You can quote me on that.

19 Dec

By now, you know that I like quotes. A lot. I’m not an obsessive hoarder (yet), but I certainly am an “avid collector.” And like any avid collector of things, I prominently display (a portion of) my quote collection at work.

I started this habit at Manatt: I occupied a teeny-tiny “pocket” office and I wanted to carve out a unique-yet-respected niche as the firm’s first-ever pro bono director. I decided to tape hand-lettered note cards like layer-bricks of colorful calligraphy along the wall unit that encircled my desk. These quotes served almost like a protective phalanx for me — scaring the bejeezus out of young associates while at the same time somehow also inviting thoughtful discussion among high-powered partners who happened to drop by.

It was uncanny, actually: For the 1.5 years that I occupied that 7th floor mini-den, 99% of our associates failed to remark on or even acknowledge my Wall of Quotes, whereas >90% of our partners would philosophize at length regarding quotes that inspired them, or annoyed them, or reminded them of a time when…

When I moved to the 10th floor, our “entertainment” floor with its appropriately(?) funky office configurations, I had to come up with a new way to display the quotes. Oddly enough, the Wall of Wisdom and Wonderment would not work up on 10. I settled on leaving the quote cards stacked neatly near a display frame that I placed on the edge of my desk, facing the guest chairs. If a guest remarked on the quote displayed in the frame, s/he would then get the honor/obligation of rifling through the stack to choose a new quote for the frame. For awhile, I had the guest write his/her name on the back of the quote so that I could track which quotes got rotated most frequently, but eventually that habit faded.

The pile o’ quotes + display frame / guest-based selection procedure followed me to the 3rd floor and took on an even more important function once I became a partner: Namely, the quote stack neatly distracted my guests when I inevitably got pulled into fire fighting/chaos management mode: Phone rings. The caller is in crisis, but it’s one I can resolve in ❤ mins without blowing confidentiality. I wave my hand at the stack of quotes. The guest becomes engrossed in perusing the stack and has no idea what I’m even saying to the caller. After I resolve the crisis, my guest gets to wow me with the quote s/he selected and the reasoning behind the selection. Everybody wins.

Go quotes!

So, of course the quotes came with me to Bet Tzedek. I arranged them in the exact same manner I had at Manatt: framed quote facing the guest chair, pile of quotes sitting alongside the frame, Magic 8-Ball® next to that (because the Magic 8-Ball® is IMPOSSIBLE for anyone to ignore…).

I’ve been at Bet Tzedek for almost exactly 2 months. Before today, NO ONE had remarked on the pile o’ quotes. Today? FOUR people took the bait! A client, a volunteer, and two different staff members — the last of whom had never before set foot in my office.

The client and volunteer actually took the bait together. We had been working on the client’s Holocaust reparations application when I had to step out to make some photo copies. Because our office technology HATES me, this errand took longer than expected. I didn’t have a chance to “wave my hand” at the stack to prompt them to occupy themselves during my absence. Yet, lo and behold, they did just that — entirely unbidden. When I returned from my photocopying errand, the client, in his thick Romanian accent, pointed at the frame and said: Attorney Cristin, I think this is not right what you are showing here. I think you deserve much praises. 

[The quote was “In doing what we ought we deserve no praise, because it is our duty.” This quote by St. Augustine is my absolute mantra when it comes to work done as a legal services/former pro bono attorney. There is a reason I selected it as my initial display quote when I began working at Bet Tzedek ~2 months ago and I was frankly saddened to see it go…]

Our volunteer, “K,” a ~55 year-old Ukrainian immigrant whom I’ve mentored for the past month or so came to my defense and beautifully elucidated why that quote ABSOLUTELY applies to why Bet Tzedek does what it does and why she joined us as a volunteer in the first place. My heart LEAPT with joy to hear her speak so eloquently and passionately about our work. After thanking both of them for their thoughts, I explained that they now had to jointly choose a replacement quote. This chore was perfectly timed to coincide with my need to get some of the client’s documents translated and notarized. By the time I returned, they had settled on another quote from St. Augustine: Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.

