During my first weekend in Geneva, M and I went to pick strawberry at a small farm under the shadow of the Alps. My favorite color is of dominant display here: from dark shade of green grass and strawberry leaves, to the light green of vineyards at a distance, to the greenish gray of mountains far by the horizon. The Alps is what I'd envision Mount Olympus to look like: green and majestic, snow-tipped, perching atop bright halo of clouds. I see it every day, as I bike from M's cottage to the UN, up a giant hill that renders me breathless, down a smooth slope where the wind blows my hair messy, straight to the gate de Nations where a stern but good-humoured guard peers at my UN badge and ID through his sunglasses. From there, I ride under the twin rows of national flags, leading to les Palais des Nations, which houses many important UN alphabet soups such as UNDP, UNEF, OLA. The flagpoles tinker like bells under the wind, and every time I feel a rush of blood to my head, that of youth, dream, idealism, belief, as if nothing in the world has gotten to it, as if I was fresh off the plane to Manila in 1996, bright-eyed and awed, immediately enamored and committed to exploring the world at large.
The International Law Commission, where I intern this summer, is an independent body consisting of 34 legal thinkers (law professors, diplomats, countries' legal advisors) from around the world. Established under the UN Charter Article 13(1), which charges the General Assembly with "encouraging the progressive development of international law and its codifications," ILC commissioners fly to Geneva for 10 weeks each summer to formulate cutting-edge legal issues. Past work includes the groundwork for the International Criminal Court (1997), the highly influential Article of State Responsibilities (2001), and the iconic Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969). Moreover, the ILC has a catalyst relationship with the International Court of Justice, where many ILC commissioners end their careers as judges.
My first week at the ILC feels like summer 1996. Sitting at a long table equipped with multi-language translation headphones, together with 20-some interns from all over the world, I feel small, awed, crazed, and incredibly happy. The debate sometimes get quite technical, but the level of intellectual stimulation is off the roof. The tug of war in international law, as expected, often centers on balancing state rights and individual rights. In some countries, it is illegal for an individual to commit suicide; similarly, in international law, a state does not have the right to "die", for example, to voluntarily allow other states to invade its territory, because it has responsibilities as a sovereign to its people. As a result, states can get away with a lot of questionable conducts in the name of "security and public order," an oft-cited phrase found all over international law, especially Human Rights treaties which purport to protect fundamental rights of individuals against states.
On the last day of 1L, my tort professor, Doug Kysar, a crazy left-wing environmentalist visiting professor from Yale, told us about a study where the subject is put into a room with some other people. As those people started taking off their clothes, the subjects became increasingly anxious and confused. Then, without fail, they ALL started to take off their clothes as well. And soon enough, everyone ended up naked, some without knowing why. "In your life, there will be many times when you have to operate with very little information. Hold on to your values. Don't do things just because your peers have done so, or because your mentor did it. They could very likely be wrong. And commit right now - write on your journal tonight! - to do some self-reflection ever so often. Otherwise, you might end up naked one day, without realizing it."
So tonight, three weeks after that last tort class, quite tipsy from Geneva's lovely dessert wines and so full of strawberry, I finally get around to self-reflect. What do I want to do? Who do I want to be? What world do I want my children to grow up in? My Jacobson mentor, the CEO of a successful hedge fund and the person who pays for my legal education, advised that one only needs to know what one likes today, not tomorrow, because "the system is indefinitely tolerant to those who work hard, and there are indefinite opportunity to reinvent yourself." Perhaps so... perhaps if one is smart enough not to fall through the systematic cracks. Perhaps if one is driven enough to strive for reinvention. Is that what I want? What about a picket fence, full-stocked kitchen, completed with happy, well-fed children and dogs? Will that be enough? Is it ever not enough?
The room I sublet from M is technically the whole attic of her cottage, with slanted ceiling and a lovely skylight that opens out to a blanket of stars. Outside, neighbors are clinking glasses and babbling French. The world is so vast, and amazing, and humbling, with pockets of sunshine everywhere, if one is wide-eyed enough to see them. So in honor of Professor Kysar, young, crazy and so wise, I want to make a commitment tonight. That I shall work on something meaningful and progressive to the world at large, that I shall seek out intellectual stimulation, and resist as much as I can the fragility of desire, as comforting as it may be. That however elusive is "good faith," it must be sought and practiced with persistence, because I really, truly believe that the world is better with it. And yet, however tempting an opportunity is, that I shall remember life is more than that, perhaps meaning can be found by the picket fence with a well-fed and well-raised family, perhaps the lives we can influence and which will influence us need not be continents away, but just right here.
Tonight, Mugg is back to Ithaca to attend the graduation of a good friend, who dreams to be a neurosurgeon. He calculated that assuming he makes it through medical school, it'll take $300K in debt and his 40th birthday until he starts making real money. In the mean time, he's sleeping in his car to save up on rent, and is graduating with a near perfect GPA. What do we do with these dreams and the crazy motivation they generate?!
I guess we keep them. Make them our motivation, disillusion, whatever. And I guess I should enjoy that rush to the head while it lasts, a signal that hopes and dreams are still there, a signal of the young at heart.