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Losing My Balance

By R. Steven Haught

We have all heard of “work/life balance” by now. It is a common CLE topic. The OBA even has a committee devoted to the subject. When I first heard the phrase “work/life balance,” it conjured up something foreign and subversive — something invented by lawyers in San Francisco sipping chardonnay with their wok-stir-fried tofu. However, as I have become older and wiser, my view has changed.

Recently while attending a funeral, I started thinking about who should be my pallbearers. Regrettably I could not think of enough men who would be suitable for the task, men who wouldn’t say: “Me? Why me?

I haven’t seen him in years!” I began with a list of the groomsmen at my wedding but soon realized that I had lost touch
with them.

One was a man named Ken.

I first met Ken in high school, and we became fast friends. We lost touch for a few years as we attended different colleges but were reunited in law school. Following law school, we bought houses near each other and saw each other frequently on weekends and met for lunch or drinks at least once per week. Our families traveled to Hawaii, to OU/Texas weekends and bowl games together. He and his wife had two boys. He gave the oldest one my middle name and the youngest one my first name.

When my law firm unexpectedly broke up in the mid-‘90s, I called Ken to share my bad news. He listened patiently as I expressed my unhappiness with the situation, and then he said he had bad news as well. His wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer. It made my bad news seem trivial by comparison. After many years of treatment, and temporary recovery, she died. We did practice law together for five years and enjoyed each other’s company.

Then I moved on and practiced a different type of law, a demanding practice with an international clientele that called at all times of the day requiring immediate attention. The days of going out for lunch were over. Ken called me for lunch. Usually I would beg off and say that I wanted to go but could not go that day. He was disappointed. Sometimes I did go with him, and I always enjoyed our time together, but I was always looking at my watch or checking emails on my phone.

Many times I would need to leave abruptly to go back to the office, and we always ate lunch no more than two or three blocks away. It got to the point that I dreaded hearing my receptionist say that he was calling because I did not want to hear the disappointment in his voice when I declined his lunch invitation. The last time he called to ask me to meet him for lunch, I said that I really could not do it that day but would call him the following week.

He said that he had something to tell me and wanted to tell me in person. I resisted and told him that I had no time that day. He took a deep breath and then reluctantly told me his news on the phone — he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and did not have much longer to live. I put down the phone and drove to his office and put my arms around him.

We spent some time together before he died, but he was too sick to do much. I was with him in the hospital as he spent his final days and helped feed him his final meals. But I knew it was all too little too late. As I and other close friends carried his casket to the grave site and watched as they lowered him into the ground, I said goodbye to my friend for 40 years. I knew I would miss those calls asking me to go to lunch.

Mr. Haught practices in Oklahoma City.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal, OBJ  85 2352 (Nov. 1, 2014)

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