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How we weep and laugh at the same thing

In a moment of weakness after a hearing, I visited a bookstore and grabbed something new to read. I know, I know, just a few posts ago I was lamenting about how many unread books I still have (which is precisely why I've decided to skip the Big Bad Wolf sale this year), and how I should let go of some of them.

In my defense I've been doing pretty well on my reading goals so far, work load and tendency-to-fall-asleep-once-my-head-hits-any-pillow-at-home notwithstanding. I've also managed to squeeze in short reading breaks in the morning. So, yeah, I think the way to reward myself for getting almost half way through my books - is to get another book. (I am a hopeless cause.)

In any case, this book I'm going to talk about is just a short one anyway. It's one of those small Penguin Classics that feature classic writers' most seminal works in small doses. I got something from Michel de Montaigne, father of the modern essay.

(An aside: I loved my non-fiction lit class back in college, interestingly under poet Conchitina Cruz. It was a pre-requisite to our non-fiction writing classes, and it was pretty solid. Our syllabus spanned from Robert Burton to David Sedaris, from Sei Shonagon (a favorite) to Jessica Zafra. It was without a doubt what convinced me to pursue creative non-fic as one of my tracks. Anyway, at the heart of that class was, of course, Michel de Montaigne's works.)

So. "How We Weep and Laugh at the Same Thing."

How do we? The only thing that came to mind at this was grief, because it was always in moments relating to death that I've wept my saddest tears and let out the loudest of guffaws. (Exhibit A.) I'm no stranger to this feeling. At this point, it has practically become a defense mechanism, one that has enabled me to trudge through the hopelessness of having lost six family members in the last decade or so. But it always escapes me how. Or why.

An understanding of the complexity of conflicting emotions helps us to avoid trivial interpretations of men and their grief. Often, life forces us to label things. Because of how fast-paced and busy the world has grown, we need compartments to keep track of things as they unfold. This is work, so I must act serious. And this pertains to career, so I must only either be motivated or tired. If A, then A1. If not A, then B. It's as if life expects us to only react a certain way - and take it against us when we feel emotions that are not warranted of a situation.

The other night, while I was on my way home from dinner with high school friends and stuck in traffic, "Betcha By Golly Wow" came on. My aunt, who passed away in 2015, used to sing this song a lot in the car. Any time we'd go anywhere, somehow, this song would always play on whatever station she's listening to. "Are you a genie in disguise? Full of wonder and surprise??" I'd ask her, in disbelief, because it's as if her presence summons the opening riffs of that song. After she died, I could no longer hear this song the same way. Automatically, my eyes would well up and I knew, it'd be her saying hello. So when this song started playing as I was driving somewhere along EDSA, between Ayala and Magallanes, it dawned on me how things have turned out: I'm now the one in the driver's seat. I'm now the one tapping my fingers on the wheel as I sing along to the beat. I'm now the one dramatically leaving longing glances on the side mirrors while mouthing "Order rainbows in your favorite shade / To show I love you, thinking of you" as I evade the motorcycles and shift lanes. And she's nowhere to be found.

So I laugh. I laugh at the insanity and inanity of it all. There she used to be, being all dramatic while driving. Then she died. And now here I am, being all dramatic while driving. Except that her histrionics were manufactured to make me laugh. Mine was to remember her... and to be reminded that she is no longer there. I cry, because it reminds me of her, and then I laugh, because it reminds me of her.

The lesson to learn from all this, is of course, to not tear up while driving. Try to talk to your sleepy, heartbroken high school classmates in the backseat to distract yourself.

But also, as Montaigne writes, the truth is that our thoughts and feelings dart undetectably from one place to the next.

"The sun, they say, does not shed its light in one continuous flow but ceaselessly darts fresh rays so thickly at us, one after another, that we cannot perceive any gap between them. So, too, our soul darts its arrows separately but imperceptibly."

Various moments in our life require something definite from us: anger, sadness, jealousy, joy, relief, delight - all mutually exclusive of each other. But what of the moments that overwhelm us completely with varying degrees of all these?

