Content Warning: This article contains mention of suicide which may be upsetting to some people. We’re aware of the sensitive nature of this matter and respect that some may not want to proceed.
Many years ago, shortly after I finished law school and was trying to pass the bar exam a friend died. Michelle took her own life.
She was a wonderful person who had her demons that she could not fully face. I was oblivious to what she was going through, and it was the first time that death touched my life. I was lucky in that, anyway. Many people deal with their first loss much earlier in life.
My wife and I were living in Albany, New York at the time.
Seriously, completely, totally broke.
Broke enough that we knew we could afford the gas and tolls to get to Michelle’s funeral in Ohio, but really did not see how we could make it back.
But … Michelle had been our friend.
I remember looking at Sally as we were trying to figure this out, and I just said: “You know what? Let’s just figure it out later. We can’t not be there.”
My wife. Bless her lovely, brave heart, just nodded and we hit the road.
And eight hours later we got there, and it was definitely the right thing to do. There are moments in life that are important, and Michelle’s memorial and gathering was definitely one of those moments.
But now we had this problem. And we had not, actually, figured it out.
We were with a group of friends, mutual friends who had also been close to Michelle, but we were standing apart a bit, the reality of our situation hitting home now.
Dan, a good friend of both Sally and me, approached and gave me a handshake. I was a little confused because we had been hanging out and talking for most of the day. But I looked down at my hand and I saw four $100 bills.
He gave me a grin and leaned in to say, quietly so that Sally and I could hear but no one else could. “I’ve been broke before. I know what it looks like.”
Sally burst into tears and gave him a big hug, and Dan was so … happy.
We were relieved, and grateful, and shocked and … I don’t know how to explain our emotions right then. But Dan … he was just flat out really, really happy.
Dan had a much more difficult and challenging childhood. He had faced serious financial stresses growing up and it gave rise to demons that he had to face himself in later life. Decades later I was able to return the favor.
And he was shocked, happy, grateful … but it made me just … really, really happy. It was a wonderful feeling.
I wanted to write an end of 2020, start of a New Year newsletter, and I want everyone to know two things.
First, the greatest gift you can give to a true friend is the opportunity to help.
I really want you to think on that for a moment.
When Dan gave us the $400, which really saved our bacon at that moment, we were grateful, but Dan was joyous. When we were able to return the favor years later, I realized how deep and amazing the gift was that Dan had given me … not the opportunity to return the favor.
That was irrelevant.
It was the opportunity to help.
It is a deep, deep, abiding human joy.
When you reach out to a friend or family and ask for help, you are not simply taking. You are giving a gift of trust, and an opportunity to reach out and be a part of your life in a meaningful way. Asking for and accepting help is not a one-way street.
If you are lucky enough to have enough at the moment, look around. Reach out to friends and people around you. Just check in.
Actually, that’s pretty good advice for everyone.
But check in. There are people in your orbit, in your life, who are truly suffering. Unless you pay attention, and just reach out to say hello and … are attentive to how they react … you will miss the pain. And you will miss out an opportunity to help … and to bring a greater connection to each other.
So 2020 SUCKED.
That is not news. But we can turn the corner on a horrible year, look to a better in 2021 and use this moment of global pain and grief to come together, to make everyone a little happier and better in this world.
These lessons I learned from Dan informed my life. I am grateful to him, and I hope he reads this. In 2008 I saw massive human pain, and I realized I could help.
I changed my business that moment and became a consumer attorney because I could help. And in helping, made my life better.
Is my industry a business? Yes, of course. But I am blessed. I took my expertise and turned it into a business that allowed me to help.
And brings me joy every day.
And my second thing I want you to know is for people who are suffering financial pain and worry:
The gift I can give you is knowledge.
Knowledge of how the system works. What your real options and concerns are.
And that may not sound like a big thing as you read this, but it is. It really is.
When I am able to empower someone with understanding … so that he or she can go back to making decisions rather than being pushed around by banks or financial companies. That look of comprehension, of ‘Wow. I can do this!’
That is the best part of my practice. It brings me joy every time I can give someone hope, and empowerment and understanding.
I tried to explain this in a blog post I wrote in February titled ‘Why I give Legal Advice Away for Free’
I hope it explains how I am able to help people … why I love getting on the phone or a video call and working with folks in trouble to ease some of the worry and concern.
Anyway, I hope this helps round out a truly horrible year. Let’s tackle 2021 together. We all have each other’s back.