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William Wray is a 3L at Roger Williams Law. He attended Georgetown University and Brown University for undergraduate, graduating in 2010 with a degree in Middle East Studies. Throughout high school and college he was involved in Mock Trial, which kindled his interest in litigation. At Brown he...

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After the Storm

Posted by William Wray on 08/31/2011 at 05:14 PM

Note to self - stock up on un-scented candles.


Irene came, Irene left. It was pretty terrible if you were a tree branch, inconvenient if you were any organism which appreciates electricity or plumbing, but otherwise, bearable. 


And it wasn't all bad, either: Crises have a way of renewing our appreciation for home and all its fixtures - human and otherwise. “Hunkering” is the verb that captures the feeling for me. The dictionary definition staidly limits itself to 'taking shelter,' but for most, the word implies preparatory trips to the grocery store, foreknowledge of what will be on the news and a renewed appreciation for local TV anchors, and, when the storm strikes, the consumption of highly caloric food while watching a throwback movie or reading a well-paged book in the company of housemates and pets, if possible.


Why does an external crisis make the mundane so valuable? Perhaps because when our habits - good or bad - are threatened, we cling to them with renewed loyalty.


Mother Teresa once described loneliness as the “leprosy of the West,” suggesting, without ire, that we conquered famine, disease, and danger... only to awaken the trials of a human mind unshackled from considerations of survival, plagued by purposelessness. She suggested that existential angst can produce a poverty “worse than our poor in Calcutta.”


But when we face even a tenth the peril of the poor in Calcutta - when the elements threaten to unravel the merest fringes our comfortable daily life - our existential angst is extinguished. By fear that we'll lose the daily routine that inspires the angst to begin with.


The same phenomenon was illustrated for me in one of my closest encounters with mortality. Without delving too deeply into the back-story, I went from the peak of hubris to total helplessness, clinging to the front bumper of an eighteen wheeler, a few feet from a double-set of worn tires, trapped by clip-in pedals to my bike, which was itself wedged beneath the truck. I remember the heat emanating from the engine block just above me, and the burnt coffee, head-flattening taste of diesel exhaust overpowering my sinuses and thudding into the space behind my eyes.


When deliverance came my limbs were heavy and torpid. I had a splitting headache and an urge to call everyone I ever knew to listen to them prattle, while shrinking into insignificance myself. I flopped on the grass, called my sister and asked how work was going. (It was going fine.) I wondered why I left home to begin with. I pointed myself in the direction of an old friend who lived close to where I was, (middle-of-nowhere, Illinois) and I pedaled. The three days that passed between the incident and my arrival didn't diminish my gratitude at the sight of a familiar face. Endangerment led to contentment.


Most of us, however, don't live the type of life where either raw adrenaline or gratitude for the familiar can sustain our happiness. For better or worse, the typical law student is sheltered from physical harm and instead exposed to the rigors of a world where the truth of abstract propositions is of paramount importance, where we constantly reassess the precepts of right and wrong, and where we don't have the luxury of the easy choice between life and death, but a more difficult choice between one way of living and another. Is it more difficult to strive for the best way of living, rather than just strive to live?


I guess so. But as nice as the occasional storm is for renewing our stock of gratitude, the type of loyalty and gratitude that fear inspires is transitory, and resolutions made in foxholes tend to cast in black and white choices that mature consideration will reveal as shades of gray. Maybe the existential angst Mother Teresa referenced can create profound poverty, but then again, maybe those same critical faculties, freed from habit, fear, and foxhole loyalty, can lead to a life more fulfilling.


So flip on the classroom lights, crack the books and bring on the law student angst. The storm is over; the storm has just begun.