For Thursday, April 7, 2016:
“Justice is the grammar of things. Mercy is the poetry of things.”
One of my favorite editing clients was a longtime circuit superior court judge for the U. S. state in which he lived until his death last fall. As we worked our way through his memoir and then a series of smaller pieces he was compiling, we became fast friends. We had regular and wide-ranging email conversations about theology among many other subjects, and I treasured his thoughtful insights.
I wish I had found this quote from Buechner while the judge and I were still working together. It would have been the perfect epigram for his memoir, for one thing. It’s also a good metaphor of our working relationship, especially as it grew into friendship and mutual respect. As well-educated and well-read as he was, he was generous enough to let me to judge the structure of his writing, which was a mercy to and for me.
But that’s how he was with his court cases, too, so that’s not surprising. I was privileged to read his accounts of the many times – names and circumstances changed, of course, for privacy – when he felt it was more important to tip the scales on the side of mercy rather than judicial strictures. Those were the times when he was a poet of the bench.
The judge was as thoughtful and hospitable, too, with his comments about our work on and for his memoir and the collection he was compiling. “Genie,” he wrote early on, “you definitely make my writing simpler and more forceful. Thank you!” A later comment was truly humbling: “Thanks for the great job you have done. You are not only an excellent editor, but you are also a valued advisor and mentor.” Coming from a man of such stature and 20 years my senior, that one still leaves me breathless.
His balance of justice and mercy from the bench extended to our work together. The judge was a good and treasured friend. I miss him to this day and always will, but his example is a model I will continue to follow in both work and life. I think he would appreciate that because he knew that, for me, writing equals relationship.