23 November 2014

Being thankful, on purpose.

{2 Corinthians 12:9-10} But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

{Isaiah 43:2} When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

I took some hits last week - to my physical stamina, my professional self-confidence, and my faith that good always wins. Since this summer, I've been working on a violent sexual assault case, one of the worst I've encountered in my career. And for the first time in my career, a trial of mine ended in complete acquittal. 

On the most basic level, my pride was injured, but while another loss may just have left me indignant, this one left me disillusioned and heartbroken. I love trial. It's a rush, and satisfying to know that in the end, the truth wins. I am comfortable in a courtroom, maybe more than in any other space. I know what to do, or at least I've thought that I had a pretty good handle on it. I like wearing the white hat. I like being on the side of the broken and abused because I love watching as people find their voice and realize that they can heal and be strong and overcome. That being hurt is something that happened to them, but it's not who they are. 

I knew there were weaknesses in the case, but I felt like my co-counsel and I confronted them as best we could and helped the jury move past them. I say all the time that juries regularly surprise me but almost never in a good way, and that's never been more true than this case. I've never left a courtroom feeling like justice lost, like a criminal had escaped conviction, like a victim wouldn't see her tormentor held accountable...like evil won. It's not a good feeling. It feels very much like a death. 

The victim was so brave and so inspiring. I've read all the police reports so many times I've practically memorized them, and I've heard her tell her story before, during our trial prep meetings. Nothing prepared me, though, for watching as she told a jury of strangers what had happened to her on, as she describes it, the worst day of her life. As she testified, I actually struggled to maintain my composure, which has never happened to me during trial. I went home that night feeling physically sick because I couldn't stop thinking about what she had endured. This woman said repeatedly that she thought she was going to die. She talked to God and said her mental goodbyes to her babies, and she did her best to make peace with the fact that in that moment, her life was ending. 

And then after her testimony was all over, she hugged me and thanked me for believing her, knowing that we were days from the end of trial and from a verdict. She thanked me and she smiled, and then she left everything in my hands. 

I can't shake the feeling that I failed her, that there was something I should have done or said that would have made all the difference. At the end of the day, though, I can't pinpoint what it might have been, and my education and experience tell me that there's nothing substantive I missed. The proof was there, and for whatever reason, this jury just didn't believe her or didn't care about her. That makes me feel gross inside. And yeah, it makes me very angry. I keep repeating to myself the advice my dad gave me before my first trial: "Alane, the prosecutor never loses. The prosecutor presents the case and gives the victim her day in court. That is winning. That is everything." He's right, but that doesn't stop this from feeling very wrong. 

I love Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday. This is meant to be a season of thankfulness, a time for taking stock of life's blessings and articulating them in a purposeful way. I'll admit, though, that this year, I'm struggling.

That's not okay. So, I decided to force a little thankfulness, and as so often happens, I forced it for about half a minute, and then suddenly realized I wasn't forcing it anymore. I'm much better at sorting through my thoughts by writing about them, and after days of being emotional and disconnected, it's reached the point where I have to process this experience somehow. Hence, this blog, and a list of things about this past week for which, in hindsight, I am grateful. 

1) A very supportive boss. He will mime vomiting if/when he reads this because he's no good at accepting compliments unless they're about his appearance, but I really, truly have a fantastic boss. He's funny and encouraging, and he took over most of the day-to-day tasks that I'm typically responsible for, without me even asking, because he knew I'd been doing trial prep around the clock for weeks. He stayed at work late on a Friday to wait with me on a verdict, and when it didn't go the way we wanted, he walked me to my car and didn't make me talk about it. That's a gift, folks. 

2) Really amazing friends. Two of my best friends in Phoenix sent me funny messages every single day, boosted my confidence even when I wasn't really feeling it, and distracted me from the worst parts of trial with baby pictures. Friends are family that you choose, and choosing them is one of the best decisions I ever made. 

3) More about friends. I'm lucky that my old boss is now my friend. She reminds me to take care of myself, and to take it easy on myself when work gets rough. She has listened carefully and given thoughtful feedback when I've asked her advice, and on Friday, she not only took the time to tell me I did a good job, but she also sent me a video of her littlest baby girl, covered in peanut butter, and chattering into the camera. She checked in on me over the weekend, and she did all of that while in the midst of facing the loss of her father-in-law, explaining that loss to her two very young children, and helping them learn to grieve for the very first time. I don't know how to ever thank her properly for that. 

4) My mom. Pragmatically, I don't tell her much about my cases beyond the bare bones (the basic charges, and maybe a few details just for reference). Despite that, she prayed for me and for our team, and she checked in multiple times a day, and when I called her so tired I literally couldn't string words into a sentence, she told me to hang up and go to sleep. And when I told her the verdict, she said she knew I had done my best. That without knowing the details, she felt confident enough in me to say that...well, it means the world. 

5) More about family. I spent most of yesterday with a cold washrag on my face because I had a horrible headache, probably due primarily to exhaustion from lack of sleep the preceding days. My cousin texted to check on me tonight and then sent me a bath-time video of her toddler telling me to feel better, complete with blown kisses. Love and laughter are the best balm for a bruised heart, and I'm thankful for those who take the time to send them along. 

There's more to say, and maybe I'll make it a point to add to this list later. For now, I'm thankful that I feel peaceful for the first time in a while, and I'm thankful for another night of rest before an abbreviated work week. 


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