Legally Mine

Not very long after I began practicing law, I realized I was in the business of managing failed relationships. When a marriage fails, when a business partnership fails, when a parent-child relationship fails, or even when the social contract itself fails (as when somebody commits a crime), into the lawyer’s office, we do go. This is a good thing, from some perspectives.

The disintegration of a relationship can leave us emotional roadkill, some vital part of our identity in tatters. Having a professional involved who excels at rules and procedure can mean the divorce, foster care case, criminal trial, or what have you, at least moves forward, however painfully. In the alternative, turning to a lawyer can leave us feeling disempowered by some expensive, fast talking, shaming pain the behonkis who has more diplomas than chambers to his or her heart.

In defense of the lawyers, we are not warned in law school that we’ll be dealing in failure and grief. In law school we learn about exceptions to the rule that says hearsay shouldn’t be taken into evidence. We learn about offer, acceptance, consideration and capacity—oh, my! Many lawyers can do an excellent job for their clients and have it be mostly about the legalities.

No wonder, a career lawyering sees my nose buried in a romance novel nearly every day.

And yet lawyering has been good preparation for writing romance novels. First, I see many, many “miserable ever afters,” and have a chance to study what goes into them. Some of these MEAs befall the clients, but more than a few have happened to judges and other lawyers. Understanding how we sabotage ourselves yields good insights for when a fictional character is going to make a last, desperate grab for the brass ring of happiness.

Second, having been a lawyer, I can think analytically, or maybe a better word is tactically. I doubt analytical thinking is my natural mode, but rather, an acquired skill resulting from having five older siblings in a family that valued academics. I had to learn to sound smart, whether I had the groceries or not (and when it comes to math, friends, I do NOT).

Third, I understand that destruction can be a good thing. Whether it’s cutting a child’s ties with a birth family intent on that child’s exploitation, or tossing aside a manuscript nobody was very impressed with, there’s some truth to the adage, “Weak people give up and stay, strong people give up and move on.”

The day is coming when I’ll move on from the courtroom, and maybe from the practice of law altogether. When that day arrives, I will be grateful for years in a profession that provided well for me and mine, and taught me much I can use elsewhere in my life.

Think of a time when you moved on, when you changed jobs, towns, or churches, or maybe when you let a relationship go.

What wisdom did you take from the experience, and how did that lesson serve you as you moved on with your life?

To one commenter, I’ll give a DVD of “The Princess Bride.” (Buttercup Edition)


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24 comments on “Legally Mine

  1. As a secretary for a CPS team in Louisville KY I understand more than most. I moved on to this job for personal reasons but it has been a very eyeopening experience. For anyone in this profession or even remotely related to it… I salute you and all you do.

    • The military has certain billets that you have to rotate out of after a specified number of years. Child Protective Services jobs should have an expiration date too. Holding that balance between caring enough, but not so much that it wrecks your life, is HARD and the supervisors are struggling with the same challenge.

  2. As the daughter of a civil engineer, living in eight new places and attending eight different schools by the end of eighth grade, I believe I learned to embrace people. With the start of each new year, to have friends and enjoy a social life, I had to be the one to reach out and share. I was the newcomer, entering the established zone. To be a part of the group, I had to make a little place for me in it. AND… I learned that books can be really good company, with lots of adventures to offer, and books provide a common ground for conversation, which leads to making friends.

    • My mom is 89 years old, and she can still tear up at the thought of how often she had move as a kid–her dad was also a civil engineer, and the family had to go where there was work. Moving is way, way up there on the scale of things that create stress, but you wrung from it skills that have served you every day of your life. Come to think of it, my mom also has the gift of creating a circle of people who know they are cherished and welcome in her life.

  3. Hi Grace,

    1997 was a year of loss for me. My mother’s only sister, my dad and my FIL all died in a 5 month time period. To cap it off during that time period I ended up leaving my job of nearly 18 years after a reorg that had me trying to be that which I’ m not – think actuary. After much prayer and consideration I am in a job that uses my skill set and I am happy – and it is where I landed 15 years ago (although with adifferent company).

    • I’ve heard that adage about when one door closes another open, usually at a time when I wanted to smack the pious buffoon reciting it to me… but it is true. Change can bring opportunity.

