Defending My Life

Rena Schild

How will you fare when you reach the final judgment?

I’ve been attending far too many funerals lately. If this keeps up, there won’t be anybody left for me to play with. Fellow lawyers, golfing partners, teammates, neighbors, and beer-drinking buddies have all gone missing in action.

At this point, I will spare you the old joke that I read the obituaries to see if my name is included, but I do read them as a gateway to the sports page. So far, my name has not appeared. In fact, my doctor says I’m in good shape for the shape I’m in. “Sound as a dollar,” I think is the way he put it. That statement alone will scare the life out of you.

Many of those ole souls that I’m missing were not really that old. As I get older, it seems that people are dying at a younger age. One came to mind the other day because I knew he lived somewhere near Port Charlotte, Florida, where Hurricane Ian hit. I Googled him and found out the hurricane was the least of his problems. He died in 2013. Knowing him, he probably smoked one too many cigarettes and remained overly friendly with Jack Daniel’s. Guess I should have looked him up sooner.

All these encounters with death have caused me to ponder, “Where did they go? Where will I go?” And, of course, “Will I see them again?” I realize these are heavy questions for an article by me, but I have no sure answers. Oh, I know about faith. After all, I have not always been asleep during all my years in Sunday school and church, but I think it would be good to at least have a little more evidence as I consider the practicalities of perpetuity.

My favorite movie is “Defending Your Life” starring Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep. My children call to tell me every time it’s scheduled to be on TV. It’s a great comedy about Brooks and Streep being unacquainted in life, but meeting in the afterlife after dying on the same day. The movie suggests that after death our lives are judged in court by a panel of judges who review movies taken every day of our life. Everyone is assigned a defense lawyer and required to watch the high and low moments of their life leading to a judicial decision on ascension to the “next phase.” Prosecuting lawyers show movies to demonstrate bad character, fears, or poor judgment and thereby challenge qualifications to “move on.” I bet that’s what death is like. All my relatives and friends have been through a trial in heaven and spent days in court where judges reviewed the salient events of their lives and allowed them to go forward or hold them back based upon their honorable or dishonorable record.

I wonder who has failed to reach the “next phase” in the judgment of the court? I’m sure my mother and father moved on and today reside happily in the “next phase” because they both lived good and decent lives and demonstrated good character and judgment. But what was the result of the trial of my drunken uncle, my friend from Port Charlotte, and, say…Jerry Lee Lewis? I heard that Leslie Jordan once said that he had committed so much sin that he had been baptized fourteen times because he wanted to make sure he got into heaven. I would like to see some of his trial to see if he made it.

I must admit, I seriously doubt that Saint Peter guards heaven’s gate. “Defending Your Life” made no mention of Saint Peter, and he would not necessarily be empowered to keep the “book of life” or guard the gate simply because Jesus gave him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). Besides, there apparently are twelve gates to heaven just to confuse things further (Revelation 21:12), and he could not possibly guard all twelve gates. What will I do if there are twelve gates? At which gate will I be expected? Will it be like that time at the Gator Bowl when I went to the wrong gate and had to walk all the way around to the other side of the stadium? Worse yet, what if my gate requires one of those damn electronic tickets on my iPhone? It could be like trying to enter Neyland Stadium, and I could spend an eternity standing in line.

Now, let’s examine the larger problem. What parts of my life will I be required to defend and how will I do it? You don’t think they would pull out a film of that July day when I was in such a hurry I parked my car in the large parking lot at Opryland and stupidly left the engine running for over four hours? Surely not. I remember that the car was still smoking from the engine fire as we approached it to leave. Norma reminds me that, in denial, I stupidly remarked to our three young children that it looked like somebody had tried to steal our car. It was surrounded by policemen and firemen. It would be hard to defend that double blunder. What about the time in high school when I climbed aboard a bulldozer one night during construction of I-40 near West Hills. I started it up and couldn’t get it stopped. Not knowing what to do, I jumped off and ran away. That mistake won’t play well in court.

What if they have movies of the night in 1960 when six of us high school guys broke into the Deane Hill Country Club pool and stripped naked to go skinny dippin’, or what about all those annual egg fights between West High and Bearden in Sequoyah Hills? That is my first recollection of running from the police. Could there possibly be film of each of my transgressions? It would certainly be embarrassing to have to sit through movies of me rolling girls’ yards when I was in high school, or my cowardly reaction to climbing to a cave on Cherokee Bluffs and insisting on a helicopter to rescue me from a rock wall. Just one of my many fears revealed.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot—there was that time I was compelled to judge a wet T-shirt contest. I really didn’t want to, but the bar shook with rhythmical pleas for me to be the “pitcher man.” I’m certain somewhere there’s a video of me standing there like a halfwit with an empty water pitcher in my hand. Now, I know I’m going straight to hell.

Hopefully all of my life’s movie won’t be embarrassing. There might be some good film of my conduct as a lawyer and as a teacher. I’ve given lots of people directions and have adamantly refused to ever go to a cock fight. I’m twice a godfather, once a Cub Scout, and served on safety patrol in the fifth grade, but what about all those angry things I’ve said to telemarketers and the thousands of dirty jokes I’ve told over my lifetime? How can I possibly defend all the dishonorable and inglorious things that I’ve done? I recently started making a list of friends who might vouch for me, but realized most might not even be there.

Thinking back over the years, I might as well plan to throw myself on the mercy of the court and hope for the best. But wait, I still have lots of life left to create some great video. As a lawyer, I have many opportunities to help people and to do good for others. You do, too. After all, we are basically good people, right? Like most of you, I have tried to live my life in a way that is respectful to my fellow man, and I have strived to keep my faith alive. I’m sure we all can agree that when our name appears and our trial is held, we hope that most of our movie demonstrates a life well lived and that we are allowed to move on to that “next phase,” whatever that might be. However, in my case, it might be better if some of my film gets lost or becomes irreparably damaged.  

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