Unusual friends, unusual circumstances

I went to my lawyer today for some help with some routine legal matters. He told me he thought I was looking exceptionally well, and that started a conversation which turned into a real revelation, both about him and me.

His comment for some reason started me talking about Peer’s Peeps, about the exchanges I have had with Elin and some of you. Then we got onto the subject of Hadiya Rodriguez, the lawyer about whom I wrote s few days ago.

Frankly, I didn’t know whether or not I was on dangerous ground. My lawyer is black, a very large middle-aged white-haired person of Caribbean origin to whom I had gone to settle my wife’s estate. His name is Caleb Emmanuel Irish, and he has the most mellow, soft-spoken voice of anyone I know. It is so memorable that even my daughter speaks of him fondly because she remembers his treatment of her during our previous legal encounters.

I shouldn’t have worried. Turns out he is a remarkable man. But then, I always knew that without knowing the details.

In the course of our conversation he told me he had come to Canada at the age of 16 or so, with the express purpose of going into law. He landed in Montreal in October ( a cold month there) with the express purpose of signing up to the McGill Law School, a prestigious Canadian institution with the same kind of reputation as Harvard. What an impossible dream!

But the thing he told me was that he was focused and determined to geet a law education. In the course of seeking employment he was offered a job in the Canadian Arctic, at a small Cree village by the name of Poste de Baleine, which just means Whaling Post. The government functionary reluctantly offered him the job because as he said, “You’re from the tropics. This is October. You won’t want to be in the north from the tropics.” Emmanuel asked what the pay was. It was six or seven times what normal pay was at that time, but his immediate reply was, “I’ll take it.”

So he went north, and spent a year and a half among the Cree, living alone and saving his money (there was nothing to spend it on) for his law-school tuition. He emphasize to me that he was focused, and that though he had the opportunity to extend his northern stay and make even more money, he was determined to get his law education.

So he went back to Montreal and enrolled. Three years at McGill Law School, then then the inevitable struggle to article with a law firm for at least a year, without which he could not be called to the bar. We glanced somewhat over the difficulties he must have faced finding an articling position, but the gist of it was that it was every bit as difficult as it had been for Hadiya, with the added difficulty that he was one of the first black people to attempt this in Montreal.

The long and the short of it is that he succeeded, and now has his own law firm in Toronto. I don’t know much else about his background, but it turns out that he is going to have a book of poetry published in December,, and has promised me a copy. I will share with you when that happens.

I told him about my attempts to stamp out racism, and my own efforts to purge my language of the subtle racist undertones I did not even realized I had. The really good thing about our conversation is that it was just that–a conversation between two mutually understanding adults with no hint or racism in the exchange. I came away feeling not only good about the exchange, but promising him one of Elin’s books. I feel I need more such exchanges before I can even feel confident that I am making inroads on the racist substrate of our Canadian society.

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