“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” (Frederic Bastiat)
“Some days a diamond, some days a stone…,” goes the song. Today we took a break from our regularly scheduled programming of petty theft, child support evasion, and terroristic threats inside the Bexar County Courthouse to meet a real diamond. On our way to lunch, an ancient little man pulled Robert aside to ask about Justice the Seeing Eye Dog, and to reminisce about a wonderful black lab that belonged to him at one time. One thing led to another (as it usually does when Robert gets cranked up) and the man’s wife revealed that he was a retired attorney, in practice for 65 years. They had come to the courthouse just to sit in on probate court “for fun” while on a trip to San Antonio to visit the grandchildren. The man then revealed that he came to practice law because of what happened to him in World War II. We all felt like bowing down and kissing his hand by the time he finished his harrowing story.
The young man’s plane was shot down over Germany, and he was captured by the Nazis and taken to a prison camp which later became known as the notorious Stalag 17. He was starved, tortured (toenails removed) and otherwise severely mistreated in order to ascertain facts about the G-Box contained on board his plane. After this not-so-warm welcome, he remained in the camp until liberation, and the Americans found him, along with other prisoners, in the forest, eating snails and grass just to survive. Mr. C said he determined at that point that he would work to keep people out of prison, and he devoted the rest of his working life to doing just that. His wife pulled out his original black and white POW photograph from his wallet, a reminder of the bad old days. His head was shaved, his eyes sunken, the youthful boyish demeanor replaced by one who well understood the seriousness of the German lettering on the prison chalkboard he held up in front of his thin torso. And here he was, 70 years later, with graying, thinning hair still curling atop a high forehead, a little stooped at “ninety-and-a-half,” as he put it. He confided to me that when he met his present wife (who we at first mistook for his daughter) about 12 years ago, he was taller than she. He looks up to her now in more ways than one, as we found out while he bragged on her PhD accomplishments. Ah, young love!
For those of us who have the luxury of getting up every day from our safe, comfortable beds and stumbling down the hallway for an aromatic cup of morning joe, it’s great to remember that people like this old man have been fighting for our way of life, values, and freedom even after the horrible world war that took his innocence had long been over. As we watched our friends depart, I couldn’t help looking up at the bronze statue of Lady Justice over the fountain in front of the courthouse and thinking what a great privilege it is to be a part of the legal world where good and compassionate people work to ensure liberty and justice for all. There will always be wolves in disguise, of course (or not so disguised); but for the most part the people I have met give me great hope that my children and grandchildren will live in the greatest country on earth because of its laws and those who daily work to defend them or even change them as needed. Sleep well tonight, everyone!