Originally posted in the DAILY JOURNAL NEWSWIRE ARTICLE
In my book, “365 Thank Yous,” I tell the story of how I recovered from business and personal losses suffered in 2007, a year I felt was the nadir of my career as an attorney. I was inspired to pull myself out of this low place by writing a simple thank-you note once a day, for a year. As the result, things got better, no doubt about that. Yet I also viewed things differently. I was more grateful for the many good things in my life, which my setbacks had caused me to stop noticing.
Among the treasures of life I was overlooking were many good friends with whom I had lost touch. One, Paul Smith, had been there for me throughout my career, both as a friend and a lawyer. At the time of my book, Paul was with Hughes Hubbard & Reed, where I began my legal career. This excerpt tells part of the story of how I reconnected with Paul, and how I was inspired by his courage.
During 2007, my supposedly unendurable year, as I whined and obsessed about the problems in my life, my friend Paul, who had been a mentor of mine from my first legal job, an attorney who always remained under consummate and disciplined control, stopped making any sense in the middle of asking a question at a deposition. He had a brain tumor.
After brain surgery and chemotherapy, he had quietly resumed work. But I had not talked to him since I heard the news. I didn’t know how to begin the conversation. What should I say, “Is it inoperable?” “How was that surgery?” So I succumbed to insecurity about what to say and did not call.
In 2008, the word got around among Paul’s friends that the tumors were back and had spread. He had another surgery, more chemotherapy, and again things seemed all right. Some months later, however, word got around that there were more tumors. Seven of them.
I needed to overcome my cowardice and get in touch with him. Paul’s skill as a lawyer always made me view him as one of the naturals, a man born with an understanding of the role of a lawyer, and a sense of what a lawyer should be doing in a difficult situation. When my own interests were on the line, and I had to have a good lawyer, I turned to him. He had seen me through times of weakness and trouble.
I could not let this friend slip away.
Throughout my thank you note year, when I felt that I had nowhere to turn, and didn’t know what to do about a situation, I wrote a thank you note, and that’s what I did here. On the June 30, I finally had the courage to write to Paul:
“I was sure sorry to hear of another tumor. I am praying the chemo will once again do the trick. When I was a young lawyer, you showed me how to do and react to so many things. Now you are setting an example of courage and fortitude that I hope to remember if I am ever faced with a challenge so severe, and I feel once again grateful to know you.”
The next day, I got an email, “Thank you for your kind note.”
With contact re-established, I felt I could call and see how Paul was doing. He was willing to talk openly about his disease. The tumors were back and they were growing. Now he needed to find new treatments because all the normal ones were plainly not working. He was embarking on a series of “clinical trials.”
Paul explained that he had not changed his life. He continued to work. Sure, you could drop everything and go off on your bucket list, climb a mountain, see the Taj Mahal. Yet while he was doing that, his wife would have to go on with her job as a district attorney. His teenage son would have to go on finishing high school. If he were traveling the world, his family would have to go on without him, all the while thinking of him. They needed to see that his life was going on so that they could feel comfortable going on with theirs. Paul’s strategy struck me as so sensible and so right.
Incredibly, one of the ways in which he was going on with his life was to run marathons. He planned to run the Long Beach marathon in October.
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..[A]s the race neared, I checked in with him to see if he would still be running it and he was matter of fact. “Of course,” he said.
No one in his family found anything very remarkable about this. To me it seemed like a world record miracle. He had been on one clinical trial after another all year.
On the morning of the Long Beach Marathon, I walked up and down Ocean Blvd watching people of all shapes and sizes, alone and in crowds, finishing the marathon. I was beginning to think I had missed Paul. It had been a couple years since I’d actually seen him; maybe he’d changed so much I hadn’t recognized him when he’d run by. But then I did. He was thin. He’d lost some hair; even from his beard. But he looked fine, running easily and comfortably in the last mile. I ran along with him for a while, talking, and then I got some pictures, then he was gone.
A week later, Paul and I had dinner with some friends. Paul picked up the tab that night, so I wrote him a thank you note, which concluded: “Your strength is a great inspiration to me in my much more trivial adversity.”
Excerpt from “365 THANK YOUS: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life” by John Kralik © 2010. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
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Paul inspired me to start running again myself, and later, we ran a very fast and fun half marathon together. Ambitiously, we planned to run the Long Beach Marathon together in October 2009. But as the day neared, Paul’s tumors began growing again, and as he tried increasingly toxic experimental drugs, he began to experience neuropathy in his limbs that left him unable to run. Soon, he couldn’t walk either. That October, I ran the Long Beach Marathon for both of us. I felt very alone.
By late September 2010, Paul was just trying to make it through to his 58th birthday. When I spoke to him, for what turned out to be the last time, he asked “When is that book coming out?” Although he had previously said that he did not need to read the parts about him, he said he would like a copy for his birthday. A copy was overnighted to him, and his wife read it to him just before he lost consciousness. His wife told me he approved of what I had written.
When he died, just after his birthday, his family asked me to read the parts about him at his memorial service. Just before I did, Paul’s son came up to me. “You gave this to my father. And he saved it, and now I’m giving it back to you.” He gave me a letter I had written to Paul more than 15 years ago to thank him for being my lawyer in a difficult case. Of course, in those days I had a lot to learn about gratitude, so the letter included some self-congratulations about my paying the bill in full, but I also wrote of how proud I was to be represented by him, and thanked him for being there at a time when my own skills as a lawyer were both ineffectual and unavailable. I had concluded by saying that he had been there for me as a lawyer and a friend, and that I would never forget it.
And I was grateful. Because of my thank you notes, I did not forget Paul.
John Kralik is judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. He previously was a partner at Hughes Hubbard & Reed, Miller Tokuyama Kralik & Sur, and Kralik & Jacobs.