Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Lawyer's Daughter

Today, I am thinking about what a long time 15 years is. A decade and a half. I’m also thinking about this essay I found that my dad wrote. The printer date is December 16, 1996, which means our family looked kinda like this:


Anyway, this essay made me smile for a two reasons:
1) It’s about me. Who doesn’t love things written about them?
2) People tell me all the time “you’re just like your dad.” And I guess I just loved reading this and realizing that it sounded a lot like something I would have written. Which is funny, but also a quite lovely.


A Lawyer’s Daughter

              The seventeenth century Jesuits established their place in history by devising schemes to make Christianity more palatable for Christians. The project of the theologians was, in short, to help Christians circumvent their moral obligations – an enterprise to which they devoted substantial thought and effort. Take the sometimes onerous duty of attending mass. According to one Jesuitical doctrine, a Christian could considerably shorten the time required to fulfill this responsibility by positioning himself at a place where he was able to hear two masses being conducted by two different priests, the once beginning at just the point where the other reaches the Elevation. For two halves of a mass, quite naturally, make a whole one. Indeed, he could attend mass in a manner of minutes if he could find four masses going on at the same time, so arranged that one is beginning when the next has reached the Gospel, the third the Consecration, and the last the Communion. The Jesuits’ ingenuity was not limited to minimizing he burdensomeness of Christian rituals, however. In fact, it extended into the realm of moral duties as well. For example, while the Jesuits conceded that dueling was morally prohibited, they also conceded that God did not forbid wielding one’s sword in self-defense. Thus, while a Christian could not directly challenge an adversary to a duel, he was permitted to wander around in an area where he suspected to encounter his adversary, and, if unjustly attacked, defend himself. Or consider the Jesuits’ solution for evading the ban on usury. They invented an instrument called the “Mohatra contract,” whereby a would-be borrower “sells” something to the would-be lender for the amount of the loan and, by way of repayment with interest, buys it back sometime later at a higher price.
              The modern-day equivalents of the Jesuit theologians are, of course, lawyers. “You would like to change your visiting visa into a green card, but seem to have no grounds for doing so? Well, why don’t you make some outrageous statement that would subject you to political persecution should you return to your home country, then apply for political asylum.” Or: “You want to make a pornographic movie but are worried about an obscenity suit? Well, why not pepper it with some valuable social message – quotations from the Bible, say, or Oprah – so that it no longer qualifies as obscene.” Or: “You would like to disinherit your wife and leave your property to your favorite cousin instead, but you realize that the law automatically awards a fixed percentage of your estate to her? Well, why don’t you just put all your assets in a rust, make yourself the trustee, and your favorite cousin the beneficiary.”
              Hannah is blessed (if indeed it is a blessing) with the lawyer/Jesuit knack for rearranging, recharacterizing, and restructuring events to get what she wants. I hope she’s not destined for a career as a casuistic theologian or a corporate lawyer, but these stories suggest maybe she is:
              1. Last summer Hannah spent a few days with her Nanna and Bumpa. One evening Nanna and Bumpa had an engagement which they didn’t think Hannah would enjoy, so they arranged for their neighbors, Mark and Gina, to tend her. At one point that evening, Hannah took Gina into the living room and told her she wanted to play there. Because Gina thought the living room was perhaps not the best place to play with a rambunctious two year old, she told Hannah, “Let’s go play in the room where Mark is.” Undeterred, Hannah dashed out of the living room and promptly returned – pulling Mark by the finger. “Mark in dis room,” she announced. “We play now?”
              2. Whenever Bumpa visits, he can count on Hannah greeting him with a big hug and a kiss. He can also count on the first word out of her mouth, uttered ever so coyly, being: “Treeeeat?” Hannah, in turn, can count on Bumpa having a treat in his pocket – and on him giving it to her importuning. After four or five lifesavers her Mom usually steps in and tells her she’s had enough for one day. How does Hannah cope with this apparent setback? Easy, she asks her Bumpa for the lifesavers, telling him, “I just hold ‘em.” When Bumpa acquiesces in this request, as he invariably does, Hannah proceeds to peel back the wrapping, exposing the top of one lifesaver, which she licks persistently until it’s gone. Don’t worry, Mom, she’s not eating any treats.
              3. Her mom was sitting on the floor playing with Samuel a few weeks ago when Hannah scurried into the room, spotted Samuel’s bottle on the tale, and asked if she could feed it to him. “Not right now,” her mom said. “It’s for when he’s crying and sad.” Hannah pondered that answer for only a second or two, then leaned over and gave Samuel a hug – a hug which looked, at first, like a typical expression of sister-brother affection, but which concluded with a vigorous neck wrenching. “He crying Mama,” she said innocently. “I give him bottle now?”

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