Only the good...

When people, particularly college students, find out what I do for a living, I usually receive a series of questions about law school. Every once in a while, I'll get a question about One L or The Paper Chase. "Is law school really like that? Is it that cut throat?"

For me, the answer was no.

That's not to say that many people didn't find their law school experience to be exceedingly competitive or that if I had started in the class before mine or in the class after mine, that I wouldn't feel the same way. But that just wasn't my experience. For the most part, there was a sense of collegiality and mutual respect that permeated my section. And I firmly believe that the reason my section had this sense of collegiality was because of the people in it.

The top of my class set the standard. The top two graduates in my class were so nice that you couldn't feel bad that they just kicked your ass all over the classroom. And there were the friends with whom I spent most of my time. We relied on each other when we were frustrated and congratulated each other when we succeeded.

And then, there was Dan. Dan was unique. Dan was the guy in my section who always made things better. When I was called on in class and thought I made a complete idiot of myself, Dan was the guy who would come up to me and say, "You made some good points. Good job." When I was so stressed I could feel beads of stress dripping from my head, Dan was the guy who would say, "Hey man, relax. You're a smart guy. You've got this." When I was so concerned about the difference between a C+ and a B I couldn't see straight, Dan was the guy who would remind me, that grades were important, but not as important as being a good person.

Dan always seemed to have perspective. It didn't matter if we just suffered the worst academic hazing in our lives, Dan had a smile on his face. In three years of law school, I don't think I ever saw Dan without a smile. Dan was the first guy to crack a joke. Dan was the guy who, if you looked a little (or a lot) unhappy, he would sit down next to you, put his hand on your back and tell you that it was all going to work out. In three years of constant self-doubt, Dan always let you know that you were important, wanted, appreciated.

And Dan was one of those perfect guys. He had it all. He was good-looking, wicked smart, funny, charismatic, compassionate, and so many other adjectives that even if I could list, wouldn't even begin to do him justice.

Simply, Dan was the kind of guy that you'd hate if you didn't like him so damn much.

There's a Yiddish word to describe someone like Dan. Mensch.

Like many people in law school, once Dan and I walked the stage at graduation, we didn't really keep in touch. I think we anticipated the usual. That we would run into each other later in our careers or at our alma mater's football games and we'd laugh about old times, catch up and tell our legal war stories. But that didn't happen.

Earlier this week, I received an email from an old friend from law school.

Unbenownst to me, on December 23, 2004, Dan was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia called AML or Acute Mylogenous Leukemia. Over the past year, Dan had been struggling with this disease. Dan was in hospitals from Miami Beach to Seattle. Dan underwent radiation therapy and received an engraftment of his sister's blood cells to hopefully fight his own cancerous blood cells and send his cancer into remission. And through it all, from what I was able to tell from his website, Dan kept that picturesque, patented smile that I remember perfectly from law school.

In August 2005, things apparently looked better for Dan. His website indicates that his cancer went into remission. But, unfortunately for all of us, that didn't last long.

At 1:40 p.m. on November 5, 2005, Dan lost his struggle with AML. And on November 8, 2005, at almost the exact time I learned all of this, Dan was being laid to rest.

If I could talk to Dan, I'd tell him that I'm so sorry I didn't know. That I'm sorry I didn't call or send an email or ask friends who may have known what was happening to him. That I'm sorry I didn't have the opportunity to see him and smile or crack a joke or pat him on the back and comfort him. That I wish I would have taken time from the trivial things I dealt with on a daily basis and been there for him.

Of course, I know exactly what Dan would say. "No problem buddy."

Like I said, Dan was unique. I will miss him dearly.

And, even though it was only for a short period of time, I am a better person for having known him.

I've included some pictures of Dan below from his website:

1 comment:

Alecia said...

I was going to email you, but, I'm a big fat loser of a friend because I lost your email address. I feel ashamed that it's taken me this long to read your newest post. Forgive me J.

I've shared with you the darkest moment in my life. And you know what that did for me, how it changed for me. You know, as I told you, that I learned from that to always be the best person that I can be. To be positive, to always try to find the bright side of things, even when it's the hardest thing to do. Because life is so fragile and unpredictable, and it can come and go in an instant.

Life is literally, the breath we take. It's that quick, in and out... It's a story, that we write every day. We all want the good ending. What I know of you, I know that you'll take this experience and learn from it. It will not only help you be a better person, but it will help you be a better lawyer. You'll remember that being a good person, is always better than getting caught up in the hooplah. You'll take this experience and you'll keep it there, lodged in the front of your mind, and you'll remind yourself of that whenever life starts to catch up with you.

Breath in and out...take some time to look at life. To SEE it, and live it. It sounds so cliche, but it's so very true.

Thinking of you,