Friday, September 4, 2009

The Cornerstone of Marriage

When I first started out working in the legal field, I worked for a small two man law firm in a small town. They did a little bit of everything – lots of wills, estate planning stuff, some real estate contracts and “family” law. Family law was mainly divorce and custody battles. It gave me a distinct distaste for divorce which I have to this day.

As a little girl, divorce was still not that common. I had only one or two kids in my class whose parents were divorced. By the time I got to high school, divorce was becoming more of an everyday, ordinary experience. Several classmates had divorced parents or parents that were headed that direction. This was about as close as I ever got to the divorce experience.

After I started at the law firm, I had a lot to learn about everything to do with the law so the first few months were occupied with that. Once that was finished, I was able to devote more of my mental energies to our clients as they came and went. I like people and I am always interested in their stories and backgrounds. One man in particular I remember, he was older to me but I realize now he was probably only 35 or so and was going through a divorce. His wife had left him with some small children and more than once these were deposited with me to keep an eye on while he met with the attorney. He would spend his entire time with the attorney weeping over the end of his marriage. He always came in looking spent and left with red-rimmed eyes. It was very depressing for my attorney and I felt so heartily sorry for the man and his family.

I had not thought about him for many years but I recently saw him again. Well, it wasn’t the same man actually but it was the same look. I was lending a hand up at the front desk here at the court last week when a man came up to the window. At first I was a little suspicious that he was a felon because most people that come to the court are either a) attorneys, b) legal messengers, c) felons, d) other pro se individuals, e) private investigators or f) the press and each group have pretty distinct appearances.

This man clearly worked some kind of manual labor job because he was dusty and grubby. He also looked a little shifty at first which is what set off my felon alert. He had come to withdraw his appeal because he could not afford to pursue it. He was very worried because we had a set a court’s motions for dismissal or sanctions for failure to file something or other and he didn’t want to end up in trouble with the court so he had brought in the documentation to withdraw his appeal.

I found his case and realized that he was appealing some aspect of his divorce from the lower court. Then I looked more carefully at the man. His eyes were a little red-rimmed, he was fighting for his self control and he looked exhausted and beaten. I was very gentle with him as I finished taking his documents and reassured him that he would not be in any trouble with the court at all. As I watched him go, his shoulders sagging, I had an almost overwhelming urge to go after him and offer to buy him a cup of coffee. He looked like he needed a friend. I didn’t because it would not have been ethical or appropriate to do so but I did breathe a prayer for him and his family.

I know that there are times and situations when divorce is not just inevitable but imperative to protect one’s person or life or those of one’s children. I also know that divorce is part of our world today but I don’t have to like it. When John and I were moving toward getting married, we had some long hard talks about marriage and our expectations. One of the things important to him and to me was that we would not consider divorce an option that was open to us. If we married, it was to be the until-death-us-do-part kind of partnership. We had to think long and hard about that before we even got engaged. It was scary. It was difficult. In the end, it meant that we felt a mutual commitment to the life-long success of our marriage. Love is important in a marriage but commitment is its cornerstone.

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