The Only "Big Plan"
From the courtroom, where black clients are pleading for mercy, to the Black Lives Matter protest her boss insists that she join, an attorney faces her day in the only way she can.
This week while in court there was an “in-custody” black kid (nineteen years old) sitting in the jury box (that is where we put the “in-custodies”—the jury box), and he was crying and shaking. He was scared.
Though tightly bound in chains, he handed me a note written in the writing of someone who clearly has learning disabilities. But the message was clear: “I am sorry, this is not who I am.” He was begging the judge for mercy. He didn’t write “I didn’t do it”—he led with “This is not who I am.” I was deeply moved by this young man.
We didn’t talk about getting the coronavirus (though we both wore masks, and I wore gloves). We didn’t discuss George Floyd. We talked about his particular problem (being in jail) and then went about finding an answer to how to solve that problem (getting him out of jail). After a few days, a solution was found, and he is back home with his family. He is one of the “lucky” ones.
And this was my entire week. More “in-custody” clients calling, wanting to have their cases “resolved.” Me constantly on the phone trying to give them some hope without avoiding reality and the dramatic circumstances they are living. Not a single one discussed the coronavirus or Black Lives Matter with me. Not a single one. And out of the twenty-five or so clients I spoke with this week, twenty are black, three are Hispanic, and two are white. Do the math.
At the office the boss asked us to participate in a local protest that the National Association of Public Defenders organized under the banner of Black Lives Matter. Initially, I didn’t want to do it. But I decided that because I trust and respect my boss, I should participate. And so, I did. And it was somewhat uncomfortable. I was asked to speak to the Spanish language news media to explain what we were doing, and I did that too.
I didn’t agree with everything about the Black Lives Matter gesture I freely participated in. The raised fist disgusts me because it is reminiscent of other sad periods of history and a symbol of power—also the chanting of “no justice no peace,” an incomplete statement without the concept of forgiveness being inserted.
But I was at the rally, and it led to conversations with colleagues and being able to share Father José’s surprisingly well-thought-out and well-written judgment. I told my colleagues that this was my judgment as well. The elected public defender told me she was grateful for Father José’s “excellent” article because it helped her to “think more about how to focus [her] energies, [her] thoughts, and [her] power.” It is the beginning of a conversation. That is more than something.
The School of Community has taught me to keep asking questions because the answer is presupposed in the question. The possibility of someone hearing my cry is there. And this is what I tell my clients: “Your cries are being heard.” But I had a client tell me this week, “Yes, I know my cry is heard. I am just afraid that I won’t like the answer.” He is my client of the month (until his spot is usurped by another one). I am just like that client. Help me out here, Jesus. Help me out. That is my cry. And maybe I won’t like the answer. But I pray you help me to embrace your answer as the best thing for me.
God is still God, no matter what rabbit holes we are tempted to climb down into. I have met Father Giussani’s children; therefore I have met Jesus. And only He can move my life (and the life of the whole world) forward.
So, the only “big plan” I have is to keep getting up in the morning and looking at Beato Angelico’s “Annunciation” on the wall of my house, say the Angelus, make my coffee, and go to work to do whatever He allows me to do.