Friday, March 11, 2011


"New Occasions Teach New Duties."

Those words, from the hymn "Once to Every Man and Nation" by James Russell Lowell, are inscribed on the fa├žade of what used to be our community's high school and is now one of our two middle schools.

When I was in high school (the "new" high school), Mr. Felts, the quintessential math teacher who'd begun his career decades earlier at the "old" high school, would sometimes look at the class with a glint in his eyes.

"Mr. Wilson," he would say, calling on a student. "New occasions teach new duties. And now I need you to rise to the occasion. To the board, Mr. Wilson, to the board."

That motto and that scene are echoing in my head these days.

This coming Monday, I begin a new job as a mediator for our county Juvenile/Probate court. For the first time since I last practiced law in May, 2005, I will have an office. For the first time in over a decade, I will have a supervisor, a schedule, a regular paycheck, and (drum roll, please) medical insurance.

New occasions and new duties, indeed.

For the last five years, almost to the day, I have been the special projects administrator (a self-coined title) for David Sunderman, one of our two Municipal Court judges. David and I had been colleagues at the bar and friends for many years and he had actually asked whether I would be interested in working for him back in late 2004, less than a week before I was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. I began in March 2006 once I was well enough to start working and have never looked back. 

Working with David Sunderman has been a blessing, professionally and personally. By any measure, it has been a successful collaboration. I have had my hand in a variety of projects over the years. The two I am proudest of are the establishment of a mental health docket for criminal defendants with mental illnesses and the establishment of a civil mediation program. The last five years epitomize what I recently took to heart: "go where your best prayers take you."

My new position first came to light last summer when I fielded an email from a good friend and employee at Juvenile County telling me one of their two mediators would be retiring and asking me whether I knew any mediators who might be interested in the position.

If memory serves me, I replied, "yes, I do." As in "Yes, I do know mediators who might be interested."

My friend immediately responded with "Good! I was hoping you would be interested!"

To this day, I still don't know how "yes, I do" became "yes, I am," but it did and, as it turns out, I was.

I kept "my" judge in the loop from the outset. It wasn't until this February, however, when the job officially opened and I applied and was given an interview that it suddenly became apparent that I might be leaving Municipal Court.

And then it changed from "I might be leaving" to "I am leaving."

This past Monday my "new" judge, Ken Spicer, made me the formal job offer. I've known Ken for years; I've practiced in front of him. (I've known many of the people I will be working with, including my new supervisor, for years.) I accepted.

On Tuesday, I sat down with my "old" judge and began discussing my transition. Because the new position is part-time and the two courts are only a half block apart, I will have the ability to move out of projects over the coming weeks and not have to do it abruptly.

I am about to experience a new occasion.

This new occasion became real - more real than saying "yes" to Judge Spicer - when I drafted notes to my co-workers at Municipal Court announcing my new job. One to the Mental Health docket team, one to the deputy clerks in the Civil division, one to the mediators, and the last to the court staff. 

I was a little sad, but reserved, with the first.

I was sad with a lump in my throat with the second.

I had a larger lump in my throat as I did the third.

It was the fourth note, though, that brought me to tears. In sending the note to the administrative staff in chambers, I added a post script asking Pat to please make sure the bailiffs got a copy of my announcement. I wrote: Especially the bailiffs, since I have been a "Junior Bailiff" on Thursday afternoon for months now.

That's when the tears started rolling. I hit "send" and cried. Not long, not hard, but I baptized my new occasion with tears for the old.

Yesterday I was at Municipal Court to manage the small claims mediation program. My space at the court check-in table was covered with chocolates, courtesy of the Mental Health Docket coordinator. Dave, one of the bailiffs, announced with a grin, "oh, I see our Junior Bailiff is here." Throughout the afternoon there were comments ranging from "gee, I'm sorry you are leaving" to "just wait until they find out over there what you're really like to work with - you'll be back."

It just about killed me.

Last night Warren and I were en route to a Symphony concert-related event with our good friend (and Symphony Board member) Dave, who happens to be the person who asked me many months ago whether I knew anyone who would be interested in the mediator's position. As we drove along in the dark and the snow, Warren and Dave talking Symphony matters, his children having a verbal tug-of-war over a small flashlight, and me sitting in the back of the van remembering my children having similar skirmishes, Dave suddenly asked "so, April, are you excited about starting on Monday?" I answered back immediately that I was and Dave replied with an emphatic "Good!"

It is good. I am excited.

New occasions teach new duties. My five year stint at Municipal Court was a wonderful occasion with many great learning experiences. The new one awaits.


Sharon said...

Oh April this is wonderful news!!! Health insurance? YES!!!! The job I'm in now is my first one where I have my own office, and, well, I LOVE it! Makes me feel a bit more important! :)!

Congrats, and I can't wait to hear about your new job!!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations...and just what does this position entail?

Deidra said...

Oh my goodness. I loved reading this. I felt it all as I read it. I especially like the baptism. And the freedom you've given yourself to feel all of the emotions of this new experience. I'm looking forward to Monday for you, too!


see you there! said...

Life takes some wonderful turns from time to time and it sounds like this is one of those times for you. My congratulations and very best wishes are winging their way to you.