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A Durham lawyer opens a new practice downtown.

First day 

After 17 wonderful years with a civil-rights firm, I have decided to open a solo practice specializing in education law. It is my first day. I am sharing space with some other attorneys in the Southbank building in downtown Durham. I decide to arrive shortly before first light, so I can watch the sun rise on this new phase of my life. As I enter the parking lot, I take my ticket from the automatic dispenser. The wooden arm rises, telling me I may enter. I notice that the ticket is stamped 5:58 a.m. I am right on time. I also see it says "July 32" instead of August 1. It´s clear I will need to let go of my assumptions about dates and times on this new journey.

I back into a parking space so I can sit on my hood and have a nice view of the eastern sky over the Durham Arts Council building and between the CCB and Peoples Security towers. There is only one other car in the large parking lot--a red commercial-type van. Probably the building maintenance guy. I appreciate that the work day routinely starts very early for some.

The sky is delicious. It is solid gray overhead and to the west. But on the eastern front, there is just enough clearing to make out cloud shapes and some blue. As if the Goddess has reserved one corner of the sky for my crazy sunrise adventure.

I have a wonderful view of old and new Durham. I am struck by the beauty of the downtown hues: tan, brick red, light gray, rusty orange, magenta. And also by the amazing sounds. The heavy idles of the buses lined up at Durham's temporary depot provide the background music; their occasional spits of exhaust as they accelerate set the beat. The crickets and a smattering of birds provide the melody and affirm that nature will not be intimidated by all the brick and concrete. Such beauty and mystery in what I might normally dismiss as mundane.

The maintenance guy comes out of the building and approaches my car. He asks me if I am the sprinkler man, although his reaction to my sitting on the hood of my car, writing in my journal, tells me he does not expect me to say yes.

"No, sir, sorry," I say.

"Are you waiting for someone?"

"No, sir."

"Well, you know that you will have to pay money to get out of this lot?"

I smile, and say, "I work here." These three words have a profound impact on me. Apparently not on him. He keeps looking at me, stone-faced. "It's my first day," I add, as if that explains everything.

He shakes his head, murmurs something that might have been "OK" and walks away.

It begins to rain on the Southbank lot. Undeterred, I move inside my car and open the driver's side window. The eastern sky continues to brighten, determined to provide a sunrise despite the rain and gray elsewhere.

I am mindful that I chose to watch the sun rise on my new career from this parking lot--my parking lot, despite the impeded view. I resisted my normal urge to find the perfect spot with the best view. I decided that whatever view I have from where I am right now is my best view, my perfect spot, and will have its own beauty. And it does.

The maintenance guy returns to my car. Apparently he has not made up his mind about me. "Where exactly do you work?" he asks.

"On the fifth floor," I say. He still looks confused. I extend my hand through the car window and say, "Hi, I'm Tom Stern. I work in Suite 501. I believe we may have met."

Immediately I see a flash of recognition, since he had been in my office when I was moving some stuff in a week earlier. I detect a hint of a smile on his face. Then he tells me we don't back the cars in the Southbank parking lot because the exhaust fumes damage the shrubs. I apologize and quickly turn my car around. Always something new to learn.

I move over to the passenger seat and continue my observations. The sky is holding at least three major weather patches simultaneously. Scattered clouds and blue sky to the east, rain overhead, solid light gray to the west and north. It makes me realize that I have many balls in the air at this time in my life, and yet, like the morning sky, there is room for them all.

The sprinkler man shows up. He wants to know if I work here. I tell him I do not, but I know that the maintenance guy is looking for him. He says that he got lost on the way here and appears to be relieved to know he is now in the right parking lot. I suggest that he wait between the front door and my car, since I expect the maintenance guy to cycle back in my direction any time now. He seems to think this is a good plan. I'm glad I can help.

The sun has risen--at least I assume it has, given how light the sky is behind the Arts Council building. The rain has stopped. Gray is yielding to blue and the light. The Goddess has decided that this will be a clear, sunny day--at least for now. At least until we see what the next moment will bring.

The maintenance guy and the sprinkler man hook up. The sprinkler guy turns in my direction and offers me a wave to say "thanks."

As I prepare to get out of my car and enter the next stage of my life, I realize my instructions are quite simple. Be present. Pay attention. Remember that life is an adventure. First day. Every day. EndBlock

  • A Durham lawyer opens a new practice downtown.

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