Diane and The Unacknowledged Art of Drawing a Broad Shadow
By Darius E. Bennett, Esq.
“The most powerful and obvious ‘truths’ within cultures are often the things that are not said and not directly acknowledged.”
–Mary Anne Staniszewski, Believing is Seeing: Creating the Culture of Art
The context in which this statement arises within Staniszewski’s work is during the opening statements of this her treatise on “What is Art?” By the work’s close you understand the overarching supposition that the “truth” is predicated on our view of the world and of reality. Quite incredibly, there was a time when Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam was not considered art. Nor were the Pyramids, the Palace of Versailles, and not even da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. In short, wegive things meaning, and acknowledge their value such that anything or moment that lacks value is deficient due to how we, as a society, treat it.
In 2001 I began my first and only job as a paralegal. The attorney who hired me, and was to supervise my work, made it clear that I was not being hired as a paralegal rather a “legal assistant,” as I lacked the experience necessary to term my work as paralegaling work. I was directly supervised by an exceedingly patient senior paralegal named Diane. Diane was preternaturally unexcitable vis-à-vis my youthful, male-oriented arrogance, and our boss’ aged, experience-derived self-indulgence. She was not, however, wedged between us. Quite the contrary, she directed us –both of us– with an artful balance of guile, her own experience, intrepidness, forbearance, and mettle. I would come to learn that she was the perfect paralegal. She was the perfect teammate. She was an excellent cheerleader. She was a stern but loving teacher. A month into the job, my inflated self-image had been reduced by her shadow. She was narrowly built, but carried a broad range of problems on remarkably sturdy shoulders. Diane worked circles around me, under me, over me, and the quality and depth of the substance she brought to her work trounced right through me. I was foolish, young, and had not been listening. I wanted to have my own system, even when I knew very little. The big boss fired me. I was asked to stay until they could hire someone to assist Diane with all her work. Humbled, I agreed. I did have rent to pay, among other living expenses.
I would later discover that Diane interceded for me, and asked to keep me on to work as her assistant. She was preparing for a vacation back to her native Puerto Rico, and did not want to leave the particularities of our boss’ demands to any of the other paralegals at the firm. She assured our boss that, before she left, she could train me to stay out of his way and not create problems; and, she did just that! I was so grateful to her that I invested all of my pride, energies, and shame into proving to be a good assistant to her, so that she could enjoy her vacation. She appeared reluctant to leave me to the whims of our supervising attorney, but I assured her that he would not have to call her once while she was on vacation. As far as I know, he never did, although she did call to look after me. Essentially, I played the role of Diane. Everything I did was because I had seen Diane do it, or felt that she would have done it, including when and how I approached the boss. I was thorough, meticulous, and thoughtful as I worked the files. I became three people, which fell several efforts short of the seven people Diane’s performances achieved! The guy who literally once had tossed a poorly-written, confounding memo back at me, one day thanked me and a gave me license to make a big decision regarding a file, on my own! With that freedom, I simply did what Diane would have. He loved it!
Diane returned from Puerto Rico, and I updated her on the work I had covered. When I was done, she presented me two shot glasses she had brought back as gifts. I was so relieved to see her that I could have hugged her, but resisted. I thanked her, and set her bequest aside. I was mentally exhausted, and had realized why Diane was a “paralegal” and I was a “legal assistant”: Diane towered over me with her work, not her ego; that was her art, and I could acknowledge it.
A year later Diane was gone. Claimed from life by cancer. I grieved her silently. I still have those shot glasses, and all of the legal work I have done since her death –including my 14 years as an attorney– is an extension of her artfulness.
[Written for and first published by the San Diego Paralegal Association. Updated August 26, 2020]