Happy Thanksgiving

This is a special time for family and friends.  I want to thank everyone — those who are my clients; those who have followed my blogs; those who have participated in the message boards concerning Federal and Postal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS — take some time for reflection, family and friends, and count the blessings we have.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS Disability Disability Retirement: Celebrating Labor Day

Part of celebrating Labor Day Weekend for Federal and Postal Employees under FERS should be to reflect upon, and be proud of, the tremendous years of loyalty and commitment which the Federal and Postal employee has given to the Federal Service.  Take the long weekend off.

You deserve it.  Federal Disability Retirement benefits will be there when and if you need it.  It is a long process.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire


The Jewel of One’s Imagination

We all reserve it; it is there in the collected recesses for our solitary solace, to be taken out in emergencies, in times of downtrodden moodiness or imposed, deafening thoughtfulness; when the technological busy-ness of the world implodes and stirs the angst of our essence.

It comes in different forms: “One day…”, “We can always…”, “If all else fails…”   It may be an abandoned hotel on the roadside where we vacation.  Or, perhaps it is an old penny, discolored and with the date faded, kept in a box under the bed.  A painting by an unknown artist, of unknown origin, and undated.

But those chains which we cannot see engulf us, and from the incessant warnings of naysayers of what we cannot do, as heavy burdens delimiting the universe of our imaginations, yet we perpetually leave behind the fine imprimatur of our youthful mind-flings.  For, were it not that we reserved a crumb of insanity, we would indeed find that our sanity was unbearable; and were it not that we asserted our sanity, but for the insanity of our imaginations.

But as time goes on, and old age and infirmity overwhelms us, the old abandoned hotel on the roadside decays into beetle dust and throngs of invisible termites.  One day the roof collapses.  The neon sign which flickered a hopeful glare in the reflection of the evening sun, now stands with rusted background.  The once grand ballroom has been flooded over time, and when the reality of devastation overwhelms even the imagination, then dreams die, imaginations fade, and the human soul withers.

“Harry, my dear, should we have that penny appraised?”

“Never, my dear, for one day we may decide to sell it and retire into the sunset.”

Poor Maybelle.  She had such a look of puzzlement.  “But we’re retired, now…”

Harry gave a sly smile; a knowing look, a mischievous glint of youthful pleasure.  “Never in our hearts, my love…never in our hearts.”

And so the penny must never pass beyond the test of imagination.  And that abandoned hotel on the roadside?  It is the fodder by which dreams are made of – to restore it one day, to bring it back to the days of ballroom dancing.  Should one ever approach a banker with a business plan?  Never!  Not if you want your dreams to be squashed, rattled, crumpled and discarded.

And that painting hanging in the den – the one which has evoked curiosity, conversation, and child-like awe.  Perhaps it was Picasso; or the granddaughter of your good friend.  No matter; it is what dreams are made of.

Let not the human soul wither.  Safeguard the jewel of one’s imagination.



Change is an inevitability. It is peculiar, isn’t it?  It can be either a transitive or intransitive verb; and, as used here, a noun.   The vicissitudes of life; the daily fluidity of events; fullness of being, the word-picture of a cornucopia, with its brimming abundance of fruits fresh and full of festive florescence of fanciful flavors (yes, the alliteration itself is intentional; it is meant to provide a contrast between change and similarity; of the poetic effect of same or similar consonants, but each with a different word; on the other hand, to apply the term “poetic” may be overstating it).

Then of course change can also mean grief; of death or illness in a family; of broken hearts and homes; of lost dreams and overwhelming hopelessness; as well as hopeful and future-oriented – of engagements, of young people with bright futures (despite the present economy).

Does one deal with the changes of change differently?  A static life is a change – it is, by definition, a life without change, motionless, inert, life-less; but as with all things, a static life could only have meaning in contrast to its opposite – a life of constant or chronic upheaval.  For the Christian, the age-old grumble has always been:  why the excitement over the prodigal son; why shouldn’t the same focus and attention be placed upon the “other”, forgotten son – the one who stood outside in anger and contempt as the party was being thrown for the sinner?

Entrepreneurs and thrill-seekers, from weekend parachuting, bungee jumping, even couch potatoes yelling and screaming for the “home team” (or some such mental affiliation, such as one’s second cousin thrice removed who went to Notre Dame just after World War II)  — the adrenalin stream of “change”, in contrast to the quietude of a rock garden where the drama of transformation occurs with the evaporation of the single droplet of morning dew upon the green moss clinging to the pock-marked boulder in a vast sea of pebbles.