    • Martha Eddy I too know what it’s like to have multiple family deaths in a short time span. In ’78 I lost my husband in August, an uncle in October- the day before my birthday, and my mother the Sunday after Thanksgiving. As I was leaning against the wall outside Mother’s hospital room I had a priest walk up and tell me “Stop crying, you have nothing to cry about as your mother’s in a better place”. He’s very lucky I was crying or I probably would have wound up in jail for assaulting him. I just looked up at him, turned my back on him and walked off, never in all my life have I found a priest to be so insensitive. Since he didn’t know my circumstances I felt he had no right to say what he did. I don’t know if he was a Catholic priest or an Episcopalian one, our religion, but I knew, or at least I felt he should have offered me comfort, not a lecture.

      • He doesn’t sound to me like a priest, Molly. He sounds to me like an idiot in a collar, and they come in all sorts of denominations. What a stinkin’ memory to have of an already hard, hard day.

  4. I was forced to move on when my job of over 25 years ended. My prestigious law firm, which had been in existence for over 150 years went bankrupt. My title, my office, my good salary were all gone. I was devastated, then shocked to find how the job market had changed in that time. It took a year to find a new job, and during that time I had lots of time to think. After the initial bitterness, I realized that I really hated the work, I hated the long hours, disliked my boss, and the cut throat games that occur in a large company. So, now I have no title, no office, and a smaller salary working for a small law firm. But I also have more time of my own. My bosses like and appreciate me, and I don’t dread going to work. (Other than it infringing on my reading time, of course) Sometimes the best changes occur through no action of your own. (pls don’t enter in contest, already have movie)

    • Bonnie, when I finished law school, I interviewed with some big DC law firms, and with a straight face, they told me to expect to bill 3000 hours my first year. I was a single mom with a newborn.
      I think part of the reason that the practice of law in my jurisdiction has remained so collegial is because we’re too far from DC for the big firms to try to open satellite offices. Solos and small firms are it, and when the closing arguments are over, and the judge has made the decision, we do get along. (And my secretary is a SAINT, a SAINT, I tell you.)

  5. Such a hard topic to share about–at least for me. I think because not everyone understands, accepts or supports my decisions. For example I left my congregation eight years ago when they voted to leave the national church because of the national church’s tolerant stance on homosexuality. To this day my mother still gives me grief on leaving. I learned to be strong. Actions do speak louder than words.
    I am close to being able to retire and am almost daily adding to my +’s and -‘s chart of making this major change. Right now I am telling myself to think of it as “The Next Chapter of My Life” and NOT “The End.” Thinking of this change as the next chapter is much more positive and makes it something to look forward to.
    Hang in there–everyone dealing with change and moving on.

    • Church conflicts can be some of the worst, because we think of Church as the one institution where we ought to be safe. It’s also the one place we ought to be able to be honest, though, and when those two needs collide, the results can be brutal.
      I think you did the right thing, not because I necessarily support gay clergy, but because you could no longer be yourself at your old church, and about a fundamental theological issue.
      And the way you’re approaching retirement is spot on. Women tend to do much, much better at retiring than men, because we don’t see it as moving AWAY from our status-producing period of professional usefulness, we see it as moving TOWARD greater control over our time, flexibility, freedom from stress, and many other good things.
      (Like… more time to read.)

      • Thank you for taking time to read and reply. To me your comments are spot on and I appreciate the support. (Also like another commenter I am not in the contest. I have the movie too –love it. I just wanted to share. Thanks.

      • Kathy, I have a master’s degree in conflict resolution, earned at Eastern Mennonite University. My profs were the real deal, helping dismantle apartheid, negotiate with armed separatists in Spain, India, and elsewhere. One of my class mates earned a Nobel Prize, no less. Those people said church conflict was much harder to unravel than some civil wars.

  6. There have been many but two stand out:
    In 1991, my husband was unemployed, I was being audited by the IRS and unable to find a lot of my records, and I went to Florida for Christmas to see my father who was ill. He died two weeks later unexpectedly and a month after that we got the news that my mother had ovarian cancer. On one of my trips home I went to the doctor for muscle spasms and he asked me if I’d been under any stress. Until that point I thought I’d been putting handling it pretty well.

