Thursday, May 23, 2013

Passing the Bar: My ticket out of purgatory

This entry marks the end of this phase of my intervivo purgatory.  Spiritually, mentally, and physically I've received my ticket out of purgatory.  Physically, I have been allowed to leave my hometown and have arrived in a mini-paradise.  Though to be honest, there have been better ocean side places I've liked better than Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

The start of my purgatory diaries carried it with a dark and more hopeless tone.  But as happens with seasons, which Californians will all too often forget, things must die in order for the next generation to live.  Death brings life.  Perhaps, that is why the Scriptures say that whoever holds onto his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it.

When I took the bar in the summer, I was going through a crises, which was all triggered by my kitty's worsening cancer.  When the winter rolled in, I got the news I failed.  At the same time, I moved back to the place I swore I would never come back to: Baldwin Park.  I felt like some force had hurled me out of grace and slammed me into the abyss, where I would be forgotten and lost, forever.

My parents knew I was not all right.  I gained ten pounds, mainly from drinking too much whiskey.  But there did come a point, most likely during the winter equinox - when my part of the world received the least amount of light  and the most amount of darkness - I made a life changing decision.  Yes, I was knocked down, but I remember intentionally and consciously deciding: I will not stay down.  I will get back up.

And that's where the boxing kicked in.  While I was retraining my muscle memory to follow a regimented pattern to maximize the shattering force of a punch, I was also retooling my brain to become a test taking machine.  And so the regimented training of my external fighting and my internal fighting began.

It took days, hours, weeks, and months.  And it was not any fun - none of it.  Like a general planning out a war, I sat down and devised a strategy that identified everything that went wrong last time and drafted adjustments to each of those failures.  All in all - there was only one goal in mind: Ace the bar.  It wasn't pass the bar any longer; it was too dominate it.  And I really was like a general because I took my bar studying into my own hands and stopped following the prescription of my bar prep program.  The cookie-cutter bar preparatory program sometimes worked for me, but really, I was a unique case.  Nonetheless, I'll never forget the last three weeks of my self-imposed torture program.  I studied 12-16 hours everyday.  It sucked.

I did feel like a warrior in battle - I have to admit.  My bar testing location was in the West side of Los Angeles - a significant way from home.  I remember that my boxing coach and my kid came the night before I was to sit the bar.  We drove out to the West side together, and ate pizza at 800 degrees.  We split an Italian beer, and the coach wished me luck.  I felt like a member of the tribe being isolated in the wilderness to go out for my hunt.

I had to bring the tribe my trophy, my prize, to show that I became a man.  They wished me well, but really - I was alone, had to be alone, and had to achieve this alone.  I would be alone for three days straight.  Only California makes it three days - all other states have it for two days.

But the peculiar thing is every evening, when I finished sitting that bar, I just hoped everyone in my boxing club was doing well.  Coincidentally, even after a hard day of taking the bar, I'd hit the gym in the hotel basement.  There - there was pictures and autographed boxing gloves of Muhammad Ali.  After each day though, I forgot about my past performance (because I could not change it).  Instead, I thought about my loved ones and planned for the next day.

I remember what it felt like driving back home after the last day of the bar.  I was so exhausted and fatigued I almost got into a car accident.  When I came home, my boxing coach and kid picked me up.  I came back to the tribe.  We ate out together because I returned to them.  At that point in time, we could only wonder if I successfully accomplished my mission.

In the interval of taking the bar and receiving the results, I really just focused on boxing.  The bar was out of sight and hence, out of mind.  This was good.  I really didn't worry about it because what good could that do in one's life?  Perhaps, that is why the Scriptures ask us how does worrying even add an hour to your life?  Of course, it doesn't.

Now: fast forward into the month of May.  If you read my post on impossible things before breakfast, I planned to leave the country before the results came out.  I had no idea if I passed or failed.  I told myself if I failed again, then I'd rest in misery in Mexico, so I could get back up and take it again.  If I passed, then I would be relieved and enjoy my vacation.

To wind even more pressure in me than was already there, my father called me that week just to let me know: "Paul, because of you, I couldn't sleep.  You better have passed."  I was thinking - Thanks Dad.  Why don't you go read Fathering 101?  Maybe you should try to take the preparatory test to go to law school, go to a three year law school, suffer at the hands of a bitter professor (which I never blogged about), and then take the bar and fail and on top of that lose one of your best friends in your life (my cat Luke).

But I said none of this.  I really did wish he'd get his own life and focus more on making profits at his business.  Yet, I know old dogs can't learn new tricks.  So, like a typical Korean son, I just said, "Ok," like I heard the order and obeyed.

