Once there was a lawyer who woke in the middle of the night to a strange whisper.
He got up and turned on the lights. He searched his house from room to room. But he couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from.
So he dressed and went to work, where he spent the day washing his hands and maintaining social distance and Zooming with people in little boxes on his laptop, because this was the new normal.
But that night he heard the whisper again. The voice was vaguely familiar, though he couldn’t make out what it was saying. This time he didn’t bother searching for the source. He had a feeling he wouldn’t find it.
So he did what he had become skilled at doing, which was to plunge into his Law Life with such singleness of purpose that all else – including the mysterious, unsettling whisper – was pushed aside.
At least until that night, when he lay alone in bed and the whispering returned.
Crossing the Bridge
Here it should be said that this lawyer had worked hard to build a respected and successful law practice.
But by can’t, he really meant don’t. In fact, there had been a time when he’d not only imagined but actually planned to do lots of other things – travel the world, write a novel, start a family – a bucket list that had somehow gotten misplaced in the consuming crush of law school, licensure and launching a career.
And so the pattern of his Law Life continued like a bingeworthy Netflix series, one episode leading to the next without a break. And it was a good show, with good ratings. He liked starring in it.
Yet the whisper persisted.
Do Not Get Lost in a Sea of Despair
“I’m just calling to see how you’re doing,” the lawyer said to one of his clients, an older woman who lived alone. “These are such crazy times.”
“I’m fine,” said his client. “I’ve been enjoying my garden.”
Then she proceeded to tell him all about her heather and hollyhocks and hibiscus.
That night, when the whispering started, he lay quiet in bed. He realized the voice was coming from inside himself. And for the first time, he listened.
The voice reminded him of his mislaid bucket list. On it was an item long forgotten. Growing up, his family had a small garden of vegetables and flowers. How he had loved the smell of the plants, the feel of the moist earth, the special sweetness of something planted, nurtured and grown by hand.
The next morning instead of going straight to work like he usually did, he went into his backyard and staked out a plot for his future garden.
Then he went to his office and began another sort of cultivation. He started calling his clients. He had no agenda other than to express concern and let them know he was there for them.
He was surprised at how much they seemed to appreciate this simple gesture – and how good he felt doing it. So he kept going. He even signed up with his local bar association to take pro bono cases for clients facing housing and job problems.
It occurred to him that he had been practicing law competently but not creatively, and that it had taken a pandemic to shake him from his rut.
Now he saw that the key to a whole, authentic Law Life was to nurture the longings of his heart, not neglect them.
You Are a Light
“Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates,” said the late Representative John Lewis. “You are a light. Never let anyone—any person or any force—dampen, dim or diminish your light. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Those are powerful words from a great man.
The verbs he uses – discover, lean toward, follow – are words of action. They require courage and curiosity and self-care.
As a lawyer, you have the opportunity to improve lives and create good trouble every day. What a privilege! So how can you shine your light today? What is your heart whispering to you?
Representative Lewis also said this: Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul and embed the planet with its goodness.” The documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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.