A friend of mine died last week.
It was one of those horrible kinds of ways that nobody really knows what happened. One of those horrible kind of ways that haunts us about them having been alone when it happened. One of those horrible kind of ways that amounts to someone you love simply going out the door for a walk and never coming back.
Which is exactly how it did happen.
“He had a powerful influence in my life,” I told my husband. “So much more than being merely a lawyer I worked for. I don’t even think ‘friend’ captures it.”
“Were you the office wife?” my husband asked.
No, I was sure I wasn’t that.
At first, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that was so special about our relationship—but then it came to me.
“He was my teacher,” I said.
It almost makes me cry (again) just recognizing that’s what he was to me, that there is a word for it.
When I came to work for S, I was 35 years old and didn’t really know what it was to be ethical and honest. (Okay, to be fair, by catechism I probably knew. By rules, and by the 10 commandments, and by what I’d read—I probably knew.)
But not by choice. Not by development of my own character. Not by knowing myself and what my own limits were.
And not by example or by how all that stuff was lived out.
He wasn’t a teacher in the formal let me tell you something that you don’t know sense; he was a teacher in the here is how I live, here are the things I value, and this is what integrity looks like sense.
S was a criminal defense attorney par excellence, especially in the smallish community in which he and I lived. And he was an absolutely ethical, honest person.
To learn all of that—to learn that ethics and integrity are action verbs and not concepts—I watched S, and the way he ran his practice and lived his life, over the 40-something years I knew him—a good deal of the time during which I also worked for him.
He always said that’s how religion ruined people—by pushing ethics and values down their throats in such a way that they never learned how to make them their own.
Certainly I’d never made them my own—until I met him.
The funny thing is that he was in a business that people think is built around creating a reality to present to jurors that may or may not absolutely match the reality of what happened. That’s why he had to be absolutely sure about the truth, I guess—he had to know with 100 percent certainty that he was telling the truth, because if he didn’t know it for sure, he’d lose sight of it himself.
When I would do his bookkeeping in the early days, he didn’t want me to “round off”—he wanted me to make entries to the penny.
“Why not?” he’d say. “The guy didn’t pay me rounded off. He paid me to the penny.”
His honesty made him someone I could absolutely trust, because I absolutely knew where he was coming from—even what he would or wouldn’t do under various circumstances.
He was a rock to me.
I think, as challenging as it can be to work for a criminal defense attorney who rabidly defends his clients—who goes balls to the wall no matter what—who defended even “the defenseless,” I respected S just about as much as anybody I have known.
Truth be told, if respect can be love, then I loved him. Not for what he did for me, or even for what he gave me, but for who he was—just for who he was.
They say there are some people who come into our lives for a reason, and some people who come into our lives for a season. I would say that S came into my life for both.
Funny that when I think of you now, knowing how you left, I see you walking out the front door and down the street, and—since it didn’t happen anywhere around where I live, and I didn’t go to the funeral, and I haven’t talked to you for a couple of years—I am allowed the luxury of something…I am allowed the luxury of thinking that you’re not really gone.
You’re just hands in pockets, jaunty cap on your head, still walking on down the street.
Keep walking, my friend. Maybe one day you’ll have come so far as to make it back round to my front door.
I’d really like that.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Photo: Flickr/Ashley Van Haeften
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
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