Solving problems for our clients is stressful work for all involved. It is stressful for our elderly who need care. It is stressful for their spouses. It is stressful for adult children caring for their parents. It is stressful for parents taking care of their loved ones with special needs. Often, the system seems too complicated and the obstacles too large to overcome. Sometimes you might think that it’s too late to start and that all is lost. Other times you might think that all the work you’ve invested over a lifetime is all for nothing.
This past Labor Day, in preparation for a get together at my mother-in-law’s house, I decided to make homemade bread. I’ve had a lot of difficult circumstances and problems to solve with my clients lately, and I was in a pensive mood. I’ve always enjoyed making bread. This time, as I went through the process, I thought about why I enjoyed it so much. And then I thought about some of the lessons and parallels I take from making bread as I develop relationships with my clients to help navigate difficult issues for themselves and their loved ones.
The Elegance of Simplicity. Flour, water, salt. One of my favorite experiences in life is tearing into a warm loaf of homemade bread, and realizing that something so sublime started with flour, water, and salt. My relationship with my clients starts with simple ingredients – straight talk about problems or concerns, plain explanations of complex legal issues, and trust. Once we identify the client’s goal, it is critical to continually revisit the fundamental, simple “ingredients” with which to begin. And we often refer back to these “ingredients” on our way to our goal, almost as a reminder of where we started and where we are headed.
The Value of Time. Making bread reminds me of the value of time and not just my time. Add all those simple ingredients together, and it takes time for what is living inside the dough to transform those ingredients into bread. My recipe calls for an initial 19-hour rise and then a three-hour proofing. It forces me to put the bowl aside and go about my other business. Although, I’ve found that I’m always thinking about the dough and wondering if it’s developing properly, thinking of little ways to improve on the initial steps…recalling mistakes I’ve made in the past. And I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t rush it. Like my bread dough, many of the problems I’m solving with my clients require time. Time to let issues bubble up to the surface. Time to sleep on big decisions. Time to think and take a step back and reflect. And time to realize that time itself is relative to perspective.
The Significance of Humanity. Every time I make bread, I think about a person who lived 4,000 years ago on the other side of the world who did the exact same thing as I’m doing at that moment. There is something strange and beautiful about feeling connected to human history in such a personal way. It reminds me of my own humanity. Flour, water, and salt are transformed into nourishment and comfort. I often feel the same connection developing between my clients and myself as we work together to create solutions and overcome obstacles – a connection which transforms a transactional interaction into a human relationship.
The Comfort in Ambiguity. I’ve learned to trust the recipe without needing to understand it. This was a very difficult lesson for me. I’ve tried everything from increasing the temperature of the water to setting the dough on the laundry dryer to try to get the yeast to grow faster. I’ve kneaded the dough to death, and I’ve tried barely touching the dough before it goes into the oven. I’ve read about how yeast grows, what water is best, and I’ve tried all kinds of different yeast varieties. But any time I take matters into my own hands, I’m disappointed with the result. I’ve realized that by manipulating the process for the sake of satisfying my need to understand and control, I am complicating what is so naturally simple. The result is a loss of enjoyment during the process and bad bread. I now find comfort in not understanding exactly how it all comes together. I find comfort in having faith in the process. I find comfort in letting the yeast organisms do what yeast organisms do! Making bread has taught me that it’s okay to let go and rely on trust. Many of my clients experience the same difficulty when we are working together on complicated cases. I have clients that have the same desire to control and manipulate the process merely for the sake of feeding their own personality needs. There is nothing wrong with this desire. But when my clients realize that our relationship is built on trust, and they can let go of certain issues and rely on me and the process in which we are engaged, things tend to fall into place naturally, as everyone is playing their proper role.
So for me, making bread truly is therapeutic. It helps me think simply. It recalibrates my perspective on time. It reminds me that I’m a human being. And it humbles me to know that I will never fully understand how or why things work the way they do, and that is OKAY. In its own way, I think making bread makes me a better attorney.
This is the recipe I have been using for years to make bread that all of your family and friends will love.