Family

My Day in Divorce Court

When Doug and I got married, we promised each other we would never say the “D-word.”

We would never joke about it, mention it casually or ever, ever entertain the idea of it.

The “D-word” is divorce.

I’ve been lucky that the “D-word” has never elbowed its ugly way into my vocabulary.

I’m blessed in the marriage department, and I never lose sight of that fact.

Last week I went to divorce court, and was reminded once again of what a gift it is to be happily married.

A friend asked me to go with her to be her witness in her divorce case.

My job was to stand next to her and answer questions like, “Is it possible that the couple could reconcile?”

My rehearsed answer was, “No.”

Plaintiff after plaintiff stood up and said their marriages could not be salvaged.

Witness after witness stood and testified that they agreed with the plaintiffs — the couples absolutely could not reconcile.

I asked my friend if she was nervous.

She shrugged her shoulders and said, “It has to be done.”

One man stood up and when asked about the grounds for divorce, he said, “Abandonment. My wife left the country.”

I knew that he, like us, had rehearsed his answer and he said it without any emotion.

But I wondered about the emotional toll he experienced before he got to court.

What happened that got him to the point of reciting his answers so coolly?

A young, well-dressed, poised woman stood up confidently and answered all her attorney’s questions with a hint of fragility in her soft voice.

Then her attorney asked her witness to stand up, state her name and her relationship to the plaintiff.

The witness stood up, and then broke down sobbing and couldn’t regain control.

After a hug from the attorney, and a tender smile from the plaintiff, the woman managed to say her name and her relationship to the plaintiff.

“I’m her mother,” she said.

She cried and sniffled between words, but managed to say, like me, and all the other witnesses, that reconciliation was impossible.

“What happened to that daughter that broke that mother’s heart so much?” I wondered.

I hated thinking about it because even when my daughters experience a small hurt, my heart is severed.

As we drove home from the courthouse, I thought about how many other courtrooms across the country were filled with divorce cases that same day, and how many sad, broken-hearted, people had testified about failed marriages and irreconcilable differences.

I worry about all these people I don’t even know and the emotional, social and financial turbulence in all of their lives.

I wish I had the answer, the cure, the panacea to make all marriages happy, fulfilling, and loving.

Of course that doesn’t exist.

Life is not that generous.

So we all learn to take what we get in life and make the best of it.

In the end, all I can really do is cherish my own good marriage; and never forget what a phenomenal gift it is to go through life with someone I love and someone who loves me.

After my day in divorce court, I am recommitted to my promise to never say the “D-word” or ever even joke about it.

After seeing so many people get divorced in one day, and watching friends and family go through it, I know there is nothing funny about it.

From the News

Violence I can’t even fathom

There are some things I can’t bear to think too much about.

Violence like we’ve seen this week in Colorado is one of them.

My tolerance for violence and cruelty is very low, even in movies and entertainment.

It unnerves me and shatters my sense of security.

I think I have a fragile psyche.

I hated the movie “Forrest Gump” because I felt like everybody was making fun of poor Forrest for 142-long minutes.

I am the girl in the theater that plugs her ears when the volume goes up during violent scenes, — the one that gasps and covers my eyes until the violence is over.

I love movies, but I need to know what I’m getting myself into when I enter a movie theater.

I don’t want to be surprised by a movie that threatens my sense of security or upsets what I believe should be the peaceful world order. I like happy endings.

Even when I saw Spider-Man a couple of weeks ago, I plugged my ears during some of the loud, violent scenes because they felt like an attack on my senses.

I can usually watch movies like Spider-Man because I’m pretty sure a giant lizard isn’t going to jump of the screen and terrorize me.

Adventure movies are gripping and I enjoy them when the adventure is the story, and not the violence.

I felt excited to see “The Dark Night Rises,” especially after Annie and her friends talked about how much they loved it, and wanted to see it a second time.

But now that some severely troubled young man walked into a movie theater in Colorado dressed in a bulletproof vest and a gas mask and began randomly firing a gun, I wonder whether I’ll enter the theater, look around, and imagine the rampage in the Aurora, Colorado multiplex?

