“Come in, sit down, I’ll be with you in a moment, I’m just finishing a letter.”
He stood framed by a bay window, his back to me, silhouetted against the morning light. He had a tape recorder in his hand and for the next minute and a half he dictated a client letter, punctuation included, a flat matter-of-fact tone, but calm, authoritative and certain. He put the recorder down and pulled his chair back to sit facing me across his immense desk. Towers of papers and files on either side of his pin-striped shoulders, his gold half-rimmed glasses low on his nose, he looked across the top of them and fixed his eyes on me.
“So, Paul, you want to be a solicitor; why?”
At that very moment, I seemed to lose the power of speech. Two seconds before I would have known the answer. I had rehearsed all manner of answers to all manner of questions; I was as well prepared for this moment of my life as I could possibly be, but just then I didn’t have a relevant coherent syllable in my head.
I took a long, deep breath and paused for a few moments to notice what it was like to be in this room at this time. There were framed property deeds on the walls behind him, each with bright red seals like dollops of strawberry jam. There was an elegant lamp on his desk with a green glass shade. It offered little by way of light but illuminated a narrow strip of the leather inlay on his desk. Under my feet I could feel the runkle of a large ornate rug that made it hard to push back in my chair. I could see a family photograph of two smart looking boys in school uniform on top of a five-drawer black metal cabinet. One of the drawers was pulled out with a file open and resting on it. I could hear the tick-tock of a grandfather clock behind me, and I saw him take a sip of coffee from a white china cup.
I looked at the gentlemen opposite me, gathered in my anxiety and put it behind a smile, “Yes, I do want to be a solicitor; very much”.
I really don’t remember what I said next, but I must have said something reasonably sensible because a few days later I was offered a training contract. Later that year I started a journey that now brings me to a wet November morning in 2020 writing a blog post on my laptop about a conversation that happened in the summer of 1985.
As I write these words, I am amused by the quiet symmetrical bookends of thirty-five years of work in what I euphemistically call my career. It started with me watching a man in his late fifties dictating words into a handheld tape recorder, and now here I am, a man in my late fifties, tapping keys to create words on my computer. Both men comfortable with faded familiar things around them, and with a coffee within easy reach.
I am also struck by another, I hope more important, thought.
In 1985 I didn’t know what might come next. I was frightened and I wasn’t sure if I could cope with my new role, let alone succeed in it. I had no experience to call on and everything to come was unknown. Now in 2020 it is the same. I don’t know what will come next. I am not sure if I will cope, let alone succeed, and this frightens me today as much as it did thirty-five years ago.
As our world is tipped upside down (again), so many things are unknown. However, the lad who took a deep breath in 1985 was about to start the adventure of his dreams. He was blessed to be helped by amazing people, to go to places he could not imagine and to have experiences (good and bad) that would enrich his life forever. Being frightened then was understandable and ok; and being frightened today is understandable and ok too.
We all have difficult days ahead, perhaps days that will be hard to face; but we have come this far. We have lived a bit, done things, felt things and achieved a great deal.
It is ok not to have all the answers today. Life’s jagged journey is more often than not coming to terms with accepting that we’re all looking for answers to something while trying to be comfortable with not knowing those answers or where to find them.
It is not the answers we need most, but the courage to live without them, the kindness of others to help us on our way and the openness to share what we have found to help others on their way too.
I still worry about the lad I was because he is always with me. His vulnerability was, and still is, real and constant, but he trusted that answers would come and that good people would look out for him too. Today I am certain that we will find our way again; and if we can be there for each other, we will work it out. We will be just fine.
Please take care. Paul xx