Last month while I was at a party, I ran into a man that I had assisted with some legal problems in the mid-1980s. (For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call him “Mark.”) When I saw Mark at the party he didn’t look very well to me. In addition to being extremely thin, his skin looked dull and pasty.
When I asked Mark how everything was going, he told me that last year he was diagnosed with cancer. He said that he had been receiving chemotherapy which made him so sick that he was constantly vomiting. He unbuttoned his shirt to show me where a central line had been inserted into his chest so he could be fed intravenously. He proceeded to tell me that he had an upcoming surgery scheduled for the removal of two tumors.
After listening to what Mark had to say, I asked him the same question that I had asked him on numerous occasions when I represented him during the 1980s: “Have you been praying your rosary every day?” I already knew what his answer was going to be. He was going to tell me the same thing he had repeatedly told me during the 1980s when we were in frequent communication.
I was right. He told me that he wasn’t praying the rosary and then followed up with numerous reasons (excuses) as to why he didn’t have the time to pray.
Mark grew up in a good Catholic home with a mother who had a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I think he knew I was right whenever I talked to him about the importance of prayer, but he was too bullheaded to admit that he needed assistance from anyone, including God.
When I represented Mark in the 1980s, he was in his twenties. He was confident, bold, and aggressive. In fact, he was so confident, he thought he was invincible. At that time, I sensed that he was eventually going to get himself into trouble. I told him that if he didn’t start praying on a regular basis, by the time he was 40, he was going to be in bad shape – spiritually, physically, emotionally, and financially.
Mark eventually got himself into trouble financially and stopped paying me for my services. Each time I asked him for payment, he gave me excuses. I continued to perform legal work for him, but he never got around to paying me what he owed me.
I finally told Mark that he needed to find another lawyer to assist him with his legal problems, but he ignored what I said. He was persistent, manipulative, and charming. Against my better judgment, I continued to help him out. As I look back, I think the reason I continued to help him with his legal problems was because I thought he would eventually “wake up” and listen to my advice about the importance of prayer.
As Mark continued to take advantage of me, I became resentful. I again told him that he needed to find another lawyer. He acted as though I was bluffing and kept calling me. I wasn’t bluffing. I stopped returning his phone calls. That didn’t deter him from continuing to call me. He kept calling and leaving messages for me to call him. Each time he left a message, I had my office manager return his call and tell him I couldn’t help him and that he needed to contact the Peoria County Bar Association for a referral to another lawyer.
Mark finally stopped calling me. A couple years later, I read an article in the local newspaper that he had been arrested for committing a serious crime. He ended up pleading guilty to the crime and spent several months in the county jail. When he got out of jail, he moved to another state. After living out-of-state for several years, he moved back to the Peoria and started a small business.
When Mark returned to Peoria, he called and left a message that he needed to talk to me about helping him with some legal issues. After I failed to return his call, he left several more messages and then stopped calling. After that, about once a year, he would call and leave four or five messages for me to call him. He was like a bad cold virus. He would periodically show up, make a nuisance of himself, and then go away again.
I successfully ignored Mark until last month when I saw him at the party. He’s now in his 50s. He told me that the chemotherapy has not stopped the cancer from spreading and that he could very well be dead within the next 12 months. Based on my conversation with him, it doesn’t appear to me that Mark has changed at all. He’s still ignorant, manipulative, and self-centered.
When he told me he wasn’t praying the rosary, I asked him if he knew the mysteries of the rosary. After he answered “no,” I asked him if he had a booklet or a pamphlet that listed and explained the mysteries. When he told me “no,” I asked him for his address and told him I would mail him a pamphlet that listed and explained each of the mysteries of the rosary.
I recently mailed the pamphlet to Mark with a note that I had offered up a holy hour for him.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that the more I try to help certain people, the more I hurt them and myself. I hurt them because they don’t really want my help. The harder I push, the harder they push back. They view me as trying to bully them, so they dig in their heels and refuse to budge. I hurt myself because I become angry and resentful toward them for not responding to my concerns for them.
With Mark, the harder I tried, the worse it got. This is what happens when you try your best to help someone who isn’t willing to help himself.
Now, having learned my lesson, most of time when I feel the need to give advice to someone who isn’t paying me for the advice, I’m very careful about what I say. If I think a person needs direction, I ask questions and learn as much I can about the person. Then I decide whether I want to offer some suggestions. If I do speak up and attempt to give some direction, I limit what I say. Then I back off and wait and see if the person is willing to help himself.
Most people never learn this lesson. I cringe every time I see someone trying to force their opinions or beliefs on another person who is not willing to listen and act on what is being said. While the person who is offering the advice insists on being heard, they do not realize that they are doing harm to themselves and their relationship with the other person.
If Mark calls me in the future, I’m still going to refuse to perform any legal work for him. There are more than 700 other lawyers in Central Illinois that he can call for assistance. But I will take his call and talk to him. If he tells me that he is doing his best to pray every day, then that will be an indication to me that he is ready to help himself. If that is the case, then maybe after almost 30 years of waiting, I can move forward with him. We’ll see what happens.