Rowing is God's sport. The crisp early morning air, mist-shrouded hills, shells gliding silently on the glassy surface, oars slicing in unison. For casual observers, time slows and they become immersed in art. An ardent rower, I experience this beauty, but I also know that strength, courage and endurance command the shell, as in life.
Silence. White knuckles and callused palms suffocate the oar. In anticipation, my breathing, even my pumping heart stops. Then the horn sounds. Adrenaline rips through my torso. I pull, and keep pulling, sinews stretched to breaking, every muscle screaming to quit. Concentrating only on the starting dock, I surge forward relentlessly. That dock is my beacon.
I left home at sixteen. My single mother's drinking had become intolerable. M_____, my twin, was pregnant; her drug-addict boyfriend moved in. The starting horn had sounded.
High school races by when you have to study, make a living, do chores, play guitar in a band, and still maintain a social life. But the independence gave me strength. There were some ironies. I had no curfew, but there wasn't much to do in Artesia, New Mexico. As my own guardian, I could sign sick slips and grade reports, and attend PTA events. I earned two varsity letters, the maximum AP credits, and enough wages to escape debt.
Disregarding warnings that "fifty cents and a humanities degree could only buy a cup of coffee," I selected political science and economics, impelled by a seemingly instinctive curiosity to study the two edifices of our society. Taking to reading like breathing, I devoured Marx, Mill, Keynes, and Smith, oblivious to my roommate's pleadings to "chill out-put the books down."
But it wasn't all studies. I discovered rowing. Four hours of daily practice: jogging, racing, lifting weights. The intense winter regimen: push-ups in the snow, running stadium steps, battling the ergonometer. Still, it was energizing, incredibly satisfying. Balancing classes and training, however, required innovation-the coxswain would read my lecture notes aloud while I trained. My grades were good and, not surprisingly, there was no "freshman fifteen" for me.
I became seduced by legal theory and its axiomatic system. How constitutional law is foundational. How statutory law governs every facet of our lives: births, deaths, taxes. How criminal law maintains order. How the court is objective and politically insulated, the ideal forum for upholding controversial rights and effecting change.
As I matured, I realized it wasn't that simple. I was entranced by the originalist and non-interpretivist debates. Delving into the contentious theories of feminist jurisprudence, I was often bemused, as when I stumbled upon Katherine MacKinnon's characterization of sex as rape. I struggled with the question: is law truth or merely ideology? Realists like Jerome Frank exposed judicial subjectivity-the (perceived) objectivity provides credibility, but the process is inherently political. I appreciated the sociological view of the judiciary, but recognized that the legislature is best situated to implement policy.
For two years, I was entirely absorbed, almost intoxicated. Suddenly, my beacon flashed. It was a call from M_____. "The police are taking Britney away," she cried. M_____'s boyfriend had complained she was a user.
I drove all night. The next morning, I earnestly discussed M_____'s case with her court-appointed attorney. He just shook his head. Later, as we approached the judge, he asked M_____, "What did you say your name was?" She didn't stand a chance.
That courtroom experience transformed me into an advocate for social justice. I had removed myself from M_____'s life and plunged into the law; now the dualities had converged.
I resolved to work to achieve outcomes that were pragmatic, yet personal. Declining a clerkship at a posh Charleston law firm, I opted for the Neighborhood Legal Clinic where I could help Edna, unable to read her divorce papers; Mrs. Gray, bilked of her insurance benefits; and Maria with her children, who desperately needed child support. Interning at the Probation Office, I investigated criminal histories and drafted sentencing recommendations, but I created my own opportunities, volunteering counseling services to convicts.
Drawn to community activism, I spearheaded a housing renovation project and wrote a proposal for affordable financial services for Tulsa's low-income population. Now with AmeriCorps, I am developing curricula to foster small business development in low-income communities, and setting mechanisms for coordinating these efforts nationwide, so that populations can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
I want to fight poverty and social inequity on a large scale. My plans include obtaining a law degree with a concentration in public interest law, gaining broad policy experience as a legislative advisor and eventually leading my own anti-poverty agency. But I dream of running for elected office, and winning-politics has the power to mobilize individuals, communities and nations.
But who am I to dream such things? Why will I succeed? Because I am passionate? Maybe. Because I live my life like I row? Possibly. The real reason is that there will always be a part of me, M_____, cleaved from the same flesh, for whom poverty is a daily struggle. M_____ is my beacon. I see her in the eyes of every person I try to help.