War and Peace in Music City, Part 2


In the last installment of this column, I discussed my reunion with two law school friends during a trip to Nashville, Tenn. a few weeks ago.

My friends treated me to dinner and a playoff hockey game (the first hockey game I’ve ever attended) in downtown Music City, USA. Our visit was a splendid trip down memory lane and the hockey game was every bit as exciting as advertised. It was full of speed, skill, choreography, and — yes — violence. Hence the “War” portion of the title above.

Now to the “Peace” part.

After conducting a considerable bit of business on my trip — holding several meetings with University of Dayton School of Law Alumni, legal employers, and legal innovation experts at Vanderbilt — the appointed time arrived to sit down, chat, and have a cup of coffee with a Vanderbilt student named Kirsten.

Some relevant background: My wife and I have known Kirsten since she was a toddler. She and her parents attended the same small, tight-knit, rural church during our days in the Kansas City area, from roughly 1998-2004. Kirsten’s dad, an enormously successful corporate lawyer at a “rival” law firm, and I were the only two attorneys in this small congregation, a vocational reality for which we received a considerable amount of good-natured ribbing.

When our daughter Abby was born, Kirsten — then about three years old and an only child — enthusiastically took on the mantle of surrogate older sister. I suppose it would be a stretch to say we were intimate with Kirsten’s family, but certainly we were reasonably close.

Ahh, but life happened, as it often does, and we drifted apart. About a year before we moved, Daniel came along. Much to our surprise, so did another pregnancy. Krista, Abby, Daniel and I returned to Darke County and I began my stint at the University of Dayton School of Law.

Two and a half months later, our pregnancy arrived in the form of a newborn named Luke. Babies became toddlers, toddlers became young children, young children continued to grow and become involved in baseball, tennis, theater, art, music.

Daniel received heavy doses of Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy and Krista began home-schooling him. My job duties evolved and, in some ways, expanded. Krista’s father passed away, as did my sister Lisa’s husband. We became involved in a variety of civic endeavors and our new church homes. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Several years went by.

A couple of years ago, we learned through social media and a few mutual friends that Kirsten and her family were doing well, and that she was trying to decide where to attend college. Ultimately, she decided to go to Vanderbilt. I was thrilled for her. During my law school days there I had often thought it would have been a fantastic place to go as an undergraduate, particularly if one was disciplined enough to avoid getting sucked too far into the vortex of Nashville’s vast entertainment scene — i.e., its network of bars, restaurants, and live music venues.

So when I began plans for this business trip I reached out to Kirsten and her mom to see if she’d have the time — and interest — to meet and catch up with a middle-aged man about whom she surely possessed only the dimmest of memories?

To my delight, she said “absolutely” and we arranged to get together on my last afternoon at a Starbucks just two blocks from my old apartment on Chet Atkins Place. She arrived right on time, exhausted from having just completed a Physics final, yet somehow still perky, thoughtful, personable and incisive. In the face she is the same little girl I remembered from 15 years prior, but is stretched out physically and remarkably composed and articulate.

I confess it took me a few minutes to register the experience properly. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but certainly it was not the prepossessed 20-year-old before me. She did not speak or think or move like the blond pixie we had left behind in Lees Summit, Mo. a decade and a half ago. She is a young woman, poised and confident and accomplished and humble.

We talked about her parents and mutual friends back in Missouri. She was intrigued with the developments of the three amigos, especially Abby, of course, and remembered how she loved to play the role of older sister in those bygone days. In our remaining moments, we turned toward her future plans.

Kirsten had started off her college days thinking about becoming an MD or a neuroscientist, but rather quickly she realized “it wasn’t a calling, you know?” Yes, I assured her, I understood.

“I’m interested in so many different things, and I finally realized that maybe I should just follow where my heart had been leading me without my even knowing it. In some ways I really disliked walking down the path that dad did, but…I really think law school is the right choice. So dad and I are visiting a bunch of places this summer to begin exploring where I ought to spend the next three years!”

“Wow, Kirsten, I had no idea. That’s a pretty big decision. But you strike me as the sort who’s taken this process quite seriously and deliberately. Good for you!”

“Yeah, I think so,” she agreed. “I’m finally at peace with it.” She smiled, with sincerity and certainty.

It was time to part ways, and I stood and gave her a quick hug. We made our fare-wells. I walked back to my hotel, passing the law school where I had spent many hours and much sweat and tears decades before, having no clue in those days where my future would take me, not the faintest idea what it might look like. She’s at peace, I thought.

So, thank God, am I.


By Tim Swensen

Virtue and Mischief

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