We live in times of change; the internet is touted as the great technological change of our times; the young have no memory but for the “now”;  time was when a letter was composed for both form and content; the letter writer took great pains to ponder before putting pen to paper, for the wrong thought, wrong word, might mean starting over again.  The ‘delete’ button, the ‘cut’, ‘copy’ and ‘paste’ buttons were yet to be invented.

The arrival of a letter meant great excitement; a change occurred, and with anticipation one carefully pried the edge of the pasted flap until the forefinger could fit just inside the envelope, then slide across the top to feel the paper crimp, give, resist,  tear; open the letter; the careful craftsmanship of the written word, ink on paper, describing emotions, facts, events, a compendium thrown together to create a world contained within the four corners of the pages of a letter; yet, of events which may have happened days, weeks, perhaps months ago; for the letter took time to be delivered.

Care was not only in the crafting; whether months later, or a letter lost for decades, the joy of a letter was eternal.  For careful craftsmanship was meant for the eternal.   Contrast that to today:  email, fax, internet, cell phone, IM, text messaging.  Carefully crafted?  News from afar?  Changes?  Is there even time to change?  Does anyone know someone anymore?

Time was when change meant a contrast between the constant and the event; death was a part of life; a child was born at home, and perhaps died before his fruition of life was actualized, but again, at home; and grandpa and grandma were to one day die in the care of a family; but now we live in a world where change itself is the constant; and so it goes.


A Parable: The Lady, the Girl and the Stranger

Once upon a time, there was a child with her mother, walking along a dirt road.  It had just rained, and the mist in the air brushed delicately upon the mother and daughter as they trekked through the countryside.  Their journey passed by some mud puddles freshly created by the rain.  As they walked, they came upon a stranger standing by the side of the road, on the adjacent grassy knoll.  The mother and daughter cast their eyes downward; the stranger smiled, revealing a cavernous vacuity for his front teeth.  He stared intently at the mother and daughter, both of whom could feel the piercing look upon them from the uninvited stranger.

Suddenly, without warning, the stranger rushed to the young girl, scooped her up into his arms, and carried her off of the dirt road onto the grassy area, where he just as swiftly, but gently, placed her upon the wet grass.  Too startled to cry, the little girl was lying prone, staring straight up at the bright blue sky.  She remained quiet, too frightened to move, too paralyzed to scream.  The mother, too, had been overtaken with such surprise at the suddenness of the short-distance kidnapping, that it was not until her daughter had been gently placed upon the grass that she let out a shriek of fear, anger, and tremulous indignation with such force of relief, that it caused the stranger to stumble backward, almost tripping over the little girl.  In the course of profane invectives spewing ferociously from the mother’s mouth, the stranger declared, “But madam, I saved your child’s life!  She could have tripped and fallen face flat into one of the muddle puddles, and drowned!  You should thank me for saving her life!”


Reflections Upon Law, Arête, and the Banality of Life

The practice of law is a peculiar exercise in combining the theoretical with the practical; in that sense, perhaps it is an anomaly in that the two disciplines rarely intersect, and the great divide between a conceptual discipline and a practical one is defied by the ‘practice’ of law. Indeed, the very phrase ‘practice of law’ is an anomaly — it is in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics that the Greek philosopher notes that moral growth “comes about as a result of habit,” revealing to us the banal truth that excellence in something comes about through the habitual practice of that thing. Such a truth should be self-evident and unsurprising; yet, reflection on the very idea that to ‘practice law’ is to gain a level of competence and excellence in the endeavor is a frightening concept – especially for the client upon whom a lawyer practices. But, of course – it cannot be avoided; just as wisdom is reached through age, experience, encounters with difficulties, and overcoming life’s episodic challenges; similarly, a lawyer becomes competent in an area of law through the experience of research, preparation, depositions, trials (both wins and losses) – through the ‘practice of law’.

For the beginning attorney, the practice of law can be an unnerving prospect; for neither wisdom nor experience has yet been gained; ‘practice’ can be one of trial and error – literally. And even for an experienced trail attorney, the prospect of an overlooked detail, of an unexpected answer from a witness on the stand, or a sentence in a document that suddenly takes on a destructive life of its own in the midst of a trial – these practical aspects of law are what makes being a lawyer both exciting and angst-filled. Leibniz once wrote that virtue “is the habit of acting according to wisdom. It is necessary that practice accompany knowledge.” It is this latter statement – of the necessity of knowledge accompanying practice – is what is often ignored. The practical aspect of ‘practice’ in law does not mean practice without knowledge; and that is the difference between competence and incompetence. The great tool of a lawyer must always begin with the theoretical side of the discipline – knowledge. For knowledge is gained through study, research, observation and a humble recognition that we can never know enough.