Will I consider an exit strategy and look down at the floor and wonder how fast I could hide under my seat?

As I’ve listened to some of the victims of this shooting, I’ve wondered what I would do if a gun were inches from my face in a dark theater.

In today’s Washington Post, Ann Hornaday, a Post film critic, wrote, “We go to the movies to dream.  When the audience filed into Theater 9 at the Century 16 multiplex …they were there to experience that state of consciousness that only movies can provide.  Somewhere between waking life, and hypnotic trance, the act of watching a movie is one of voluntary surrender, of letting go of our daily psychological defenses and allowing our imaginations to be colonized by the enveloping sounds and images on the screen.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/going-to-the-movies-is-a-break-from-reality-until-reality-starts-shooting/2012/07/20/gJQAKSxtyW_story.html

Hornaday captured why I like movies.

I like that moment when I’m fully immersed in a story.

But, if I’m careful about surrendering my psychological defenses, particularly to a movie, a play or a book.

I don’t want to be filled with darkness, violence, and depravity while immersed in it.

Hornaday said, “When the gunman embarked on his rampage…he not only invaded a safe physical space…he invaded a deeply personal psychic space.”

I value my deeply personal psychic and spiritual space, and want to protect it, but it is a constant challenge, made even more challenging by these senseless acts of violence that are so abhorrent I can barely fathom them.

And I can’t help wondering how much violence that gunman has seen and experienced in his life – maybe not in his physical world but in his psychic space.

He clearly was overtaken by it, altering his psyche to such a degree that he could even contemplate something this outrageous, shocking and reprehensible.

Like I said, there are some things I can’t bear to think too much about.

This is one of them.

Change, Personal

Lightning Strikes and….

I once worked with a veteran news reporter named Frank Hewlett, who was a Washington, D.C. correspondent for The Salt Lake Tribune when I met him. He also was  an award-winning correspondent in World War II and longtime reporter in the nation’s capital.  He told me something about politics and Washington that has always held true.  He said, “In politics and in Washington, D.C., lightning can strike and everything can change.  Never count on anything staying the same in politics.”

photo credit: strangecosmos.com

The same is true in life.

Here are a few examples:

  • Lightning strikes and… my nephew is outside with his children.  His 6-year old daughter says, “Daddy! We have to hurry and go inside.  I can’t get struck by lightning tonight because I have dance try-outs tomorrow!.” (Okay so that one’s not really serious, but it’s funny and true!)

 

  • Lightning strikes and… hits a huge tree in my sister’s back yard, breaking it open and exposing all the rough and raw wood of the tree.
She said her tree looked like this after being struck by a bolt of lightning.

She and her son examined it closely, inspecting the damage, and worrying about how much it would cost to get it removed.  It’s their favorite shade tree and she credits it for keeping her un-airconditioned house reasonably cool.  She has a daughter returning home from an 18-month mission in Uruguay and needs to help her ease back into real life with new clothes, a phone, car, etc.  She couldn’t afford to pay for tree removal on top of everything else. She decided to pray about what to do.  Then she went to work.  She kept thinking she should go home and look at the tree problem again so that she could explain it to her insurance agent, the city, or the potential tree-cutter-downer. She took a friend with her and when they walked into her backyard, she stood flabbergasted and speechless about what she saw.

Her friend said, “I thought you said the tree was almost split in half.”

“I promise, it was!” she said, still staring at the tree.

Shaking her head in disbelief, she said, “I think the tree got healed.”

She moved closer and saw no signs of lightning damage anywhere — no exposed wood, nothing.

She called her son to tell him about it.  He too couldn’t believe it.  He came home to see for himself.

“It’s a miracle,” he said.

I can’t think of another word for it.  Can you?

Lightning strikes and…a miracle occurs.

