Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, Take it!” Responsibility is that fork, and I remember facing it as a four-year-old.
At age four, I could wake up in the morning and look out at all the farm animals. My parents had put their home right on my grandfather’s farm. I could stare right out at the cows and they would stare right back.
My other grandfather was the minister of a church, which was about 15 miles from where we lived. For a kid, those miles seemed to stretch on forever. I got tired of seeing the same signs over and over and I had run out of games to play with my own imagination. I footnote that drive up and back, because I wanted to use that as a possible excuse in my story of responsibility.
As far back as I can remember, I used to sing in church. I’m not so sure that my voice was worthy because I sang by letter; I “let- er” fly. I now know that loudness is not a substitute for tone.
On some Sunday afternoons, my parents would take me to the “convalescent home” to sing for the residents. Being loud was welcome. I guess it also gave me a false confidence because everyone was so encouraging.
My grandmother was my piano player. I think that I had seen someone on TV get up and nod; so I would always stand, place my songbook on the lectern, and nod. She would start to play and off we went.
Normally, my grandmother and I would practice. I don’t have a clear memory of how many times that I sang in church but one instance stands out very clearly. “Grammy” and I had gone over a couple of different songs, as solo possibilities. “We” decided on the song that I was going to sing, but I decided that I didn’t need to practice.
During the service, it was my time to stand and sing. I stood like some maestro and nodded to my grandmother to begin to play. She started to play the song and I began to sing. Somewhere along the first few bars, I realized that she was playing a different song… than I was singing.
I cannot exactly remember what was going through my head. I just know that I decided “to give it a go”. I tried to cram the words of the song that I was singing, into the melody of the other song that my grandmother was now playing. I suppose that it sounded like trying to sing the words of “God Bless America” to the “The Star Spangled Banner”.
At some point, it became clear to everyone in the church that this was not going to work. For some, it probably bordered on comedy. For me, confusion led to realization; which then became embarrassment and ultimately a bit of fear. My grandmother immediately started over and began playing the song that I was trying to sing. We finished and I hustled down from the platform, probably determined to live in the woods and hide among the cows in the pasture.
After the service, my grandmother explained to the family that it was all her fault. She had just played the wrong song. At that point, I could have just said nothing. My grandmother was that type of lady who was always trying to stand in the way of blame for my wrongs. I can remember several times that she tried to do that for me.
Many times in my jury closings, I will mention the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. How he admitted to his father that he had chopped it down. Well, this singing moment was my cherry tree. I couldn’t let my grandmother take the blame.
I wanted to blame the long drive as the reason that we had not practiced. The real reason that I did not practice was my false confidence and the fact that I didn’t enjoy practicing. I had to admit that it was my fault. I was at that fork in the road in taking responsibility.
In my law practice, it is very rare to see a defendant who accepts responsibility. Defense attorneys rarely file answers that admit fault. It requires acknowledgement of wrong. It’s hard to say that I am at fault and I accept the consequences.
“If I was going to act irresponsibly, the least I could do was be responsible for it”. (Danny Wallace “Yes Man”)
Pic o’ day gives us the choice: