Unremarkable Acts of Kindness

by JHS, Esq.

Bob and Mary Schindler spoke at Life Legal Defense Foundation’s (“LLDF”) annual dinner on November 12, 2005, in Berkeley. It was my privilege to finally meet them face to face, and have a little time to visit with them.

The first thing that struck me about the Schindlers is that they appeared to be utterly exhausted — physically, mentally, emotionally. Since Terri’s death last March, they have been traveling around the country speaking about the case, her death, and doing their best to educate families about the dangers they could face if a loved one becomes incapacitated. As I looked into their eyes and listened to them speak, it seemed incomprehensible to me that either of them could even get out of bed in the morning and concluded that they must be carrying on through a combination of sheer iron will and a deeply-held faith.

The Schindlers were not, until their whole nightmare began when Michael Schiavo decided to end Terri’s life, public people. And that is readily apparent both when you meet them in person and when you hear them speak. They are plainly still uncomfortable with public speaking, with Bob reading a prepared statement as Mary holds and turns the pages for him while standing next to him to support his efforts. He stops periodically to interject, clarify, or emphasize various points. Mary corrects him from time to time. It is obvious that these are just ordinary people who were thrust into a situation they could never have imagined or prepared for and had to do the best they could to deal with it.

I first became aware of Terri, her plight, and her parents’ bravery when my case, Conservatorship of Wendland, was pending here in California. I did a few radio appearances with Bob, most notably on KSFO with Barbara Simpson, “The Babe in the Bunker.” Barbara became interested in and outspoken about both cases. Bob and I corresponded via e-mail and spoke on the telephone. I gave him what little assistance I could offer, given that Terri’s case was unfolding in Florida under a different set of laws and her mental impairment more profound than Robert’s (an important point because, although George Greer, the Florida judge who issued Terri’s death sentence, found her to be in a persistent vegetative state (“pvs”), nobody even dared to suggest that Robert Wendland was pvs), making the Schindlers’ legal battle more daunting.

I don’t remember when I first heard that the Schindlers were coming to the end of their financial rope. I believe I heard it not directly from Bob, but from one of my friends at LLDF, but I am just not sure. I do know that Bob confirmed the fact at some point.

Apparently — I have no recollection of this at all — I advised Bob to contact LLDF to see if that organization could provide some financial assistance or other support with the fight to save Terri. Bob insisted during his remarks at the LLDF dinner that I referred him to that group and, had I not done so, their fight to save Terri, and her life, would have ended much sooner because LLDF did, in fact, assist the Schindlers.

WOW! I just sat there with my mouth hanging open because, as I said, I have no recollection of that conversation.

Moreover, because I don’t remember it, I had no appreciation that I played any part — no matter how small or inconsequential — in the battle for Terri’s life, other than providing moral and prayer support, sending some legal information (briefs, etc. that I filed here in California) to the Schindlers’ counsel on the chance that they might provide some helpful information, and speaking out (for all the good that did since I’m not a celebrity and have no platform) against what happened to Terri.

I have referred many, many people to LLDF over the years, so it would not have been out of character for me to give Bob the same information and advice. In fact, following the conclusion of the Wendland case, I had to change my cell phone number because it was placed on press releases and I was besieged with calls from people wanting me to take on their case, folks who just wanted to give me their opinion about the case (both sides — including a lot of people who just wanted to call me vile names and then hang up), authors hustling their books, etc. I routinely referred prospective clients to LLDF.

Bob’s revelation made me extremely uncomfortable not only because it was unexpected, but also because I was embarassed by my failure to remember the conversation.

You see, to me, it was “just another day.” Just another unremarkable conversation during which I (apparently) found myself giving out LLDF’s telephone number, assuring the caller that Mary Riley, their tireless Administrator and my dear friend, would provide guidance — and then getting back to whatever activity I was engaged in.

But, unbeknownst to me, the discussion was much more than that to Bob, Mary, and the Schindler family.

Again . . . WOW!

How often does this happen to us as we go about living our insanely busy lives? I’ve been thinking a lot about that question since November 12th.

And, more importantly, how often does this happen to us but we never find out about it later? In other words, how many times as we go about the routine of our daily lives do we have a profound impact upon someone else’s life that we never learn about later?

There is, of course, no way to know, no formula by which to compute an estimate. It is and will remain one of those “cosmic mysteries” that baffle and amaze us. But for me, at least, it has been worth pondering and I have found myself — not consistently, of course, because I am crazy busy and am on autopilot more often than I care to admit — trying to be more aware of my actions, my words, and their potential impact on others. That is, of course, the only thing that we can do in the face of our limitations, the uncertainties of life in general, and the fact that we can control our own actions and words, but not others’.

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