  • Lighting strikes and…My adorable thirty-something niece who had nearly given up on meeting a decent man calls me at midnight screaming, “I’m engaged!  I’m engaged! I’m getting married!” After dating men that could easily be featured on a unfathomably bad sitcom of “The Jerkiest Men on the Planet,” this is amazing news.  While she was busily working to gut and remodel a kitchen,  the cabinetmaker on the same job, walked up to her and said, “I need to take you on a date.” She was so surprised she didn’t know how to respond.  After so many nightmarish dating experiences, she hedged and tried to think of an excuse not to go out with him.  “You have to eat, right?” he said.  He talked her into going to dinner.  That was only a month ago. Now she is getting married in October.  I guess lightning strikes and you meet a great guy; and then it strikes again, and you say yes to a marriage proposal because you know deep in your soul he’s the one you’ve been waiting for your entire life.

Frank was right.  Lightning strikes and everything changes — not just in politics and in Washington, but in life.

Frank Hewlett and his wife Virginia

 

Fill in the blank and tell me a stroke of lightning has changed something in your life or the life of someone you know.

Lightning strikes and ….

 

 

 

From my Bookshelf, Uncategorized

I want to be like Anna Quindlen

I recently read Anna Quindlen’s new memoir, “Lots of Cake and Plenty of Candles.” I didn’t get past the first paragraph in the introduction titled “Life in the Fifties” before I stopped reading to think about one of the first things she wrote. “It’s odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to woman to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn’t know who I was. Then I invented someone and became her. Then I began to like what I’d invented. And finally I was what I was again. It turned out I wasn’t alone in that particular progression.”

I’ve spent a lot of time studying my life’s arc because I’ve written and rewritten a memoir about a million times. (Okay, not a million, but it feels that way.)

It’s not easy charting the arc and story line of your life. You can’t do it with any degree of integrity if you don’t take a thorough and honest look at the inner workings of your life, and sometimes that can be both too revealing, and a little painful.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write a book about my life.  But I’ve fought the inner critic that says it’s downright arrogant to think your life is worthy of a memoir.  After all, who would be interested enough to buy it and read it?  And could I handle the scrutiny of those readers if I ever really published it?

I talk back to that critic and say there are people in the world that are born to write just like there are people born to make music, paint, quilt, garden, cook, or be accountants and biologists.

While struggling to write my memoir, I spent a lot of time going over old journals to find out who I really was at different times of my life. In journal after journal, I started the first page by writing, “I love starting a new journal and having all these clean pages waiting to be filled.”  Then at the end of a journal, I was always wistful about closing another chapter of my life. Sometimes I was happy to close a particularly painful time or excited about what was ahead.

So when I read Quindlen’s introductory paragraph to her book I wondered about the shape of my life and whether I’d made the complete circle that she described. “First, I was who I was.”

As a child, I was probably more authentic and less intentional because my family, friends, community and circumstances were shaping my personality and values. Then when I get a little older, my maturing mind starting wondering who I was and what I wanted in my life. I figured it out a bit at a time, and then set out to be that person. I think Quindlen is right that we all do this. Sometimes we like the person we create and sometimes we don’t.  Then, we have to re-evaluate everything and make adjustments or start all over again.

The tragedy is when we don’t like the person we’ve created and we refuse to redo ourselves and become someone better, someone we actually like and respect more. I think this the hardest and longest part of our lives. (In fact, does it ever end?)

Learning who are and who we want to be is hard work because we worry about disappointing ourselves, not meeting our own expectations and goals, and not living up to what others expect of us, even God. I’ve spent my life trying to figure out who God really wants me to be because right when I think I’ve figured it out, He surprises me and puts something I never wanted or expected into my life, and I think, “Really God? Am I that woman? Do you really want me to be that woman?”

I hear my daughters and their friends often say, “I don’t want to be that girl or that person.”

But sometimes, probably more times than not, we get “those lives” – not because we want them, but because they are somehow good for us. They usually come with big, hairy life lessons that we wouldn’t learn without them. It would sure be nice sometimes to learn them without so much pain, wouldn’t it?

I’m generally happy with the woman I’ve created, but I’m still in the “development” stage because I don’t feel fully invented yet. I know there’s always something new just around the corner.  I just have to be “that woman” that deals with it, responds well, and becomes better because of it.

The truth is I’m not happy with some of the things that “just are” in my life because I didn’t really get a say about whether they happened or not.  (Cancer is always a good example.)

