A man with a destination

Jamison KoehlerD.C. Superior Court, Miscellaneous

Many years ago, when I first started work at D.C. Superior Court, I had a daily encounter with an older woman as I came into the court building each morning. Dressed nicely and sitting on the bank of chairs outside the lawyer’s lounge, the woman always appeared to be speaking on the phone about some weighty constitutional issue. 

The woman was loud and passionate.  And from the snippets I could hear, she seemed to know what she was talking about. 

But she would interrupt her call long enough for us to greet each other.  I looked forward to our brief encounter because it started my day with something pleasant and cheery.

After a while, it occurred to me that the woman tended to do all the talking on her phone calls.  When I looked more closely, I realized she was not speaking on the phone through ear buds as I had assumed.  Instead, she was talking to herself.

One day it occurred to me that I had not seen her for a while.  That day turned into another. 


During this same timeframe, I used to hang out between hearings in the law library on the 6th floor. 

While there, I noticed a small, wiry, middle-aged man sitting at the same cubicle every day. Also dressed very nicely, in his case with a starched shirt with rolled up sleeves and a tie, he piled a stack of books on the desk beside him.  He always appeared to be engaged in some serious legal research.

I never saw him anywhere else in the building.  I took from this that he was not a practicing lawyer. 

One day I asked the law librarian about him.  “Ah yes,” said the librarian, nodding sadly.  “He is a disbarred attorney.  His aunt has allowed him to live with her ever since he lost his ability to earn a living.  But she wants him out of the house during the day.  So he comes here to pass the time.”

The man’s cubicle has been empty ever since the library closed during the pandemic.  Sometimes I wonder:  Where did he go during this time?  Where has he been ever since?  And what happened with all the legal research he completed over those years?


My third preoccupation with the lives of strangers is an active one.

Every morning around the same time, I drive a couple of miles from our house to the train station. 

After doing this for a while, I noticed a heavy, middle-aged man trudging along every morning in the same direction as I was traveling.  Always dressed appropriately for the weather, the man pulls a metal cart on wheels behind him. 

As punctual as I attempt to be, this man is even more regular than I am:  I can gauge whether I am early or late by where on our mutual route I find him.  If he has passed the bridge, for example, I know I better speed up.

The timing – and the fact there are only a few items in the cart – suggested to me the first time I saw him that this is not a homeless man. 

This is a man with a destination.

One day I pulled up to a stop light at the same time he was waiting for the cross signal at the intersection.  I like to talk to strangers – a habit that used to embarrass our children but almost always results in a pleasant exchange.  So I rolled down the window:  “You are running late this morning,” I informed him. 

He barely looked in my direction.  “I don’t need to be there until 8:00 am,” he responded.  He was not unfriendly.  But not exactly friendly either. 

The light turned green.  I rolled up my window.  I drove on.

Ever since, based on his lukewarm reaction to my initial interaction, I have decided to leave this man in peace.

But I cannot help looking for him every morning during our commute. 

If I am early, I wonder whether he has entered our common route. And where exactly does he join the route?  What is the earliest point I will see him?

I wonder what is waiting for him at 8:00 am.  More importantly, I wonder what he will do when he gets there.


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As-salamu alaykum.  Have a blessed day.