My very first boss as an attorney died suddenly recently. Well, it was sudden to me. For him, it was a rare form of cancer that dragged out over several months. I only found out about it because I had emailed him asking him to act as a reference for a position for which I was interviewing. Unfortunately, my last line in the email was "I hope this finds you well." He was not well. His wife responded that he would have been glad to help but that he was dying and only had a few weeks to live. At first I thought it was a joke, but even he wouldn't joke about that. He didn't even last a week after that email.
I attended his funeral which B could not understand. You see, my old boss and I weren't always on good terms. In fact, when I left that office, it was at a hurried pace and into the first job I could find because I felt that I was being pushed out. That was how it worked there, before me and after me. The people would turn on each other until there was no one left to turn on. Another kind of cancer entirely.
However, time heals all wounds. For me that is particularly true. I do not hold grudges well. Perhaps it is because I want to see the good in everyone or because I believe they can change. Mostly it is because I know that you cannot change someone, but can only accept them as they are. I chose, later, to accept my boss for what he was.
What is that you ask? Well, as stated at his funeral, if he loved you there was nothing he wouldn't do for you. I found that to be true. He got me raises, trusted my judgment, spoke well of my work product to others. I am not sure if that would be true at the end of our working relationship, but it did continue later. The last time I saw him was about two years ago. We had lunch and he told me that of all the people he had hired and who had left, I was the only one that ever came back to see him. That was one of the most poignant and saddest things I had ever heard.
So, for the guy who gave me my first job out of law school, who took the leap of faith that I would pass the bar, who never once asked to see me argue in court, and who would send me to seminars on every legal subject out there stating "you need to be well rounded and well versed in ALL life to better your legal career," I went to his funeral. It was beautiful and it was sad. The people that he had fired or that had left on bad terms? They were there as well.
Unlike most funerals, however, his family and friends weren't standing up there painting every thing rosy. They spoke the truth. They told about how he would be on your side if he loved you, but if he didn't or if things changed, watch out. They spoke the good and they spoke the bad. I felt good that no one had to pretend. We could all think about which man it was that we knew and not feel guilty for not thinking of the other one.
But all of that above? That is just background. For this post is to pass along the story that was told by my ex-boss' very best friend. The guy that knew him throughout his childhood and adulthood. The guy that knew him the very best. He told this story:
Toward the end of my boss' days, he would reflect a lot and tell stories. He accepted that he would be going and tried his best to put his house in order. One day he told his friend that many years ago, at the height of practicing law, he found himself in an elevator with a colleague, an opposing counsel. The attorney looked visibly upset and asked my boss for an adjournment of their case. "Why do you need an adjournment?" my boss asked. "I have cancer," said the other attorney, "and I need chemo." My ex boss looked at the attorney and coldly said "well, then an adjournment won't do you any good. No adjournment."
My boss, after telling his friend this story, turned and said "I guess those chickens came home to roost."
I don't think I have ever heard a more telling and thought provoking story. So I pass it along to you, in a moment of seriousness, and urge you not to let those chickens come to roost.
Compassion begets compassion.