.
Thanks for putting it so much better than I.