    In 2005 I was laid off suddenly right after I’d purchased a new car and just before Katrina hit Louisiana. I made the decision to move 1500 miles away to work so we wouldn’t lose everything. When I returned to Louisiana I picked up my pen and started writing.

    The fear of moving on and its challenges sometimes keeps me stuck but all these experiences, whether change was forced upon me or I took the initiative, reminds me, most of the time, that I’m resilient and need not fear no matter what that I can survive, even thrive.

    When do you know if you’re being weak or strong? Maybe not til it’s all said and done.

    • What a question! Or as my dad used to say, “You never know when you’re winning.” And because win, lose, weak, strong and other terms of judgment are so subjective, I tend to stick to simpler rubrics: Be kind, tell the truth.
      Keep writing, Livia. Those journeys have produced stories worth telling.

  7. When I moved back home, I thought it was just to get my family on it’s feet while my now ex-husband was signing his retirement papers from the US military. Little did I know, it would be a wake-up call that my kids and I had been living with an abusive man without realizing it. When it became necessary for me to find a job, a house and schools/daycare for my children, I did exactly that within a month of our move. I remembered what an amazingly strong woman I actually am though I had forgotten thanks to being put down for so long. I still live daily with the terror of what my kids and I went though, I must say we are all doing amazing. I have kids that I can brag about daily (totally a mom thing!) and I am on a road to recovery myself. I met a new man a few years ago who has shown each of us what love is truly about and I thank the heavens every day for the strength to walk away and to grow. I hope my little girl never has to go through what I did, but I also know that I am stronger for what I went through and that she has a mama who can help her to find her own true happiness.

    • Lynsey, I could rant for days about warriors who are destroyers instead of guardians. Shame upon your ex, and upon the aspects of our culture that enable him and his kind.
      Glad you turned your strength to rebuilding instead of endless enduring, and that you modeled that for your offspring. Well done!

  8. Grace, I wanted to thank your the reminder of “the weak give up and stay put, the strong give up and move on.”. I am a women’s health provider, and I work with women of all walks of life, and in all sorts of situations. Some situations are truly joyous, and others are utter despair. Women like to think that giving up is a bad thing, but sometimes is a necessary part of survival. bad work environment, man trouble, kid trouble, drugs, mental health issues, cancer, bad pregnancy outcomes, (the list gets uglier from here). Giving up is accepting that a situation is not going to change. But this is a necessary step before positive change can finally occur, i.e. leaving the unchanging situation. While I seem to give the public the persona that I don’t have these struggles, the truth is that I do have some of them… thankfully not as bad as any of those listed above. By the grace of God and a good husband, I am reminded to allow some time to “grieve” for the loss of old reality, but then I have to accept the new reality and keep moving onward.

    • Rebecca, it might be Maya Angelou who said that, but it puts me in mind of the goddess Kali, who is in charge of death, destruction, and REBIRTH. Your job sounds very demanding, also rewarding. My mom was a nurse, and oh, the things she saw in a typical day on the job… She said it was the best possible preparation for raising seven kids though.

      And you ended up with a good guy in part because you chose prudently. Give yourself some credit.

  9. I don’t really have much of an answer for this weeks question but I wanted to say that reading these comments from the other women has really touched me. Thank you for sharing.
    Grace, you have some really amazing readers out there.

    I have a copy of the movie so I don’t need to be entered into the contest.

  10. I’ve been drawing people stories for quite a few years. I often felt like I had to search outside myself to find interesting content, my life being so “normal”. Recently I experienced a great variety of losses within a very short span of time. My emotional stability got a bit shaky, enough to cause a sibling to tell me to stop frowning or I would get permanent wrinkles in my forehead.

    I am just now coming out the other side of the experience, wrinkles intact, and am finally beginning to draw again. I’m surprised and pleased by how much humor I am finding flows from my pen. I am now excellent at drawing cranky foreheads … and obliviously tormenting siblings.

    • If that’s the worst rebuke you ever get from a sibling, you’re doing a lot right. As I’ve aged, I’ve become aware what a treasure an aging population is, what a source of perspective and stability for any society. We’ve seen so much “also pass,” and seen love abide through it all. My parents are already like angels to me.