July 27, 2009
I met with an elderly widower at his home today. We addressed his legal issues, then lingered and talked a while. He mentioned how he'd always lived in his hometown, except for three years in the service during World War II. He's 86 years old, physically strong and mentally sharp. I decided to take a chance and ask him about his wartime service, aware that many from his vanishing generation prefer not to discuss such experiences. But he was ready.
He worked in ground support for American and R.A.F. airmen flying bombing missions from a base in England. The airfield was under constant threat from German attacks and other similar bases were hit, costing many lives. Once, he sneaked aboard one of our planes for a mission over Germany, thanks to a friendship forged with the bomber's Captain. But soon, he explained, choking with tears at the words, he learned not to make friends with the bomber crews. Because so many never made it back. It was less painful if they weren't your friends. "We stopped getting to know them," he said, "It was a decision we made. We lost too many friends."
When he finally returned home, it was more of the same. Too many friends from his town were gone too, killed in the war. He struggled with guilt. Why did he survive? Why not them instead? And he struggles with the weight of that guilt even now, an old man alone so many years later. Still tearful, hankerchief in hand, he pointed to his Bible on the coffee table, "The only one that helps me through is the Lord."
That's the real attorney-client privilege. To be invited in, to be granted a privileged connection to the life's journeys of our clients.