THE LEGAL FRONT
By J. ART D. BRION (RET.)
As a judge or justice approaches the age of 70, thoughts of retirement from the service slowly but inevitably creep in. Like death, retirement is a fact of life; at some point, one’s usefulness wanes and somebody younger must take one’s place.
This inevitability is not hard to accept; in fact, those who have begun to feel exhaustion or who suffer from the ravages of endless nights of deadlines and coffee, look forward to retirement. But this welcoming feeling, many soon find out, does not linger and barely outlasts the retirement ceremonies and the final leave-taking from office friends and colleagues.
At some point after retirement, a feeling of loneliness sinks in as the old routine bids its goodbye. The retiree still wakes up at 4 a.m. to prepare for the day ahead, although no serious work awaits in the next 24 hours. Dressing up is still at the customary time, but the act only gives rise to the questions of where to go and what to do. The early coffee and banter with the staff, too, are events missed, although they were habitual and practically meaningless when they were happening. Ultimately, only the ever-faithful – the spouse, the maids, and the dogs – are left to keep one company in the seemingly interminable retirement mornings.
But soon enough, the retiree wakes up one morning with the awareness that despite the pointless hours, life has not stopped; the world continues to hum with activity, and he can still meaningfully participate. He only has to pick up the pieces, find strength from what is left behind, and move on to a more purposeful life. Moving on all the more becomes easy when long dormant plans and activities await and require only to be picked up or re-started.
I was lucky that I was rushing to wrap up office work up to the very end of my Court days, and had failed to work on my retirement book. Thus, even before my staff could pack up my personal belongings from the office, I was already working on the book that I eventually entitled A Judicial Journey. But even the book was soon finished; it was at that point that my thoughts seriously turned to moving on.
The initial questions I confronted centered on where to go and what to do. I had at that time started to write this column but the activity only partly occupied my week. Quite rashly, I went to the first available opportunity that offered full-time activity touching on the law; I became a law dean and at the same time began teaching law again. It was an exciting combination at first as I turned my full thoughts and energies on how to help students navigate law school through law school administration.
Yet the excitement of administration could never compare with the highs of writing decisions and of incessantly arguing with one’s peers about justice and the law. What saved my year with the academe was the teaching load I had assigned myself.
It dawned on me as the school year dragged on that while my administrative duties were tedious, teaching consistently excited me: a day in class was always a new adventure – either with students with the bent and the aptitude to explore the intricacies of the law, or with those inclined to the law but whose aptitude for it barely exceeds the survival level.
I realized then that I had asked the wrong question when I began to move on. I had asked, where to and what? My query should have also been: why? When I asked myself this question, I began to understand what I wanted to do after the Court. I wanted to spend my life teaching law, although I still failed to grasp why teaching brought me joy and a deep sense of satisfaction.
I dug deep into myself and found that law students and the law classroom invariably bring me back to my own student days – the excitement with newly found knowledge; the struggle for wisdom, and for time and balance between school work, the demands of my job and the need to attend to my family; the difficulties I encountered in learning the law under less-than-ideal circumstances; the frustrations I met; and the small triumphs that came my way.
I likewise realized that a large part of the successes I enjoyed in the field of law, I owed to my teachers, even to the ones who nearly drove us to desperation and surrender.
As a teacher now, I would like to replicate what those who came before me had done for me. I now want to be a medium to pass on to the present generation of students my thoughts about the law and how it can best serve our society and our future children. It is a task that is by no means easy, but one that a retired magistrate can undertake with reasonable expertise from years of experience in and out of the bench.
I now complement teaching with writing, an activity that has always fascinated me. Writing is a daily chore, a staple for judges and justices, so that it is hardly a newly found activity. But newspaper writing is an altogether different kind; it involves a new audience, a new purpose, and has its own kind of discipline.
As I now look at column writing together with the book writing I had known earlier, I realize that sooner rather than later, I would be engaged in both, at the same time that I would be teaching law. And I would be happy and contented with these and the new and consistently unfolding adventures they bring to my daily life.
I can now only thank God I would have enough to last me for another 10 years or until the time again comes to move on. Not at all a bad life after the Court, I told my curious wife.