THY CAMINO: Gratitude & Contentment – Eric Liddell and Carmen on the Camino

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MY CAMINO – THY CAMINO
The Walk Before Us – A Step at a Time on the Camino de Santiago 

This is the type of post under Thy Will I had intended to do sooner and more frequently. That said, better late than never. Hopefully, I will have time for more as planned.

Today, people walk the Camino for different reasons. This has been confirmed to me many times over as I have met pilgrims from Denmark, Australia, Poland, Ireland, Korea, Brazil and numerous other places. Interestingly, a fairly common reason (usually among other feasons) is to give thanks in some way for their lives, or as a Christian (and perhaps others) might say, for the blessings of their life.

This past week was “Staff Appreciation” week at our law firm, LeClairRyan. In a very real sense it was all about gratitude. In the same or similar vein as pilgrims along the Camino. For my purposes here, I note that the expressions of gratitude by a few of my partners were not some generalized statements of being thankful, but their sincere expressions were directed towards someone – here, the non-lawyers at the firm that help make us who we are and help us provide the kind of service critical to our mission and our success.

Coincidentally (for those who have read posts here before – I remind you of what C. S. Lewis said about coincidences), this very topic of being grateful came up as I walked many kilometers of the Meseta in northern Spain. As I left Burgos in the predawn light I ran junto Carmen, a 25year-old Spanish woman put on the Camino, as we tried to read the way markings out of the city. I walked a long day with Carmen and learned much about her and life in Spain. I was mostly taken and touched by her perspective – “I may have been unemployed for 3 years but I’m more blessed than most.” She continued, “I’m rich in so many things – I live in a wonderful community, I have a roof over my head and I have a wonderful family.” Even though Spain was continuing to suffer from a sagging economy and opportunities for her were few, she was content, happy, and comfortable that life would be fine.

I couldn’t help but recall a great scene from Chariots of Fire when Harold Abrahams looks at Eric Liddell and laments that – unlike Liddell – he had never been content. As he said, “when the gun goes off, I have 10 seconds to prove myself.” He lacked contentment because his hope, his sense of value was based upon his personal achievement.

For most then, it’s hard to have a sense of gratitude, if you are not content. You are always looking for something more. You are always wondering why some have more than you or some have achieved more – whether it be recognition or material success. My observations suggest that the inability to be content with whatever you have or with wherever you are is a function of where you place your hope – where you – like Harold Abrahams – place your sense of worth.

This then is prelude for my own thoughts about gratitude. Yes, I many “peregrines” I thought that time of the Camino would give me the generally uninterrupted time to consider seriously those things for which I have grateful – and make appropriate notation thereof.

When I think back on my first 55 years, I have an enormous list of people for whom I am grateful. Many would suggest that I have “succeeded” in life – however you may define that. I have had a successful professional career, I have achieved some things outside of the work environment, I have some great friends, and I have an extraordinary wife and children. So how do I assess that “success”? If I were to focus on MY WILL I’d say that I pulled myself by my own bootstraps. That I worked hard and that I created opportunities for myself and by the dint of my smarts and hard work I became a successful – all glory and honor to me.

But, I now know that that is not true. Rather, I am exceedingly aware of an extraordinary number of people that helped me become the “success” that I may have achieved. I touched on this in my book The Race Before Us, but allow me to expand. Whatever I have achieved, whatever people point to and suggest that I have “succeeded,” I now know was the work of many people, and inevitably the grace of a God. So, when I take the time to carefully think about how I have been so blessed beyond measure, I recognize that a great number of people did a great number of things to get me to where I am today. When I think back upon it I have to acknowledge that I am grateful for –

– my parents, who communicated and inculcated values
– my patents, who sacrificed so I could attend college
– Judge Shelley, who served as my first professional mentor, and encouraged others to take a chance on a brash northerner
– Butch and Burt, who thought I might be a reasonable associate
– Tom, who provided an extraordinary amount of wisdom in two years, lessons from which I have repeated for almost 30 years
– Tom and Slate, who thought I might be able to contribute to a new practice team at a marquis law firm
– Bonnie, who worked tirelessly for many years to see that my work product was complete and first rate
– Stan and Frank, who thought I might be able to stand on my own two feet and develop a practice
– Stan and Gary, who took in as a partner a cocky 35 year-old who thought he could conquer the world
– Bill, who advanced our practice and supported my ego, while showing me true intellect and true humility
– Vern for stepping up whenever I needed support
– Chris and Kirk and Bill and Mike and Brandy for handling matters better than I could
– Kim, who handled so many matters and otherwise covered for me
– Rob, who has consistently made me look better than I am
– Jeff, who asked me to be co-counsel, who always trusted me as co-counsel, and who supported me as a candidate for the most important professional role in my career
– Carl and Mike, who have been along side (with extraordinary patience) for most of the journey
– John, Wally, Giff, Ned, and Kevin, who have provided me with more fun and camaraderie for which anyone could ask

And I am grateful to those other friends, acquaintances, and colleagues who I have failed to mention.

And, of course, I am eternally grateful for an extraordinary wife, for whom I’m sure I could have been a better husband. Thankfully, With God’s grace, I will have many years to try to make that right.

So, when I think about THY WILL, I’d like to think that I have been blessed beyond measure, not because what I have done, but because what He has done. Like our law firm, we are not happy or thankful or grateful in a vacuum, we are grateful to people. Likewise, when I look back on 55 pretty good years, I’d like to think that I am grateful, but it too is not some generalized, unspecific sense – but a recognition that I have been blessed by God beyond measure by wonderful parents, an incredible family, generous colleagues and great friends. Why – I have no idea, but I still have a few weeks on the Camino. X

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  1. #1 by carl meyer on April 26, 2014 - 11:23 pm

    Very well said. I am grateful as well to be your friend and brother in Christ. I look forward to seeing you when you return,Lord willing.

  2. #2 by barbara tucci on April 28, 2014 - 1:20 am

    Continued blessings on your journey. Our God is such an awesome God! I had the chance to talk with Brooke this evening. I was sharing with her, that a nun taught us to give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives, after receiving the Eucharist, rather than asking for His help. Your post really affirmed Sr. Mary Martha’s lesson!

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