My Why: The Tale of an Old Man and a Young Boy
September 13, 2019
David L. Wallace
(Originally published on LinkedIn)
NYACK, NEW YORK: I’ve been occupied lately with a re-branding effort, trying to understand my why, the reason I became a trial lawyer. After so many years, I had this identity that I felt was holding me back. My work no longer felt like a gift.
Somewhere along the way, in the going-to and going-away that characterizes all human journeys, I had lost my footing and way. My why wasn’t strong enough. Hell, it was non-existent. And then one day, in the big, mysterious way of things, I read some words by a long-ago wealthy industrialist and philanthropist:
Today is when everything that’s going to happen from now on begins.
I liked that very much. I decided to start with learning who I was, how to be David Wallace. And so I set out about a year ago, to discover my why, in a place a mentor (who knows absolutely nothing about my existence) called personhood. This was an uncomfortable process. It holds what Brenee Brown calls,
“the fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized [that] keeps us outside the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.”
Then I realized that if I didn’t change what I was doing, as Jim Rohn says, all of my tomorrows would look like yesterday. And I couldn’t stand that thought much longer. So I began asking myself a lot of why and what if questions, getting catalytically curious about myself in the process. I decided I wasn’t going to do things the same way as everyone else anymore, that I was going to separate myself — intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually — from the masses.
And what I discovered about myself in the process changed my outlook on everything, and my life. And I learned the absolutely critical importance of being authentic and genuine. Always.
Here’s the story …
There’s this boy, about ten or so.
He’s growing up in this historic New England seaport that sits on a big river that opens onto the Atlantic ocean. Different times.
And not far from that river, right off the town square, across from the big old North Church on the other side, sits a popular restaurant — Jarvis’s place.
Anyway, this boy’s running errands with his mother. Beautiful day, and he’d frankly rather be playing ball, doing almost anything else really.
And then it happens; this ultimately haunting thing occurs. Jarvis’s place is not only a popular restaurant, but a bus stop as well. Greyhound (leave the driving to us). This old man finally, and slowly, gets off the bus. He’s struggling with this big suitcase.
Kid and his mother standing nearby, watching the old man. And then his mother, my mother, says, “David, you help that man. And don’t take any money for it.” With a sense of shame, I say, “Yes, ma’am.” Old man tells my mother he’s staying at a hotel, two blocks or so away. So, I wrestle a grip on the old man’s suitcase, and fall in behind him.
I say I feel shame, because there’s this group of older boys nearby, laughing at the old man, who happens to be wearing a winter topcoat on a very warm day. And as I look up, at the old man’s back, I see a piece of yellow paper stuck there. It says, “Kick me.”
My mind races as we approach the old man’s hotel, about what to do. Not what I should do, that much is clear. But whether I have the guts to interfere with the practical joke being played on this unsuspecting man, by boys quite a bit older than I am.
And then it happens. I say nothing. I put the old man’s suitcase down on the sidewalk outside his hotel, he turns to thank me, and then I leave. I say nothing. I leave the old man with a note stuck to his back saying, “Kick me,” and I head back to Jarvis’s place looking for my mother.
I was scared. I felt shamed. I showed no empathy. I said and did nothing. I did not stand up for that old man, a fellow human, out of fear.
And right there, in that moment, was a lesson for me. It was one I didn’t uncover until many years later, by then an old man myself. Glad, though, I finally did. Here it is: Everyone we meet in life is our teacher.
So now, I begin every case I choose to take, every journey I take with a client, from this place called personhood. And we head out together to this place called Justice, where people just like us go to resolve legal disputes, and hopefully get on again with real life. And in that process, I bring your story to life, I give it wings.
And that old man? He’s the reason there’s a piece of me in every story that another person trusts me enough to tell on for them. They’re never alone in those moments. Because I’m their warrior.
So ends. (Another story. Ask me one day to tell you about the 18th-century pirate, er, privateer, in my family tree.)