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Falling Leaves and Practicing Law

by Jay Reeves |

There is something special about waking up on that first chilly September morning after a long, hot summer.

The air is crisp and impossibly clean. The colors are changing. The chill invigorates, we shiver with life.

It is indeed a long, long time from May to December, but it is worth the wait. For in September a new season – one filled with fresh possibilities – kicks off. School bells are ringing. It is time for football and fire pits, golden leaves and yellow buses.

For me, one of the simplest and most pleasurable of autumn’s many gifts is the ritual of opening the cedar chest to find something warm to wear. It can’t be anything too heavy. No need yet for the winter coat. Just something light – a sweater or jacket – to cover the bare arms, something that can be easily stripped off at noon when the temperature rises.

I always choose the same thing: my old college sweatshirt. It is worn and frayed, forty years old. The fabric in places is so thin as to be almost transparent. Through it I can see myself.

September’s Song

We all want to be warm. We are physical creatures, after all. We need protection from the elements.

But we are also spiritual beings. We yearn to be wrapped and held. At our deepest level we feel a need to have our barest parts covered. This is why religious traditions use images of cloaks and blankets and outer garments as metaphors for a greater, enveloping presence.

It is true as well in the practice of law.

Too often we trudge to the office with anxious hearts to sit at desks doing work that feels barren and unfulfilling. Our relationships with colleagues, clients and co-workers are chilly. We feel frozen in our professional lives, stuck.

Nowhere do we feel more vulnerable - our bare parts more exposed – than when we step into the courtroom or conference room.

How comforting to know we are not alone. How reassuring to know that someone – a partner, paralegal, boss, judge, even an insurance company – is there to help. It can be the simplest thing. A hug, a bit of advice, a word of encouragement. “I’ll cover for you… I won’t leave you in the cold… I’ve got your back.” Anything that takes us back to those September days when we looked at the law with fresh and eager eyes.

And just like that, we are warmed.

The Telephone Rings

In the big scheme of things it is hard to imagine anything less significant than a ratty old sweatshirt. Yet for me, few things are more valuable. We’ve been through some wars, my sweatshirt and me. We’re ripped and ragged and rough from wear.

But we’re still here.

While I was writing this, I got a call from my daughter Mary Ann. She told me about all the exciting things happening in her life: graduate school, her Brooklyn neighborhood, a new kitten. Outside I could hear my neighbor raking leaves.

Near the end of our conversation, Mary Ann asked what I had been doing. I told her about rising to the dawn’s chill and the school buses and the happy children and the scritch-scritch from next door. She listened politely, because she is patient and kind.

On and on I yammered and when I got to the part about opening the cedar chest, I sensed I was losing her – patience can only go so far – as I tried to express how I felt wearing my old sweatshirt, cozy and warm, connected to my prior self. I fumbled for the right words but knew I was falling short, knew I was coming across as the dotty old dad that I am.

And it was not until the very end, when we were just about to hang up, that I came up with the word I was searching for, the word I wanted to share with my daughter that summed it all up. And that word was Love.

Oh, it’s a long long while
From May to December
But the days grow short
When you reach September.

When the autumn weather
Turns leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time
For the waiting game.

“September Song” – Anderson-Weill

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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