I’ve always been struck by the image of Kannon Bodhisattva—the one who hears the cries of the world and selflessly responds to those in need. In deciding to become a public interest lawyer I wanted to emulate and become that selfless responder. Looking back, I realize what a profoundly naïve and romantic view I had of suffering. The image of suffering that I unconsciously held was probably more gently mewling babes and distressed virgin princesses. My response to that need was to be total and complete and deeply satisfying. Having worked in Family Court for six years now, I can say that my experience of the cries of those in need is that it is far more insistent and shattering, and all too often arises from a seemingly bottomless and inexhaustible well. Needless to say, I can feel powerless to truly respond to this—particularly, when so much of the suffering is self-inflicted and consistently reenacted. When the cry is: I wish my mom would stop using drugs; or I wish I didn’t live in a neighborhood of decrepit houses, overcrowded schools, and extreme menacing violence; or I wish I knew who my dad was—what do you say to that? When the neglected and abused child so often becomes a neglectful and abusive parent—how do you intervene?
As I said earlier, I continue to grapple with why I like my job. Why am I called to this work? Why, when I share so little in common with my clients and their basic life circumstances, why do I feel a need to place myself in that realm? Why, when I have had such a privileged upbringing and continue to live in such a rarefied world, why spend my days amongst such suffering?
The precept that arises for me most often at work is Realize self and other as one. Do not elevate the self and blame others. Why do I do this work? It touches me deeply—I can’t turn away. I grapple because I want to. And, somewhere amongst the confused morass of my psychic motivations, I know that the issues that my clients deal with are my issues. There is no gap in our suffering. And I know that I can completely respond to it. Placing myself in Brooklyn Family Court somehow heals us—I don’t know how. I have yet to fully realize the completeness of these intermingled realities, but amidst all the craziness and pain, I don’t want to be anywhere else.
Adam Starritt, MRO