Once there was a lawyer who discovered the answer to life’s Most Persistent and Urgent Question.
It happened quite by accident, on a chilly afternoon in January, when he was feeling overworked, underpaid and behind schedule. Such was the story of his Law Life.
This day was especially hectic. He was scrambling to draft a pleading and reply to email and schedule a mediation and replace the printer cartridge and cull the mountain of files on his desk and pay some bills and send out invoices so he could pay more bills – all in time to escape this sweatshop and attend his daughter’s basketball game.
Then he realized he had an appointment with a new client. In ten minutes. And she showed up five minutes late.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, as she rushed into the office, a disheveled and anxious mess. “I missed the bus and had to wait for the next one.”
Only Light Can Drive Out Darkness
What followed was a sad saga of suffering and strife. She was a middle-aged woman with a husband and five children who worked at Wendy’s until she hurt her knee and had to quit, which caused a cascade of monetary, medical and marital woes.
At first he took notes. But as the sheer magnitude of her misfortune mounted, he sighed and glanced at his watch. He didn’t have time for this. He could see she was in distress. What he didn’t see was any way he could help.
“Unfortunately,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything I can do for you.”
And as he powered down his laptop and walked her to the door, he was so focused on the next dozen items on his to-do list he didn’t notice she was weeping.
Our Labor Should Uplift Humanity
An hour later, he sat in the bleachers watching ten excited girls race up and down the basketball court in a ragged but rousing rec league game. But he wasn’t focusing on the action. What he watched instead was his daughter’s coach.
She was a pediatrician at a local practice, which meant her days were probably as stressed as his. Yet there she was, an island of calm amid the youthful chaos.
He saw how fully present she was. How she praised her players when they did something right and instructed them when they did something wrong. How she gathered them in huddles and looked them in the eye. How at the end she congratulated the other team, and afterwards how she waited patiently outside in the cold until all her girls had been picked up.
I Have a Dream
That night he slept poorly. He figured it was indigestion. His stomach had been bothering him lately.
In the clear light of morning, as he rose and began the daily drill, something shifted inside him. At the breakfast table, he listened to his daughter happily recap the play-by-play from last night’s game.
“I was awesome,” she said, even though her contribution was basically two points and one ball dribbled off her foot. “We were awesome.”
“Looks like you have a good coach.”
“Yeah. She’s awesome.”
What Affects One Directly, Affects All Indirectly
When he got to his office, he called the woman he’d seen the day before. He apologized for having been distracted during their meeting. He asked her to come back in.
For this second session, he cleared the clutter from his desk. He turned off his phone and put it in a drawer.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he said, looking her in the eye. “Tell me again what’s going on.”
Then he listened. He nodded his head. Occasionally he asked a question, followed by more listening.
Surprisingly, he realized he could help her. He gave her the contact information for social services agencies that might assist with finances, housing and childcare. He referred her to an employment lawyer to look into possible wage and termination issues, and a medical clinic for her knee. He arranged for an Uber ride so she wouldn’t have to take the bus home.
Most important, he acknowledged her. He saw her. He called her by name.
A Trip to the Mountaintop
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are you doing for others?”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that. And yet, how often we get it backwards. We ask, “What have others done for me?”
This lawyer didn’t get paid for his time. He didn’t get a million-dollar referral for his efforts. But he got something far greater: the privilege of easing the burden of a troubled soul.
And he came away knowing that though we may have come here on different ships, we’re all in the same boat now.
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina and is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers and firms improve their well-being and create saner, more successful law lives. He is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.