When you see your friends rallying you on as you hurdle the four grueling weeks of the Bar, you feel quivers of joy at seeing so many of them sharing in your triumph, devoted to your success. A smile spreads across your face at this thought. And then, all of a sudden, your thoughts turn to all the others who are were not so fortunate; and now it's as if you feel ashamed of your glee, and want to honor their sadness by restraining it. In that moment, technically, nothing has changed - you still passed  - but your mind contemplates the matter in a different light and sees it from another aspect.

The same goes for seeing old pictures of ourselves. On the one hand, you can't help but marvel at how cute you were. (I was incredibly adorable as a kid, by the way. Yeah, I said it. Haha!) But at the same time, you also immediately feel a sense of wistfulness at time now lost. At how things have changed. At how nothing can ever make you go back to simpler times, to the way things were. The shift in emotion is so sudden, that it escapes us. In an instant, there is happiness and sadness. And an incomprehensible confusion at how it all feels.

Everything has many angles, many different sheens. No emotion should be mutually exclusive. I think there is much to be learned in allowing ourselves to feel many things at the same time, because it attests to the complexity of human nature. No one is all good, no one is all bad. When we acknowledge the wide range of emotions we feel all at the same time, we act more out of compassion rather than impulse. Because we don't restrict ourselves to just one feeling at a time, we give ourselves space to contemplate, to reflect, to think about what it means to have emotions influence our logic. Growth, after all, does not stem from only one mental state - it is the culmination of how our mind has processed all our feelings, all our hurt, all our joys.

We are allowed to feel different shades of sadness, guilt, anger, love, relief, happiness. This is what makes us human. And this is what makes us unique.

When we laugh and cry at the same things, it doesn't make us broken. It actually makes us whole.


Conflict resolution

A nugget of wisdom that was imparted to us in law school, but something I only truly understood in practice: lawyering is a profession of conflicts.

Artists create. Doctors heal. Architects and engineers build. But people only need lawyers when conflict arises. Lawyers do not envision as builders do - in fact, they're trained to limit the vision. (Because not all that is optimal is legally sound.)

What need is there for lawyers when everything is smooth sailing?

The oath says lawyers should advocate for the law, not one party. You aim to uphold the Constitution and the legal processes. But the truth is, the practice is almost always adversarial. You always stand on one side. While our code requires us to discourage clients from litigation, not everyone is happy to settle. Parties will insist on their stand - correct or not - and sometimes, when there is wiggle room for collision, lawsuits can still be pursued.

I am lucky to be in a practice that does not force me to be at odds with what is legal and what is moral. I can sleep at night knowing that my work is aligned with the things I believe in. But, my job also requires that I stand on one side of the spectrum and be an advocate for one party. The other week, I had to assist in the enforcement of a warrant. It was legal and within the bounds of what the law required. However, I also had to deal with the emotional fall out of the entire thing. I had to talk to the other parties and assure them that I will try my best to reach a reasonable settlement - although, my hands are tied since I have the interests of my client to protect as well.

"Why did you become a lawyer then, if you're allergic to conflict?"

This is something I still have no definite answer to. (Actually, if you just stopped at "Why did you become a lawyer?" I also wouldn't have a clear cut answer to that. Ha!)

But this is something I have to calibrate within myself, I guess. Conflicts exist as part of the fabric of society. Humans interact, humans disagree. The best thing we can do is to help people come together and coexist on terms permitted by law - and hopefully, by society's standards of what is right. Emotions come at a cost in practice, true. But maybe, not being too far removed from the plight of someone is not so bad when it comes to resolving conflict. When you still see gray areas, when you don't see parties (client or not) as just names on the pleading but still people, that makes for a better advocate.


Forgive the introspection. Yesterday, I celebrated my first anniversary at work! I can't believe it. Feels like I still know nothing about what I'm doing - and still winging it most of the time. But there really is so much more to learn. Here's to growth, and resolutions, and resilience.