I know I get a say in how I respond but I’ve always wished that some things (like cancer) could have knocked a little more gently on my door and that I’d had a choice of whether to invite it in or slam the door. Of course, none of us get that kind the choice. Unwanted experiences often bully their way in whether we want them or not.  Sometimes we can do everything in our power to make them feel unwelcome and go away, but they just lounge around like a bad houseguest that you can’t get rid of.

What I’m trying to figure out is how we live graceful, happy lives when we negatively think we are “that person” with “that life” we didn’t want. I know all about positive thinking, and I try to apply those positive psychology principles but I’m not there yet. I’m not fully “who I was again,” and I’m not sure I’ll ever be.

In many ways, I’m much better than who I was, but I think I’ll always be a work in progress, trying to accept things I can’t change and yearning to be like Anna Quindlen, the one who claims to be quietly, sublimely back to the innocent childhood state of just being comfortable with who she is without feeling any internal or external pressure to be more. I want to be that woman, but now I’m not.

I want to know: Where are you in this process?  Are you happy with the person you’ve become?  Are you learning from the bad house guest that barged his or her way into your life or are you sublimely happy in your own skin and your current place in life? I’d love to know.

Personal

An Outer Banks Weekend

Doug and I drove to the Outer Banks Friday for a “business meeting” and then turned around and drove home Saturday.

Our business was buying a beach house.

After we picked up the keys, we kept saying, “Did we just buy a beach house?”

I think we shocked ourselves with this purchase.

Carolina Beach Retreat

As I sat in the family room of this new house, looking out at the ocean, I thought about our obsession with the beach.  What made us want to buy a beach house? A good rental history? A good investment? It was more than that.

Just one of the beautiful views

We’re pale, sun-sensitive, burn-and-peel-people.

So why a house at the beach?

I picked up a notebook and started writing answers to that question:

The beach is the great equalizer.

I can’t tell a CEO from a local fisherman. From the crowded aisles of Food Lion,to the sandy beaches, everyone looks the same.

And, it’s more than the sun.

It’s the state of mind, and the restful state of being.

It is the air, the pace, the friendliness, and unpretentiousness.

It’s the “ah” feeling that inspires naps, walks, bike rides, all-you-can-eat shrimp bars, ice-filled cups, and snowcones.

It’s also rainstorms, heat lightning, ocean views, pastel-colored houses, sea grass and mosquitos.

It’s salt, sand, and seafood; music and Adirondack chairs on the deck, and the smell of sunscreen.

It’s pools, hot tubs and outdoor showers.

It’s the sound and rhythm of the waves, seashells, turtle preserves, feral cats, t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops.

Kiteboarding, surfing, kites, coolers, books and acoustic guitar music; .

Beach fires, stargazing, sunrises, American flags, deep breaths, yoga classes on the beach.

Leisurely candlelight dinners, lengthy and relaxed conversations.

Games, puzzles, writing, fishermen, Bingo, and jet skis.

Hurricanes, evacuations, popsicles and pizza.

Sunglasses, miniature golf, Orange Blossom Cafe apple uglies.

Laughter, cooking, crafting, and healing

And memories.

We have so many cherished memories from beach trips with friends and with our families.

We want more of those memories.

The beach is a place for creating and cherishing memories with people we love.

Anne Morrow Lindberg wrote in Gift from the Sea, “For life today… is based on the premise of ever-widening circles of contact and communication. It involves not only family demands, but community demands, national demands, international demands on the good citizen, through social and cultural pressures, through newspapers, magazines, radio programs, political drives, charitable appeals, and so on. My mind reels in it, What a circus act we … perform every day of our lives. It puts the trapeze artist to shame. Look at us. We run a tight rope daily…”

This describes my Washington, D.C. life perfectly.

So why the beach?

Again, I turn to Anne Morrow Lindberg: “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”

 

Community, From the News

Proud to be an American

Happy Fourth of July!

photo credit itthing.com

What better place to be on Independence Day than in Washington, D.C. at Nat’s Stadium with your family and best friends?

