We all have good days and bad days. Some days, life is good and everything seems to be going well. Others, we feel as if we can't get out from under a dark cloud of sadness and misfortune.
But what about when our own bad days are so difficult that they lead us into self-defeating and self-destructive behavior?
And what about when our entire country seems to be having a bad day - or a bad year?
At NYSBA's most recent House of Delegates meeting, I chose to jettison my planned remarks on recent association activities and accomplishments, and instead to reflect on events that had taken place in the previous couple of weeks:
In the span of 72 hours in America, 11 people were murdered in Pittsburgh because of their faith, while praying in their place of worship; 14 pipe bombs were sent to current and former public officials, including two former Presidents; and two African-Americans were targeted and murdered by a white supremacist at a grocery store in Kentucky, as the murderer told a white bystander that he was safe because "whites don't kill whites."
Weeks later, I am still struggling to make some sense of those horrific events. And I suspect that many of you feel the same way.
As attorneys, we've devoted our lives to the law, and to the idea that the United States is a nation of laws. We are dedicated to religious liberty, freedom of speech and all of the other rights that are enumerated in the Constitution.
That is, I believe, why I felt both horrified and heartbroken.
At a time like this, it may be all too easy to feel that there is little that any of us can do, as individuals, to make things better.
However, upon reflection, I submit to you that we attorneys, we members of this great profession, we have a vitally important role to play, a role that we must recognize and embrace.
Lawyers are problem solvers. People turn to us when they are confronted with all sorts of troubling situations - and we help them during those difficult circumstances.
We are peacemakers. We advocate for fairness and compromise.
Our analytical skills help us see multiple facets of the same story.
Our dedication to the rule of law and what it means to our society gives us the strength and commitment to find solutions where others may not see them.
We are more than mere advocates, we are leaders. We are leaders of our profession. We are leaders of our communities. We are leaders of our local bar associations. We are leaders in our places of worship.
I urge each of you - in your communities, your homes, your workplaces, your places of worship - to deliver a message of civility. Because civility is the very thread that binds the tapestry that is the rule of law.
We have all heard the phrase, "If you see something, say something." We need to do just that.
When we encounter someone speaking or acting with anger or incivility, we must have the strength - and the courage - to turn down the heat, to remind others that we are not enemies because we disagree about political matters.
I know it won't be easy.
But it has never been more important for us step up and lead. It has never been more important for us to be a part of the solution, to help heal our communities and our country.
It is fitting, then, that this issue of the Journal focuses on leadership that NYSBA members are providing in an area that many attorneys would rather not think or talk about: providing support and assistance to lawyers who are struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues.
While the Journal generally includes content focused on discussion and analysis of the law, many of this issue's most impactful articles are personal accounts of how far down people fell in their professional and personal lives - and how they came back.
My wife Cindy and I were overwhelmed when we attended NYSBA's annual Lawyer Assistance Program retreat at Silver Bay on Lake George. While I have long understood the devastating impact of substance abuse and had some awareness of the power and potential of 12-step programs, it was truly extraordinary to participate in these meetings and to hear the compelling and sometimes horrific stories of dramatic descent and remarkable rehabilitation.
We heard attorneys talk about how drinking or drug use led to losing their spouses, families, and law licenses. One person spoke of being asleep behind the steering wheel of his car and being awakened by a police officer, who noted that he was facing the wrong way on a busy highway - but continuing to drink and drive until, subsequently, he had a serious accident that sent him through his car's windshield. Another ended up engaged in a conspiracy to commit murder. Still another was addicted to heroin for two decades before finally turning his life around.
What is notable about these stories and others we heard is that these people ultimately got help and got their lives back on track. For some it took many years. Others may have relapsed one or more times before they succeeded, but in the end, they did succeed.
The bigger message behind these individuals' stories is truly inspiring to me: No matter how low you go, you can come back. The trip back can be arduous and painful. But there is a road back.
Our Lawyer Assistance Committee, Judicial Wellness Committee and Lawyer Assistance Program continue their extraordinary work in helping our struggling colleagues travel the road to recovery. In these troubled times, I am profoundly inspired and grateful for their commitment and hard work.
And, as I reflect on recent events in our country, the insights gained from the Lawyer Assistance Program events remind me that for our country, too, no matter how bad things get, there is a road back, and we lawyers can - and must - help lead the way.