In Focus

When my daughter was eight years old, she handed me a small spiral notebook open to a page with the penciled heading “What I Want to Be.” The list that followed included teacher, Olympic star, Supreme Court judge, psychiatrist, post person, President and mom. “The problem is,” she explained, “I just don’t know how I can do it all.” I agreed that would be a challenge but it didn’t surprise me that she would consider it possible to become whatever she wished if she set her mind to it, though Olympic star would probably be a stretch. What interested me most, however, was her sense of the need to make choices, which could flow only from an inchoate understanding that life is finite.

I have now lived 68 years, and practiced law for over 40 of them. Periodically I reflected on the quandary my daughter articulated decades ago: how to make room in life for all I wanted to do. Achieving the balance between mothering and lawyering, which consumed so many of my years, was not complex, albeit stressful on a day to day basis. Having undertaken to pursue both of those careers in tandem, the nitty gritty choices were quite narrow: whether to take a deposition or attend a school play. The process of deciding between the options profits little from anguish over the consequences of either choice, which did not of course, put an end to anguish. Faced with such conflicts day after day, one muddles through, sometimes tearfully, because one must – or else bug out on one or the other career. Of course, there is some fall-out along the way, as mothers overtly quit lawyering, or lawyers covertly quit mothering. But, like most, I bulled my way through it until my children were suddenly grown with children of their own.

Along the way, my list of obligations eroded. It became unnecessary to review homework or visit the pediatrician. Even more entertaining demands – wrestling matches and recitals – disappeared. And there came a time when I could also hand off depositions, trials and briefs to younger, more ardent colleagues. Thus, after some years, neither mothering nor law demanded my full time and attention. My choices were no longer circumscribed by my careers. Instead, at 53, I came nose to nose with freedom that led me to a new question: what did I want to do with the rest of my life?

I never answered that question. Chance became opportunity and I seized one to become a theatre producer for a few years. Another led me to develop a performing arts center. These were both exhilarating experiences that peaked and then concluded. I drifted briefly back into law practice, then into managing my father’s care and overseeing his foundation. It is, at the same time, too much and not enough.

I envy poets, painters, actors and musicians who are gripped by a passion so great that they can never turn away from their art. It is a difficult life for many of them, but it is a life in focus, which is what I covet. It is not, however, my lot to have a single life-defining passion. Nor is there a new career ahead, no unimagined talent to be discovered. Thus the question must be reframed: how can I make the most of the rest of my life?


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