Added July 24th Not many applicants have such an incredibly gripping experience to convey, but everyone has their own emotionally important event. Put the reader IN your story, just like this client of ours did.
The door slammed shut and now, it was just me, three other guys, and one dead man in the room. None of us -- that is, the four of us who were alive -- had ever washed a dead body before, but the phone call I received the day before would soon change that. A congregant from my mosque wanted to know if I could personally help with the funerary body-wash of a man who was hours away from death. Knowing that at least someone had to discharge the religious rites for this soon-to-be-deceased man, and I had the added responsibility of being a religious services coordinator, I agreed. But it was only after I had sent out several mass-texts searching for friends naive enough to volunteer did I realize why this intricate religious ritual had fallen on the shoulders of a funerary novice like myself. The dying man had been convicted for the rape and murder of a young girl and her mother two decades ago and was being lethally executed by the State of Texas.
Here I was, moments away from personally conferring upon a rapist and murderer the dignity of a sacred rite. Wondering if the latex that covered my hand was enough of a psychological barrier between myself and the murderer's body, I paused. A rush of anger flooded me: why had I volunteered to confer the dignity of a ritual washing for this rapist's corpse? My stomach tightened and I looked around to see my partners having tilted the corpse and waiting for me. With each second of introspection, my repulse and reluctance to continue grew, but being aware that the body had to be shrouded and transported to the mosque before the noon prayer, I knew the group couldn't afford to lose these precious minutes. I stepped back from the autopsy table and told the guys to give me a few moments pause. Meditation is seldom done with a three men and one dead one waiting for you in the backroom of funeral home, but then and there, I began breathing exercises, waiting for my emotions to subside. Eyes closed, I decided to approach the ritual cleanse as simply a trickier car-wash with the added burden of some strict religious guidelines.
When we prepped to wash the corpse’s lower half, my hands brushed over several stripes of protruding flesh. Vaguely recalling the biographical details in the man's court record I had glanced at the night before, I immediately realized from the location of the scar tissue that these marks were the result of childhood abuse. While I prepped to wash the posterior bottom-half, it was clear that this was not an indefinite corpse, but one that had engraved within it countless personal narratives. Like any other kid, decades ago, he too, must have quipped 'recess' as his favorite subject in elementary school, and similarly, it was doubtful that this body had been spared the tremors that adolescents of all backgrounds have suffered at their first date. In speaking just one dark detail from his childhood, the fleshy Braille reminded me that the man's entire life couldn't be reduced to his worst moments.
By the time we finished the washing and had taken the body to the cemetery, my earlier self-doubts had dissipated. At the cemetery, the other volunteers were surprised to see me stepping into the burial pit alongside the deceased's siblings to help lower the body into the tomb. This time, my resolve came not from an energizing meditation session but from the realization that the differences between the deceased man and myself, however stark in legal records, paled in comparison to the ups-and-downs of life we shared as members of the same species -- of the genus Homo
Whether it was trying to host a Quran-burning pastor for an interfaith dinner discussion at my mosque or, as in this case, helping perform the ritual bath of an executed felon, I have always been drawn to exploring and understanding the deeper narratives of unseemly people. This capacity to carefully listen to the backstories and motivations of individuals, even those whose ideologies or behavior profoundly disturb me, is what attracts me to the law. At its core, our legal system succeeds when participants’ complexities are fully appreciated and their stories are heard. In employing my drive for unraveling the perplexities of each individual, and lending a voice to those understandable slices of humanity contained in each viewpoint, I hope that I can play a part in advocating not just for the rights of the conferred, but also of the condemned.
Added July 19th This one did the trick this past cycle for a long list of schools. Apologies for the pun in the title, and for trying to hit some search terms :) Names are changed to preserve anonymity of the author.
My morning consisted of a hurried walk and a gnawing tardiness. I stared longingly at those gliding across campus on bicycles and skateboards as my pace quickened. Speed walking turned to intermittent galloping, as class was desperately close to starting and I had yet to enroll.
Aside from the particular disruptive shame engendered by arriving late to class, the sanctity of the first day made it all the worse. I missed the pleasantries and introductions, the icebreakers and shared awkwardness. When I finally arrived, I greeted my instructor with a smile and a hushed hello, hoping to make my transition from latecomer to class member as indistinct as possible. What happened next caught me off guard: with the infectious rhythm of sweet tea and pecan pie, Dr. Kopolow asked me to introduce myself—a standard request, to be sure, but for one in which I was nonetheless unprepared. Because for the first time ever, I was not “Bobbie, the baseball player.”
For more than two years at the Westeros University, I was a student-athlete, a centerfielder on the baseball team, which is to say that for more than two years, my schedule scoffed at the suggestion of twenty-four hour days. During the fall, we ran sprint after sprint until the sun rose, and then we ran some more, stopping with only enough time to rush to class; class, in turn, ended with only enough time to rush back to practice. And under the pressure of expectations and pre-season polls, spring brought with it practices that wore on well past nightfall as weeks became defined by travel destinations and the line between student and athlete became increasingly subsumed by wins and losses.
Eventually, my injuries mounted and conspired against me, taking with them as they healed not only the baseball career I put everything into, but also an oversized chunk of my identity. I had spent my life competing for success in a sport defined by failure. My journey had taken me from the mountainous roads of Londonderry, Vermont to the quaint beaches of Cape Cod, through hospitals and into surgery. Dr. Kopolow's’ simple question, then—Who are you?—became probing, because these experiences had defined my life; my helmet and bat didn’t just protect me behind home plate, it was the outward shell of recognition that I was able to drape myself in for every introduction and icebreaker thus far.
“Hi, I’m Bobbie,” I said in a half-hearted stutter, “I used to play baseball here.” It felt like a defeat—a blowout loss to Essos State, but on an intensely intimate scale because I was the only player on the field. My shoulders slumped as I took my seat, splintered by the biting irony of introducing myself in the past. But if I was no longer a baseball player, who was I?
As time passed and the semester progressed, this question remained with me, growing in import as the link between student and athlete became increasingly thin. Distance allowed for introspection, though, and I realized it was not so much the game of baseball itself that I missed most, but the competition and the daily struggles—the feeling of being pitted against my ideal self over and over, pitch by pitch, sometimes with success, more often with failure, but always with the unceasing desire to redefine how good I could be. Strangely enough, I found this feeling again in the most unlikely of places: an essay contest.
I picked up a flyer after class one day, delighted by the prospect of telling my former teammates I was going to write about how a poem made me feel—and “For the Union Dead” did just that. Reading it for the first time, I was inspired by Lowell’s ability to conjure life through ink, each line living and breathing, each break a meditative gasp for air. What I enjoyed most, however, was the fact that my interpretation of it was born through argument, between nothing more than the “yellow dinosaur steam shovels” and myself. I spent weeks drafting and refining and sculpting my essay, cajoling the words into harmony. A minor tweak in hitting mechanics became a subtle change in sentence structure; the search for efficiency of footwork was now a search for economy of phrase. I was competing again, not through batting average or runs batted in, but through words and ideas, and I was enamored by the dual familiarity and newness of it all.
Eventually I submitted my work, which was then chosen as one of three winning essays. In doing so, I’d found an answer to the question I stumbled over just a few months before: I’m a jock who likes poetry, alliteration, and the art of critique; a former baseball player who is as amazed by the vital lyricism of Isabel Wilkerson as I am of the hitting prowess of Alex Rodriguez. I was always these things, but it wasn’t until I removed my catcher’s mask that they came into focus. So, while I may not be an athlete any longer, I know that the competitor still remains; forged through experience, I am confident that this drive to succeed will help me excel in law school and in life.