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Legally Speaking

 

Issue: August, 2005
Author: Mary B. Guthrie

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From the Desk of the Executive Director

Originally, I was going to focus on a topic directly related to the operation of the Bar office. However, several events occurred on July 7th that made me decide to start anew and write a column on courage.

The first defining event of July 7th was the terrible bombing in London. While the initial reactions to the tragedy were fear and horror, Londoners quickly regained the strength and calm for which they are known and moved on with their lives. Many Brits showed true grit by boarding subways and buses on July 8th as if nothing had happened. One Brit described this strength by commenting, “We are a plucky lot.”

The second July 7th experience came from reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about Andy McCaffey, an Army Staff Sergeant who lost an arm to a hand grenade in Afghanistan in 2003. McCaffey could have retired from the military with a comfortable pension; instead, he decided to stay in the Army and hopes to return to combat duty. In pursuit of this ambitious goal, he has learned to shoot, do pull-ups and push-ups and parachute with a prosthetic device. Sometimes he exercised with such intensity that he reopened the wounds on his stump. McCaffey described his efforts to overcome the loss of his arm and his commanders’ deep doubts about his abilities as a “lonely crusade.” In July, Andy was reunited with his unit in Afghanistan, where he was assigned to a support, rather than combat, position. He succinctly summed up his perseverance by observing, “I just want an opportunity to fail.”

The final July 7th experience was more personal, for I learned that Gerald Mason had died. Gerald was very influential in the legal profession and his community. Many people have great memories of his brilliance as a lawyer and a leader of the Wyoming State Bar.

One of my lasting impressions of Gerald has nothing to do with his being a lawyer. I will always recall the valor with which he faced his death. His courage and faith in God sustained him during a difficult time. It is my understanding that he was able to tell many people good-bye in a meaningful manner. After I learned of his illness, I wrote him a short note telling him that I was thinking of him. Less than a week before he died, he sent me a handwritten note, in which he wrote: “Thank you for your kind note. It has been a wonderful privilege working with you and the other members of our Bar to serve Wyoming. God has intervened and made these days very special.”

I am reminded of many other courageous lawyers. Lawyers who pursue unpopular causes and represent defendants charged with heinous crimes exemplify a unique brand of courage. I marvel how my public defender friends are able to maintain their enthusiasm and energy for their jobs. Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird, aptly described the courage it takes to represent difficult defendants: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what."

I am reminded of how bravely some attorneys face chronic health problems, divorces and substance abuse problems. They exemplify John Quincy Adams’ observation that, “courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.”

I recently encountered another kind of courage when I visited with two attorneys who decided that they didn’t want to be lawyers anymore. One decided to leave the profession because he had never wanted to be an attorney, but went to law school because he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. The other was “burned out” and felt that his family and health were suffering. Rather than “lead[ing] lives of quiet desperation and go[ing] to the grave with the song still in them,"1 they are pursuing more satisfying careers.

Million of words have been written about courage, but one of the most succinct comments that I encountered was that of John Wayne: “Courage is being scared to death . . . and saddling up anyway.”

The courage that was demonstrated on July 7th should inspire all of us to conduct our lives in an honest and graceful manner and face our challenges with bravery and valor. We should continue to “soldier on” and saddle up” in our professional and personal lives.

Copyright © 2005 – Wyoming State Bar

     

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