I went to McDonogh school. Grandpa went there too. You guys might go there. One or both of you. Who knows?
When I went there, there was something of a school poem. I thought it was corny at the time. Even as a young kid I thought it was corny. It’s called Be the Best of Whatever You Are and it’s by a guy named Douglas Malloch.
BY DOUGLAS MALLOCH
If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill,
Be a scrub in the valley – but be
The best little scrub by the side of the rill;
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a bush be a bit of the grass,
And some highway happier make;
If you can’t be a muskie, then just be a bass –
But the liveliest bass in the lake!
We can’t all be captains, we’ve got to be crew,
There’s something for all of us here,
There’s big work to do, and there’s lesser to do,
And the task you must do is the near.
If you can’t be a highway then just be a trail,
If you can’t be the sun be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or you fail –
Be the best of whatever you are!
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how meaningful these words are. It’s not about your position in life. It’s about engaging in whatever you are doing and doing it the best you can. It’s about being the best version of yourself you can be.
Sometimes I’ve been better at it than others. It’s part of being human I think. But I’ve benefited tremendously from examining whether I’m being the best I can be.
For me, it hasn’t always been “best” in terms of competition, ie better than someone else. It’s just about the best version of me.
And, if you’re like me, you won’t always be what you’re being best at now. I was once a very good bookshelf stocker at Barnes & Noble. Now I run some shit! How’d I get from there to here. By doing the next right thing.
Love you guys!
Why do I write these letters to you guys?
I wish my Dad had for me. Not that he was some kind of a bad dad or anything. I just want/wanted to know more about how he felt about the world. I wanted to know more about how he felt about himself, about his history, about his successes and failures, and about me. (He’s only about to turn 69, but the ship might have sailed on this kind of thing for him.)
I want to provide you guys a window into me. I want you guys to know me.
Today I want to tell you about a success I had last year.
I won a case in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
I took on the representation. I knew I was going to have to do more on this case than I do on most cases because we were short handed and because Grandpa wants to do less as time goes on. I had to step up or pass on the work. I stepped up.
I don’t take commitments lightly. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this you know that about me.
I was in a little over my head on the case, but I was backed up by Grandpa. And I decided that failure was not an option.
Can’t lose. I hate to lose. Hate to lose.
I put in hours on this thing. Many many hours. Decker, you were learning to talk. Gibson, you were being born. I missed nothing with you guys, but I put in hours.
At one point I was called out by the client. He wanted more. That made me angry. Ultimately though, I was angry because he was right. More was needed.
I did more. I put forth a quality brief. I prepared hard for the argument. I did four practices. I studied. I knew law I hadn’t known before. I thought I was ready.
There’s some pomp and circumstance at the Fourth Circuit in Richmond. I took the train down from Baltimore the afternoon before. Grandpa drove down after his afternoon class. We stayed at a hotel that befit the pomp and circumstance. We ate a good dinner. We watched the Royals lose game 7 of the World Series to Madison Bumgarner and the SF Giants. We went to sleep. I was ready.
In the morning I got a coffee from Starbucks and Grandpa and I walked to the Courthouse. We happened to see my guy’s family on the street in Richmond. Seeing them was the only thing that made me scared the whole morning. It was her boy who’s liberty was in my hands. But I maintained confidence. At least outwardly.
So often we just fake it til we make it. All of us. Eventually you literally can’t tell the difference.
I was the fourth argument of five, or the third of four, I can’t remember. Either way, it was too long to wait. I was impatient. But I was ready.
After each argument, the judges come down off the bench to greet the lawyers for the case they’ve just heard. They greeted the argument before me. It was my time. I was ready.
“May it please the Court.” I started my argument.
Immediately, the judge on the left took me somewhere I did not want to go. I wasn’t ready to go there. I wasn’t prepared to go there. I stumbled. I was put on the spot and forced to make a split second decision based on all I knew about the law and the case that would impact my client for a long time to come.
I made the decision and stumbled my way back into a rhythm. It took quite a while. Eventually I had a decent groove.
I walked away feeling good, not great. I could have been a lot better. I could have been worse.
History proved the split second decision the correct one. I won. A month and a half after the argument, I won the case by a unanimous decision.
The first step to my client getting a few years of liberty back was complete. I won. I like winning, but not near as much as I hate losing.
It was my first appellate argument at any level.
But then, it’s over. I’ll forever have argued and won a case in the 4th circuit. Good on me, I guess. But it’s just a job. I was a hired gun, brought in to get a result. I didn’t particularly enjoy it. I didn’t hate it on the whole, but some of the long hours sucked. But my ego and pride are pretty well in check. It wasn’t such a big deal. It’s just what I do.
In the end, I got to come home to you boys. I only missed the one night of bedtime routine, and I think just the one night of dinner.
Time with you guys was the reward for a job well done.
When the case is over over I’ll share a little more. There was one other sense of pride I want to share. Until then…
Love you guys