Timothy Hufman Accepts the 2016 Morsch Public Service Award
We all know that life can be unfair and sometimes even cruel.
I am reminded of a boy named Julio, whom I met in the 1970s while I was running a group home for teenage boys in New York City. When Julio came to me, he was 15 years old and terribly scarred over his entire face and body due to third-degree burns he suffered as a boy when he was trapped in his Bronx apartment during a fire. Thereafter, whenever he did anything wrong, his parents punished him by holding a lit candle to his face. That abuse continued until his parents threw him out of the home at the age of 15 to fend for himself.
So here was this teenage kid knocking at my door homeless, and scarred both physically and emotionally while growing up in of the worst and poorest parts of the Bronx. Life had truly been unfair.
Over the years, when I have thought about Julio, I have wondered where I would be in my life today if I’d had to endure even one of the challenges he faced.
Is my presence before you today because of my accomplishments, or is it because of my good fortune? I think we all know the answer to that question. And if we are willing to be honest with ourselves, isn’t what I am saying about myself true for most if not all of us in this room?
We are here not because of what we have done, but because of what we have been given. We are the privileged ones, and yet, the unfairness of life is also part of our stories. Some of you have experienced that unfairness in the form of discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Still others have struggled with chronic depression or unexpected tragedies.
And yet, notwithstanding these struggles, all of you are in this room today as successful attorneys or other professionals. And you are here because each of you has refused to let the unfairness in your own life have the last word. You have persevered.
And with the compassion that can come from such struggles, as attorneys we can stand with our clients and reach out to the Julios of the world and say, that unfairness and injustice in your life does not have to be the last word.
What a privilege we have as attorneys to take on this role and offer the possibility of hope to those who gave up on this concept a long time ago.
At the end of the day, doesn’t this kind of service to others begin to define a life of meaning? It is not based on a pursuit of our own self-gratification. And our worth will not ultimately be determined by our fleeting successes. Rather, it is only when we choose to exist in a world in which the needs of the Julios, or the duties of citizenship, or the call of God, or something else of this order crucially matters to us that our lives will rise above the trivial and strive towards the authentic. And isn’t this the challenge that faces each of us who has been given so much?
The Julios are out there. The only question is, what will be our response when we find them knocking at our door?