Things seemed to be going well when I came to Washington in June. There was a new job with a large law firm in the city. There was steady progress on a book I was writing about a judge. There was ease in making new acquaintances.

But also, there was something missing. I would feel its absence at different times in the evenings or weekends, when the melancholia, the darkness, would set in, and the work and writing lost their flavor.

Then one Sunday in August, while we were out running, my friend mentioned that he was thinking of volunteering with the Big Brothers. We didn't discuss it, but the idea stuck with me; and the next day I went to the Big Brothers' offices on 16th Street to volunteer.

Three weeks later I was placed with Ben, a nine-year-old in Washington, whose parents were divorced and who had not seen his father for some time. That weekend we played basketball and football at the nearby playground, and the next weekend went to the Rock Creek Park Observatory. Later, we visited the downtown area, the Smithsonian, and saw the movie "Heaven Can Wait."

It did not go smoothly at the start. I was awkward, especially uncertain in asserting discipline; and he, having had a number of bad experiences, was reserved and withdrawn. But gradually over the next months, we began to talk more easily about things, such as his interest in science fiction and "Star Wars," and to develop a rapport.

His mother said recently that the Big Brother relationship has helped him to gain confidence in himself and the world. I hope so.

I know it has been an invigorating experience for me. Not only has it gotten me out from my legal pads and library, but also -- and more important -- it has been a beginning in bridging the gap growing between my beliefs and actions.

For some time, it had seemed to me important to connect work on broad policy issues -- whether in law, business, academia or government -- with involvements on an individual level. The lives of many lawyers, academics and, particularly, persons in public life, who claim to be interested in mankind, struck me as incomplete, even wrong, as they ignored individuals. Yet, I could see my life falling into that pattern.

The part of one day a week I spend with Ben is, of course, no great sacrifice. But it has been a small step in achieving a better balance, in better connecting the general and individual, the theoretical and specific. And I always have returned from our outings reinvigorated.

The melancholia still comes around at times. But it's been around less since September, since the stepping out of the library and of myself through this individual connection.