What I’ve Learned About Life On The Way To The Courthouse
By Mike Wells
If you had to identify some of life’s greatest gifts, other than your faith, what would they be?
Two different stories, with two different people, and two very different circumstances, give us a big clue.
One of the organizations in our area which deals with the aging population does so with kindness and special insight. It deals with seniors suffering through the ravages of dementia in all of its forms. But it sees past the loss of a mind that once was to what remains in the core of us all. It’s a sort of double vision which sees the character of every life.
An old gentleman who had a successful career had severe dementia. His up-from-nothing story was built on a core of hard work, but without that double vision the blank stare and jumbled words he spoke would not have shown you more.
This organization had a day care set up where families could bring a loved one for a few hours a day to give family members time to deal with the rest of life beyond the care of their ailing elder. The gentleman would come in for a few days a week, and he was given a job to do, which he did with as much effort as he could bring to bear. It clearly mattered to him that as someone who had known nothing but hard work he was doing something, although that something was only hazily understood.
When he left for the day, he was given a $10 bill and he was thanked for what he had done, and the value of what he had rendered to the organization.
When the old gentleman returned the next time, his care giver, unknown to him, returned that $10 bill to the care center after this senior had begun his assigned task. And life’s most important transaction, the validation of another human being, began anew.
My wife and I attended a funeral recently. The loved one, my wife’s aunt, had passed away. She and her husband, who had died years before, had lived on a farm. One of the pallbearers was a nephew who had gotten an education and moved away from that sweet, country place. When the nephew was a very young boy, he would come to the farm and visit. His kindly uncle would dote on the nephew, telling him he couldn’t milk the cows and look after the place without him. He would talk to him on the phone from time to time to ask him when he was coming because he needed him to keep up the place — all the while building up the nephew’s good sense of himself.
That kind farmer, not sophisticated in the ways of the world, had double vision too. And when the life stories are told about this wonderful farmer, this story is always one of them.
We spend an awful lot of time in our careers chasing the people we think matter most in what we perceive is the pecking order of life. There is not much we are going to do about that.
But what we should do better is value all people, even the ones who do not advance our careers.
William James, the noted psychologist, said: “The deepest principle of Human Nature is the craving to be appreciated.”
As a young lawyer, I observed that the most successful courthouse lawyers were the ones who authentically engaged everyone, from the lowliest clerk and courtroom deputy to the servers at the restaurant across the street from the courthouse where the courthouse lawyers gathered. They knew their names and their stories, too.
What I’ve learned about life on the way to the courthouse is this: Value everyone, and recognize that the sense of being wanted and valued is at the very core of every human being. Learn to have that double vision that sees past the facts of a particular situation and find the sight line to the dignity in us all.