Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Finding the Courage to Forgive

In January 2010, when I met Elizabeth Gilbert at her book signing, everyone was thanking her for sharing her story. By the time I got to meet her, I decided enough people had thanked her, so I said something different. I said, "Liz, congratulations on finding the courage to love again." She stopped midway through her signature and looked up at me with an inquisitive glance. I then explained that I am a divorced divorce lawyer, so I understand how hard it is to let go of the past and move forward. She mockingly told me that I did not need to read the book "Committed" because I already knew everything in there, but I shook my head and said, "no, unlike you I have not found the courage to truly love again."

Lots of people have been telling me that I have exhibited great courage over the past six years: I decided to run my own law firm for over five years while raising an infant; I gracefully managed to get through my own divorce without destroying my family; and just this past week I made the journey to find my father and his whole family. Many have asked me how I did all of this, and the only thing I can really say is that each action was carefully undertaken after a thoughtful cost/benefit analysis. Any major decision in life requires us to consider what will be the consequences of our actions. Another motivating factor for me is the desire to avoid regret. Of course we all have regrets in life, that is because we all make mistakes.

Ultimately, very few people will understand us and love us despite our flaws, that is what makes friends and family so special. When certain relationships do not work out, too many view this as a rejection. I do not see it this way- I truly believe the saying that some friends come into our lives for a reason, some come into our lives for a season, and it is a select few that are life long friends. These past few months, it has been my life long friends that have really come shining through for me. I appreciate all the encouragement everyone has given me over the past five years, but I am here to admit that I am not as brave as you might think. I have not yet found that courage to love again. But I do believe that if I can find it in my heart to forgive my father after all these years, then I am that much closer to finding love again.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Puzzle That Took 38 Years To Complete

In 1971, a woman met a Spaniard while on a cruise. Nine months later, I was born. A nasty court case ensued, and without the admission of any medical evidence, the court found insufficient grounds to make a determination of paternity.

My mother was publicly humiliated and felt betrayed by the judicial system. As a result, I was told as a child that my father was dead, and my mother insisted that I become a lawyer and learn my rights. As fate would have it, I got a scholarship to go to a boarding school in Andover, MA when I was 14. I moved to Washington, DC when I was 17 to attend Georgetown University, and by age 25 I completed law school at The George Washington University Law School. By pure coincidence, I began my legal career as a family law attorney, and ever since that is all I have ever done.

In law school, and my first six years as a litigator, I was taught to hear my client's story, then to advocate his/her position as zealously as possible. Five years ago, however, following my own divorce, I underwent a complete transformation in my legal training. I pursued courses in mediation and Collaborative Law. Through these studies, I was transformed. I learned to hear both parties' version of events, as well as their goals and concerns. I was taught to view success as the best possible solution for the family as a whole, not just from one party's perspective. The results in my cases these past few years have been far more rewarding than I ever imagined.

Now I have taken my whole new skill set and applied it to my personal life. After all these years, I sought out my alleged father. Looking at him is like looking in a mirror, and his whole family agrees that the resemblance is just uncanny. With the help of my aunt, uncle and cousins, I have been able to learn all about the past, and of course through my own father I was able to hear his side of the story, and why he fought the court case so vehemently back in the '70s. I now understand what happened back then, and I am not angry. It is just immensely sad that we have lost so many years together. But, we cannot focus on the past. We need to be grateful for the opportunity presented here and focus on the future -- the memories we have yet to create.

After 38 years, we finally took a DNA test a few days ago and the results are pending. I could never have gotten this through a court order. No law suit at this point would ever have required these people to talk to me or let me into their lives. The moral of this story is that not everything can be achieved in a court of law, which can be very unforgiving. We all make mistakes, and so do the courts. Sometimes, those errors have severe consequences that can last a lifetime. I am living proof of that reality. Yet here I am, trying to minimize the damage done and prove that the best solutions are most often achieved outside a courtroom.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Looking Back In Order to Move Forward

Six years ago, in March 2005 I did the unexpected-- I got separated. For 32 years, I did everything I was expected to do: finished law school, got married, bought a house, a nice car, a Golden Retriever, and had a child. It seems like the perfect recipe for a happy ending, but I was miserable. So, we sold the house, I traded in the Mercedes, the dog died, I divorced my husband, and now I only see my son half the time. Am I better off?

Well, I guess it depends on how you view things. I miss the things I had, but I do not miss the person I once was-- I am a much better lawyer because of what I have experienced; I have greater empathy and understanding for my clients, and I have gained insight about myself by delving into the past instead of simply focusing on planning for the future.

Looking for the new Mr. Right has become like a quest for finding a unicorn. But regardless of whether I ever find him, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned these past six years, and look forward to what lies ahead.