As I sat on the hard wooden bench of the family court this week, awaiting resolution of my own issue, I watched the machinations of the people sitting before the judge.
Their arguments, their pleas, their cries for help or for hatred or for recognition.
One case featured a man with an attorney and his ex-wife representing herself. The judge chastised her for submitting more paperwork than all the other cases that day combined. If she were represented by counsel, the judge said, the woman would know better what to do.
But I can’t afford counsel, the woman pleaded, asking the judge to order arbitration. I cannot legally do so, the judge responded. And really, this is not criminal court, where an attorney is appointed to represent you if you cannot afford one. This is family court, where you choose to battle, where your choices lead you to be forever chained to unhappiness.
Among the arguments playing out in this case was a snatched iPad, gifted to the shared children by the father’s brother, taken to the mother’s house, then stolen. It’s a matter for the police, said the judge. This is theft. Not a family court issue.
No it isn’t. And it’s just an iPad, for goodness sake. Worth battling before a judge? I don’t think so. But it represents more than a piece of technology – it’s about control, it’s about fairness, it’s about love gone wrong.
Which is the underlying current of family court. I love you, I hate you, two sides of the same coin. How quickly we can turn from true generosity and deep admiration to belittling, disgruntled lack of respect, kindness or courage.
The next case, a divorced couple with three children, each represented by attorney, plus a guardian ad-litem to represent the children. The parents took pictures of every cut, scrape or bruise the children incurred to show how terrible it is at the other parent’s house.
Arguing before the judge over haircuts, over the time of a call to wish the boy a happy birthday, little petty minutiae, the judge practically pulling her hair out, trying to follow the ping-ponging hatred and meanness and dismay between these two people who, at some point in the past, cared enough to create three new people.
Where did that kindness go?
My husband leaned over and whispered in my ear. They hate each other so much, he said.
There was nothing else to say.
The next day, I spoke before the directors of the Home and Community division of my largest nonprofit client, talking about why we tell stories, the importance of media exposure, the benefit of sharing spotlights of their great work.
We are the voice for people who have no voice, the leaders said. We do this work because every person brings something to the table for all of us in this life. We learn from one another and are shaped by those lessons.
We all have purpose.
We all inspire others.
Every life matters.
Two sides of the same coin, love and hatred.
What I wonder is how you can love and hate the same person. How a person can walk into your life and in all your awe and exclamation, you give them the benefit of the doubt and a generous heart, and then years pass and the stress sets in and you see that they are not all good, not all attractive, not all forgiving or kind or capable, and suddenly the impression of a good life you created in your mind collapses entirely into dust, as if it never existed in the first place.
The energy in the family court was negative and heavy, and I walked out of there sad from all the fighting.
To know that people care more about hating than finding a way to love is utterly defeating.
I came home to my lovely children and looked at their faces. How my eldest boy is my height now with a deep voice and a deeper laugh and his clever comments outwit me at times. How my beautiful daughter comes so close when she wants to show me love, I can’t see where she ends and I begin.
How my sweet step-daughter loves to be loved, gliding along the wave of emotion, laughing, scowling, scooped up in all the hugs of a busy bustling family. How my little guy leans in constantly for a kiss or a hug or just the familiar scent of love.
This is the beauty of life. They don’t always make me happy and I’m sure the same is true in reverse, but this is what makes a good life.
And so the fighting that took me to family court in the first place simply fades into the background, truly unimportant in the scheme of life.
When we sever ties, we do so to avoid strife and turmoil, to pave a path of peace going forward, and hope for the best for all involved. That has to be the focus. These petty arguments over iPads and haircuts – what do you get if you win?
Nothing more than a broken heart and generations of sadness like waves on an ocean that never hits land.