My father's own suffering, however, came to light at some point during a dinner.  He told me it bothered him so much I failed because his two younger brothers constantly reminded him what a useless son I was for failing the bar.  Now, if you find this affronting: don't.  Family politics is rather complex, and my father probably instigated the jeer at some earlier point in their relationship.  I only told him to blow off my uncle's knee caps by reminding him what a loser of a father my uncle was and is.  My dad wouldn't do this.  I'm glad he didn't because it's not very sound advice.  I told him to not let his brother's taunts get to him, but that too is easier said than done.

Back to the story.  The tension of waiting to receive important news is incredibly stressful.  I remember watching Lincoln.  In it, President Lincoln would hold his officer's hand while reading the telegrams that announced victory or defeat for his campaigned battles.  Now I know this: nothing can prepare you for learning that you failed.  I tried to think of every tactic and every mental trick I could to relieve this anxiety.  Nothing really worked, except some meditation and prayer reminded me this would not be the end of the world - just another 6 months of waiting again.  I confess, that thought alone - would also make my soul spiral into despair.  I did not want to go through this hell ever again of waiting, anxiety, and machine like training.  I just told myself, if I had to, I would though.

I think it was a good omen that the Wednesday of the Friday's bar results, my first spar went well.  It showed that I had mastered the basic disciplines of boxing.  Did I do it for the bar?

I promised myself that I wouldn't look at the bar results until I was already in Mexico.  I broke that vow the same day I made it: Friday, a good Friday, really.  I did the bar search with my test number and my applicant number.  The few seconds, perhaps it was just one second, it took for the next page to load really felt like an eternity.  I braced myself for the worst, the message that the applicant number is not on the list.  But when I looked - it said my name was on the pass list.

I felt so relieved!  A massive weight with the gravity of a black hole, felt like it lifted from my chest.  In truth, I wasn't that happy; I was just relieved.  Finally - my life could go on.  But then the saddest thought came to my mind, I wish I could tell my cat Luke I passed. 

Before he passed, to the other side, I would often hold him and pray to God, "Thank you God for my cat, Luke.  Thank you he's still alive.  Please help him keep fighting his cancer."  He would then purr.  Yes, I'm a weird guy.  I would talk to my cat.  But I did this, because I always believed he understood.

Earlier that day, my mom told me, "Luke came to me."  I looked in her eyes and believed her.  I thought she saw his ghosts - even though as a Christian I'm not supposed to believe in ghosts.  But I believed her.  She said, "I had a dream, I was watering our garden.  And he was right there, rolling, rolling on the grass, waiting for me to finish and then feed him."  I smiled.  Luke did come to her.

She, then, interpreted the dream, "Paul, I think it's for you.  It means he's going to bless you with lots of luck."  I smiled again, and I didn't tell her my thoughts.  I interpreted the dream the same, before she told me her view of it.  Therefore, I actually believed her.

I went down the list of people to tell the news to.  I started with Dad.  I then called Mom and she said, "See, I told you.  Luke brought you luck."  I said, "Yeah, I know he did."  I called and called to let people know.  People were so excited, but I told them I couldn't talk, I had to make my way down the list.

My dad was over the moon.  Of course, he would be.  I was happy for him, but I still wished he could learn to find peace and happiness apart from external and contrived validations.

Finally, I'd be out of purgatory.  Because I failed the bar the first time, I had to cancel my winter trip to Germany.  But now, I would be in Mexico tomorrow - a free person. 

Anyways, I was the only person on the list from Baldwin Park, my urban city.  I hope I set the example of perseverance and determination for my boxing club.  It's hard to get back up, retrain, and fight back when you get knocked out.  The knock outs always happen.  The comeback often doesn't.

So - all in all - my strategy worked.  I checked my multiple choice score.  The National Committee of Bar Examiners have told me that my score is good enough to admit me into the practice of law in Minnesota and Washington DC.  I think it's about the 80th percentile that checks in.  I could have scored higher, but they don't tell you.  They just tell you - you qualify.  And I do.  So, I didn't just pass.  I know I did really well this time around; therefore, I hit the target.  Bulls eye.  Not just pass the bar, ace it.

My cat fought to the bitter end that cancer.  My vet said he never seen a cat live as long as mine did with it.  I'd like to believe he was my muse and inspiration for life.  I'm sure better fighters exist, but in my life, I never witnessed such a creature fighting so valiantly without ever uttering a complaint.

My father grew up on a farm, and in Korea, farm animals like cats are dirty.  So, he didn't take much of a liking to Luke.  But even he had to admit, he was one brave and courageous kitty.  He knew he was my familiar to see me through this chapter of my life.  But now he's gone, and I've lost my animal companion.  Thus, my dad, realizing all of this too, felt bad for me when he died because of the impact it had on me.

Well, he's in a better place now, beyond the threshold of the material world.  I hope you see that your master followed your example and fought bravely too.  For you.  For the family.  For me.  For all of us.  Because, that is what we know.  That is who we are.

In loving memory of Luke . . .  Keep waiting for us.  Your family will be there with you soon.

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