Law combines the theoretical (research of case-law; systematic and logical argumentation of legal principles, etc.) with the practical (courtroom strategies; voicing sustainable objections; having the rhetorical ability of persuasion, etc.). In this world of pragmatism, however – where the practice of law is driven by profit-motives; where law has become not a profession, but rather a business; and where the art of trial-work too often gets reduced to obnoxious and aggressive acts of unprofessional behavior – the theoretical is too often expendable; the success of a case is based too often upon courtroom strategies.

We have lost something in this age; whether because technology has left irrelevant the necessity of quiet reflection; where poetry and metaphor can no longer impact the mind; or because we need constant entertainment as opposed to sustained meditation upon conceptual conundrums (reflect: if Wittgenstein, Wisdom, Derrida, et al are correct, that there are no substantive philosophical problems to be solved, and all that we are confronted with is a confusion of language, then what substantive issues are left which require sustained meditation?); and the loss of that which we must recover may be found in the very principle of ‘virtue’, or arête (?????) as found in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Book II, Ch. 6), where he states, “Virtue then is a settled disposition of the mind determining the choice of actions and emotions, consisting essentially in the observance of the mean relative to us, this being determined by principle, that is, as the prudent man would determine it.” Arête is a principle with a pervasive quietude of enveloping profundity; it is a state acquired through habitual application over time; it cannot be reached in an episodic instance; it is almost a Zen-like principle (and yes, I have no qualms about using this term, despite being a Christian) where, if you ask yourself if you have acquired arête, then in all likelihood you have not. It is a level beyond mere competency or a quantitative roster of having won x-number of cases; it is, instead, a state of excellence.

We have lost that sense of having excellence as a goal, both in law as well as in all other aspects of life. We have goals to make money; to become an x; to go mountain climbing; we have financial and career goals; we have goals for our spouses, our kids – but when have you heard of someone saying, “My goal is to acquire arête“? It is a goal worth having; to reach a state of a life well-lived is a worthwhile goal. As the ‘practice of law’ is a combining of the conceptual with the theoretical, so is life itself; for as we mature, it is our conceptual framework; our ‘foundational beliefs’; our ‘noetic structure’; which determine our behavior in this temporal, short span we designate as ‘my life’ as opposed to ‘that other’. As with all disciplines, the practice of law is merely a microcosm of who we are in the macro aspect of living our lives. Hannah Arendt coined the famous term, “the banality of evil”; there is an even greater banality in the life we live as ordinary people – the banality of living a life of worth. That such a concept might become a banal one is of faint hope in this day and age.

Poetry, the Cab Driver, the Moon and a Life Well-lived

As one grows older, hopefully the wisdom one possesses reaches an equivalency to the extent of gray in one’s hair, or the depth of wrinkles; and perhaps that wisdom is expanded in direct correlation to the differing breadth of perspectives and stories which one has encountered and collected throughout the years.  By ‘stories’, I don’t mean fictional make-believes; rather, everyone has a story to tell, and that story of one’s life is a collected stream of events, encounters, vignettes of joyful explosions, puddles of grief, streams of memories with pock-marks of tragedies, comic situations, and in the end, a determination as to the life well-lived, or?

Read Anton Chekhov’s brilliant short story, Grief, in which the death of a cab-driver’s son leads to a multiple series of attempts to speak to passengers about his tragedy, and the utter lack of compassion between the strangers who wish to go about their lives; the clash of the humanity of the driver with the perspective which we all have — that the person we pay to transport us to a destination is not treated as a subject, but rather an object.  That relationship is one of a contractual obligation — he is being paid to provide a service of transporting me to a specific destination, and of course we do not have time to listen to his subjective life — of personal grief or tragedy.

A ‘life well-lived’ — that is a difficult concept to embrace. Like grasping a fistful of sand and watching your palm become a swift and unforgiving hourglass the harder you close your fist.

Once, a Japanese woman commented to me that we Americans destroyed all poetry by landing upon the moon, and showing the world needlessly that the moon was nothing but a composite of rocks, craters and lifeless soil; that the poetry which once filled the night air with its grandeur and beauty was forever relegated to a memory, now nothing more than a round tundra of cold, sallow realities.

Poetry died with the landing of man on the moon; romance was murdered; beauty became defined in systematic, scientific terms; and metaphor melted away with an avalanche of pragmatism, forever banished to the dusty bookshelves somewhere in the darkness of forgotten works, with Homer, Shakespeare, Blake; for who reads poetry?  Who needs poetry?

Science has taken the helm of hero-worship; we look only for what works, and what is profitable to man. But at the end of it all, one still has a need to ask: What is a life well-lived?  And to answer that question, we need to look not only at the moon to see the poetry within the lifeless rocks and craters of shivering darkness; we have to look at the cab-driver and hope that he does not have to tell his story of grief to the horse at the end of the day.