The Future

Where will my kids go to school? What about global warming? And what am I going to make for dinner?

I’ve always loved that word — future.  It’s totally appealing.  In French, l’avenir, and in Italian, l’avvenire, mean “what’s to come.”

Despite my fondness for the word, I admit to occasional bouts of that middle-aged man malady, fear of the future.

Just when everything is going well, you stop and begin to despair about the future.  If you’re like me, you worry about whether your children will have the opportunities that have existed up until now.  I also worry about what type of planet they will inherit.

Of course, fathers have been preoccupied with thoughts like this since we emerged from primordial slime by walking on our fins.

We have difficulty intellectualizing that, although things will certainly be different in the future world, new opportunities and fresh innovations will develop.

I guess it comes down to one of my favorite John Hiatt lyrics, We can live in fear or we can act out of hope.  I try to choose the latter.


Today, I had a glimpse into the future.  And it was very good.

For the first time ever, I judged a high school mock trial competition.  It was wonderful.

To be honest, I worried about whether I had the right stuff to do this.  While reading the fact pattern for the trial, I despaired more over judging than if I had been presenting the case.  Although it’s more work, I’m more comfortable with the advocacy role than with sitting in judgment.

I admit that I lost a little sleep last night.  I didn’t want to let the kids (who work really, really hard to prepare for these competitions) down.

In retrospect, my worrying was for naught.  But, a little self-doubt and criticism every once in a while is good for the professional soul.  It inspires growth.

When I arrived in my courtroom, I walked silently through the crowd of the students, parents, friends and other loved ones up to the bench.  The judge who normally occupies that courtroom left a mess behind.  I found myself looking down and stepping over piles of stuff to avoid tripping and immediately losing any sense of judicial decorum before the proceedings had begun.

I set out my papers on the bench; got out my pencils; rearranged items on the judge’s desk.

Suddenly, I was overwhelmed over the deafening silence.  I looked up, horrified.  Everyone was standing out of respect for me.

Smile, for God’s sake, I told myself.

I beamed my widest grin and invite the courtroom to be seated.

Mistake Number One was over.  I was certain that there were more to come.

I welcomed all and began speaking to them about basic things like silencing cell phones, extending courtesy to all and keeping in mind applicable time limits.  In so doing, I relaxed myself (and hopefully some of the nervous people in the room).  My nearly 30 years of addressing the public (I had done so as recently as Thursday) has given me the ability to talk to people and put them at ease.

I’m a born game-show host.

In front of me sat two teams, each composed of three “attorneys” and three witnesses.  It was all boys to my left.  Five of the six to my right were girls.

All the boys wore collared shirts, ties and jackets.  The girls were all impeccably attired.  These kids were bringing their A-game.

It is strange for me to even type the words “boys” and “girls.” But all of these individuals were under the age of 18.  I had to keep reminding myself of that.

The trial began.  These young advocates were incredible.  Their long hours of hard work were patent.  Although some of the more advanced evidentiary techniques were difficult for them, there was not a single advocate among them that I wouldn’t trust to assist me on a case.

A short time later, I blew the handling of my first objection by counsel.  I ruled too quickly before giving the non-objecting lawyer a chance to address the objection.  However, this was a minor gaffe and I was able to correct it.

The lawyers-to-be put on a wonderful trial.  They poured their hearts into it.

Their level of civility toward one another and toward me was remarkable.  At the end, I told them that this is what all real trials should be (and seldom are) like.

While the students made opening statements, conducted direct and cross-examinations, acted as witnesses, and presented carefully-crafted summations, I diligently kept score of their respective performances.  Each participant received a score of 1 to 5 for each trial task.  There was also a maximum of 10 points awarded to each team for preparation, civility and other important concepts.

My biggest fear was that the match would end in a tie.  In such case, I would have to award a tie-breaking point based on which team had actually won the case.

I was jonesing for one of these bad boys.

Fortunately, this did not occur.  After taking 60 seconds to tally up the scores (and then checking my weakling arithmetic skills three times), I determined that one team had prevailed by a single point over the other.

I then spent about 30 minutes giving the participants feed-back on their performances.  This was the most rewarding part of my day.  One of the coaches later told me that his students had learned more from my critique than from his coaching during the preceding several months of training and practice.  I thought this was exceptionally kind of him.

Don't tell me how to talk to kids, Major Obvious.

The key thing for me to keep in mind was that these are kids.  For this reason, I remained overwhelmingly positive.  Whenever I had to deliver constructive criticism, I wrapped it on both ends with positive feedback.  When I proudly related this to Running Girl, she was all like: Duh!  I’m a teacher.  I do that everyday.

Those poor kids they had to sit there patiently for so long before I delivered my decision.

When I announced it, both sides displayed carefully rehearsed self-restraint.

I congratulated both sides.  Then I got the hell out of there as quickly as my legs would carry me.  I’ve seen too many baseball and hockey officials harassed by disgruntled parents after making important calls.

My experience today was heartening and heart-warming.

I feel really good about the future of my profession and the future of my community.

— The Major


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