That thought has been in my head from the minute I got up this morning.

Highlights of my Fourth of July:

  • Watching all the families dressed in their Nats fan gear pile on the metro
  • Two little boys sliding together on their seat, and saying, “Do you want to sit down?” With mitts in hand and autographed ball caps on their heads, they told me they were hoping to get Bryce Harper’s autograph at today’s game.  I loved their excitement. “How many more stops?” they kept asking their parents. “Why is this thing so slow?” they asked as they bounced up and down in their seats. Their enthusiasm was contagious.
  • A huge American flag draped between two fire truck cranes at the entrance to the stadium
photo credit Washington Examiner
  • Four home runs!
  • Standing up to sing America the Beautiful with a stadium full of proud Americans. I loved the patriotism that surged through the crowd.
  • Thanking our military with a packed house of fans
  • Sharing stories about last week’s storm but not letting it affect a great game, a beautiful city, and resilient group of people.
  • Heat wave? What heat wave? We had a breeze that kept us comfortable all afternoon in the sweltering heat.
  • Fireworks
  • Homemade Strawberry gelato
  • Feeling proud to be an American and celebrating freedom in the greatest nation on earth with the people I love most.
Family

Left in the Dark

On Saturday afternoon I sat alone in our house surrounded by an eerie, totally unfamiliar kind of quiet.

The only sound I heard was Nikki breathing as he sat near my feet.

No hum of computers, no fans or air conditioning, music or television, no ringing phones or ice plinking into the freezer bin. No microwave beeps, no doorbell, and no air moving anywhere.

A surprise storm blew through Northern Virginia Friday night that brought at least 80 mph winds, lightening, thunder, and a deluge of rain.

credit: Leslie Perales

We watched the trees bend almost in half and gasped every time we heard a new roar of thunder or saw the house light up with lightning.

Trees were uprooted and dropped on decks, garages, porches, fences, cars, and lawns. Trees were split by either winds or lightening.

Our electricity flashed off and on, and then stayed off. As of now, it still hasn’t been restored.

Nearly 100-degree heat, high humidity, and no air conditioning.

We migrated to the basement until we couldn’t take it anymore.

Today we cleaned out the freezer and the fridge and got rid of all our perishable food.

When my sister told my mom about the storm and our loss of electricity, Mom said, “Just what I need. Another thing to worry about!” (Remember my mom is the world’s finest worrier.)

My sister said, “Mom, you don’t need to worry about her. She’s hot. That’s it.”

Precisely.

We’re not like the people we see on the news who have lost everything to fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis and floods.

We’ve just lost electricity.

And, it will come back on.

Clearly we are uncomfortable, out of touch, and out of sorts without our cool houses and our cool technology. But, really, it’s nothing to worry about.

My sister is right. I’m fine. I’m just hot.

I also can’t blow my hair dry, cook dinner or keep food cold, but still, these are relatively minor things.

As I moved from one place to the next last night trying to find a reasonably cool place to sleep, I thought about how much I rely on the luxurious infrastructures of my life.

I have an interior support system with my faith, beliefs, values, people, and a positive mindset that keeps me personally propped up.

Then, I have the exterior scaffolding of my life like my home, car, food, water, and all my stuff, like my phone and laptop, washer and dryer, and everything that makes the chores of life easier.

When these infrastructures are disrupted, it’s like a major support beam of my life is knocked out.

Right now, my exterior infrastructure is down.

My family’s infrastructure is down.

So we’re dipping deeper into our interior support systems and relying on gifts of perspective and happy dispositions to keep us going.

We’re trying to make a mini-vacation out of this mini-disaster. We’ve played a few games, had some good conversations, laughed a lot, and had a slumber party in the basement.

We’ve also spent a lot of time in the car trying to get cool while we charge our phones for when we have a brief signal.

Life without electricity is less than fun, but it’s made me wonder — is the real disaster that we don’t know what to do with ourselves when the world goes quiet and the lights go out? Or is it that we are so reliant on our luxuries that we forget how much we appreciate them?

Or is it as simple as what my sister said? I’m fine. I’m just hot.