‘But, oops, I’ve got a deadline to meet’

This is the 117th column I have written for the Daily Pilot. When the editors and I first reached an agreement, I committed for only a year. But it has been so much fun and such a challenge, and I have received so much gratification from your comments and responses, that I simply had to keep going. And the editors graciously allowed this to occur.

Almost from the beginning of this project, I asked one of my best and most admired friends, Andrew J. Guilford, a U.S. District Court judge in Santa Ana and former president of the State Bar of California, if he would look at the drafts of my columns to give me his thoughts, criticisms and suggestions.

By no means has he always agreed with what I have written, but his comments have made the column much more interesting and insightful. If you only knew…

My wife, Dr. Grace Walker Gray, suggested that I offer Guilford the opportunity to provide you with some of his observations about the process of writing the column, as well as some of the thoughts expressed in it. Happily, he has agreed, and this also gives me the opportunity publicly to thank him. His comments are as follows:

I was impressed a few years ago when my friend Jim Gray said he would be writing a weekly column, in addition to his busy day job. I’ve previously had to write a monthly column, and I found that 12 deadlines a year were daunting.

Jim has now met about 50 deadlines a year, and 117 overall. For this he deserves commendation, yet he has received some condemnation from me, as his friend, for some of the conclusions in his column. Still, maybe that’s what friends are for, and Jim has always taken my criticisms gracefully and in stride. I hope Jim agrees with my conclusions here on seeking answers when faced with uncertainty.

We all have been cursed/blessed with a fascinating world of uncertainty, and great friends can help us as we struggle to find answers.

Should we legalize (or decriminalize) drugs? Should we fight a war on terror? Should we add further regulations to our laws? What is the best form of meditation? Should I wish you a Merry Christmas? Is there a God?

Some think uncertainty is a curse, particularly as to that last question. But I think uncertainty is a blessing. For as we struggle to find answers, we define who we are and we shape our souls. Uncertainty gives us chances to learn, discover, and grow.

Life would be so boring and stagnant if all the answers were obvious. This makes me wonder if whether, even in heaven, there will be uncertainty so that we will have chances to experience learning and discovery and growth, and avoid stagnation. Hey, Jim, maybe you could write a column on that!

Jim probably agrees with me that the worst answers to a question are “I don’t know” or “I don’t care,” and perhaps this is because judges must make judgments. Many people today respond to the blessing of uncertainty with indifference. Perhaps lost in a fog of relativism, they can’t or won’t find answers.

But there are answers to all the important questions, and there is one truth for important issues. Life is richer if we strive to find those answers and that truth while retaining an open, inquisitive mind always skeptical that we have found the often-elusive truth that we know is there. Jim strives to inform himself on the issues, and he reaches conclusions. He even seeks input from friends like me, especially when we disagree.

It is a particular blessing to explore issues with a friend like Jim. Readers of his column must appreciate that he has expressed his own unique conclusions on a wide range of issues. Even when I sometimes disagree with his conclusions, I remain impressed with the breadth of his curiosity.

In this short column, I can’t begin to describe Jim’s rich life experiences, which make him the perfect person to write a column on such a broad spectrum of topics. Much about Jim is commonly known, in part from the brief statement at the end of his column — he has written two books and the words and music to a musical that I recommend.

But most don’t know that he’s a darn good basketball player in his seventh decade (putting him in his 60s, which raises another interesting issue about how we count decades or centuries or millenniums). He’s an even better tennis player. He’s a great singer. And if you read his column, you know he’s developed a crisp, accessible — even chatty — writing style that effectively communicates his ideas.

Jim obviously learned much during his career as a judge, and also from his father, a distinguished gentleman who was, as I am today, a federal district judge.

Many years ago when I was a law student, Jim’s father rejected my application to be his legal extern, so there is a real irony that his son now invites me to comment on his columns. It was also ironic that Jim gave me his father’s judicial robe as I became a judge, which reflected Jim’s graciousness and generosity.

Disagreements between Jim and me have existed from the time we became good friends, mostly because that has allowed us to have some sensitive discussions. I have been particularly critical of some of Jim’s comments on religion, both mine and others. By God, I think he is wrong on some points!

I’ve also been critical when he claims to embrace a philosophy, like libertarianism, and then occasionally endorses regulations that are abhorrent to libertarians. But then again, maybe that just reflects his inquisitive, unpredictable, renaissance mind.

Yes, indeed, Jim is a professed libertarian, who supports some regulations that most libertarians view as part of a nanny state mentality. He is an intensely patriotic American exceptionalist, who is disgusted by what this country has done in Iraq. He is a former prosecutor and judge, who wants to legalize drugs. He is a fan of Milton Friedman and the free market, who supports some non-market responses to environmental issues. No doubt, I dissent to some of Jim’s conclusions.

But I have grown and learned from my disagreements with Jim. Probably you readers sometimes disagree with him, too, and have learned from him as well. Of course, Jim and I also often agree, but the blessings of our friendship are most apparent when we disagree.

One of the biggest lessons for me is that friends can disagree with passion while retaining a strong and supportive friendship. Oh how I wish those leaders bickering on the world stage today could learn from the example of Jim’s grace in debating issues with dissenters, like me.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, like Jim, served in the military and as a lawyer and judge, once said that he had felt “the passion of life to its top.” With Jim’s remarkable life experiences and his toils in the vineyard of ideas, Jim knows the passion of life to its top. None of us can know that without properly confronting all the challenges and uncertainty that life presents. Jim’s columns help us do that.

So we’ve all been blessed with 117 columns by Jim, each one guiding us in our searches for answers in a world of uncertainty, and I look forward to many more.

I could go on and on, but, oops, I’ve got a deadline to meet!

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)