That selection hit me like a punch in the heart.

Here we were preparing an application for a shockingly de minimis Holocaust reparations payment for wrongs committed 70+ years ago, and …

yeah.

damn.

What can you say about that?

I know for near-certainty that neither the client nor the volunteer meant to slight me by selecting that quote, but one can’t help but feel more like part of the problem than part of the solution, given all the circumstances in terms of justice too-long denied.  sigh.

Luckily, that quote’s indictment of my life was short lived. Staff member “A” absolved me of guilt and literally re-framed the quote not more than 40 minutes after the client left my office. Staff member A’s selection was: Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved. This quote comes from Helen Keller, who happens to be my #1 top source of quotes, so I was very happy that “A” had chosen her.

Alas, this happiness also was short lived. Staff member “B” dropped by <2 hours later and ultimately chose the Carlos Castaneda quote you see featured in the frame on the right-hand side of this photo:

Whether we make ourselves happy or miserable, the amount of work is the same.” IMG_0637

What was interesting about this selection was what happened to staff member B as she selected it. When she first came into my office, you could tell she was carrying a heavy weight in her mind and/or heart. She clearly was not a joy-infused person. She was worn down by life.

She surveyed my office somewhat sheepishly and asked questions about my 2 major photo displays (the Wall of Peace Corps/Ukraine and the Wall of TOMS Shoes/Argentina). I shared a tale of hardship and redemption from each site. She shared what was going on with her in-and-out-of-jail sons. Watching her face, posture, and soul transform as she told those tales (perhaps as she continued to run the Ukraine and Argentina stories through her mind) was revelatory. I could see her moving from a place of hard bitterness to a place of soft compassion.

When she cast her gaze upon the quote frame, I felt like I got the wind knocked out of me. Would she comment? Would I invite her to select a quote for the frame? What would she choose? What would it mean?

Her choice astounded me (Whether we make ourselves happy or miserable, the amount of work is the same), because I knew that when she walked out my door she was making a new choice for herself.

Damn.

That’s friggin’ awesome.

<pause for contented sigh & smile>

And yet we were not done!

Shortly after B left, K, the volunteer, came in to say goodnight. She saw that “her” quote was no longer in the frame. I explained the odd set of circumstances that led us to this point and asked if she would like to choose another quote before she went home.

She got very quiet, thought for awhile, and said: Miss Cristin, I think that maybe the next quote should come from you.

I explained that I already had a hand in the process because I was the one who pre-selected all of the quotes. K shook her head and said No, I mean, it should be one of the great things that you say to us to keep us motivated and happy.

I laughed and said that I was pretty sure that I never said anything that profound but I was curious what she had in mind.

She paused again, gathered up her courage, turned red from embarrassment, broke out into a HUGE grin, and said in her best, most-adorable Ukraininan accent:

I love it when you say me: “K, you are amazeballs. Rock on.” I’m not so sure what is “amazeballs”, but when you say it, I always feel very happy and proud and it makes me want to do a good job.

I gave her the biggest most spontaneous hug I have every given anyone in a professional setting and told her I’d think about writing a quote note for the frame:

YOU ARE AMAZEBALLS. ROCK ON.

It’s not quite Helen Keller or St. Augustine, but it maybe sorta-kinda works.

Parting Thought: You are amazeballs. Rock on. ~Cristin Zeisler

IMG_0195

A going away present that I got from G & Scot at Manatt. Kinda prescient.

6 Responses to “You can quote me on that.”

  1. Lori Seavey-Christian December 20, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    Make me all teary at work, why don’t you?

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • justadventures December 20, 2013 at 11:32 am #

      What?! Teary??? That’s no bueno, and not my intent at all. Sorry, Lori!

  2. Amanda December 21, 2013 at 4:42 am #

    Must admit I got a bit misty eyed as well, but in an uplifting way. I’m not at all surprised that you should be quoted. You my friend should be the definition of amazeballs – always amazing and inspiring!

  3. Carissa Barker December 31, 2013 at 4:45 am #

    Heart warmed!

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