I went back to Court last Friday to sing the National Anthem for a Naturalization Ceremony. It is always an honor to be asked. I always make it a point to look at the candidates for citizenship during the beginning of the ceremony. I follow the Clerk of Court and the speaker for the day out of chambers. The Courthouse Security Officers (CSOs) are in place. The Clerk sounds "All rise!" And the Judge takes the bench.
"Hear ye! Hear ye!" intoned the Clerk. "The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas , the Honorable United States Magistrate Judge Joseph J. Volpe presiding is now in session. All you that have business before this Honorable Court draw near and you shall be heard. God bless this Honorable Court and God bless the United States of America."
It is at that moment that it seems like the enormity of what the candidates are about to do really hits home. There in that first moment the full weight of civil authority-the black robe, the flags, the security-is placed before them. I have seen jaws drop and eyes glisten.
It is pretty heavy stuff. And words are inadequate to express how humbled and honored I am to participate.
I have been doing this off and on for 4 years or so. The last time I did it was in October. I had just retired and was still pretty much lost at sea. I remember being happy that the guys at the security point still recognized me. Which was pretty stupid seeing as how I had been "gone" all of three weeks at that point. But I was not myself in those days. Not myself at all. God, what a dreadful time.
Back to last Friday. Back to a happier world. I parked my car over on 3rd Street and walked South toward Capitol. I then crossed Chester and headed toward the Federal Building. I walked past where I used to park my car. No car there. I recalled a recent conversation with a lady from the IRS. " I still look for your car in the parking lot. Isn't that funny? I still can't believe that you are gone." I sometime can't believe it myself.
As the Federal Building drew nearer I thought to myself, "How many times have you walked on this walk?" It was all so familiar and yet it was all so different. Not in a sad way like it was last October. Just different.
The CSOs waved me through the security point. "You know Paul," one said as we shook hands. "we see you dressed up more now that you're retired than we ever did when you were workin'." Boy, it was good to see those guys. The ceremony was in the old courthouse which is being renovated and updated. I stood at the elevator with some lady from the General Services Administration.
"Are you in a hurry?" she asked. "If you are you might want to go back to the new courthouse and take the elevator there."
" Shoot, I'll just take the stairs," I said.
"Nope," she said. "Staircase is closed for construction about the 3rd floor."
Boy. Some things don't change.
After Judge Volpe dismissed me, I headed back down to the street. I was restless and had nothing better to do so I did what I did every afternoon back when I was working. I took a walk. I saw ghosts behind the Regions building. In my mind's eye I saw Kay coming out with her tea. I saw Ed on his smoke break. I saw Judge Holmes walking to the bank. Jennifer was there waiting for me to take her to lunch.
All so familiar and all so different. After all, I hardly ever come downtown anymore.
I went over to the US Attorney's office. First time since the day I retired. I remember walking into my buddy Richard's office on that day. "I'll be damned Paul," he said. "I can't believe this. I'll be damned." Handshakes and hugs last Friday along with lighthearted threats about putting me to work. Funny. One of the Assistants there was always so formal when we worked together. The 2-3 times I've seen her since leaving she never fails to put a bear hug on me. What a privilege it was to work with these folks.
All so familiar and all so different.
It was a privilege to have had that life. That career. It is always reassuring to know that people love me and miss me.
And now I know, I really know, that the page is finally turned. I am the prodigal returning home. I am treated differently now.
Because I'm but a memory now. I am something else.
I am all so familiar and all so different to those dear people as well. Those people back in that sweet somewhere that we all shared. Not so long ago but now so very far away.