February 24, 2008

Taxes & Religious Fiction

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:20 pm by LG

It’s been a roller coaster of a week, mainly due to Wednesday’s events, and it’s taken me a few days to write about it without running the risk of posting an obscene amount of profanity.

First thing Wednesday morning I get a call from Accountant Girl, the woman who did my taxes this year (thanks to everyone for their suggestions, by the way).  The conversation went a little something like this:

Acct Girl: (in a forced, upbeat tone) Hey LG, I just finished calculating your taxes and called to give you the damage

[Insert my nervous chuckle…thinking, ‘damage,’ what does that mean?]

Acct Girl: Let’s see here, well, you owe the Federal Government…

[Owe??  We’ve never owed any taxes; we’ve always gotten a refund.  …We

Acct Girl: Two thousand five hundred and six.

Me: {Insert spewing of coffee}  Two thousand five hundred and six what?  

(Please say nickles, please say nickles.) 

Acct Girl: Two thousand five hundred and six dollars. 

Me:   Gasp!  (insert lots of wailing, sniveling) Oh my gosh (more wailing), this can’t be right, can it?  (sniveling) Well, maybe i can sell my bike, I don’t really use it, maybe I could open up a new credit card, can I put my taxes on my credit card? (more sniveling), I really need to stop eating out so much, but I just have to treat myself sometimes, you know?  Are you sure this is right? (wailing).   

Acct Girl: (sympathetic, but getting annoyed): Well, you are getting $187 back from the state, so you can put that toward the federal taxes that you owe. 

I continued wailing…ok, not really wailing, but I was completely shocked.  Accountant Girl explained that I had benefited previously from filling jointly and from having the mortgage deduction.  Oh, yea, I’m single now.  In addition, I got hit hard for my fitness instructor checks: the club doesn’t take taxes out and I should be accounting for that throughout the year.  Ooops.  All in all, I’ll be fine.  As my Dad said, it’s only money, I’ll figure it out.  And I will. 

Fast forward three hours later on Wednesday.  Still at work.  Get another call (also on my cell, so I can see the number).  It’s starts with a four, same as Accountant Girl’s.  Oh thank goodness, there was a mistake.  Or maybe Uncle Sam does some sort of pity drawing every year.  Yes, the Pity Program.  Someone in DC puts names in a hat, draws out a few, and excuses those lucky souls from paying taxes; kind of like a financial pardon.  I must have won! 

Me: Hi, this is Little Girl. 

Caller:  Hey…..This is Jason.

My heart sunk to my stomach, which quickly filled with burning acid.  A cool emptiness remained in my chest.  Anger’s grip tightened around my throat.  And sadness seeped in behind my eyes. 

Jason is Dutch.  Dutch is his nickname, but I (along with all of our friends) always called him Dutch.  I met him as Dutch and lived with him as Dutch.  Never had I called him Jason, and never had he called himself Jason to me.   

I won’t go through all of the pathetic details of the conversation.  In sum, he was calling to tell me to expect annulment papers in the mail.  He’s joining the Catholic church.  He says he really “feels at home” at this church, which I find curious seeing as this church is in Columbus and he now lives in Nashville.  It also happens to be the church to which his girlfriend belongs…she is still in Columbus finishing up undergrad

Now, I’ve tried to be really careful about my post-dissolution relationship with Dutch.  I never blame him (publicly, at least) for the failure of our marriage.  I protect this “relationship” so much so that many people actually assume that the dissolution was either my, or at least a joint, decision. 

For the record, it was not.

Although I am admittedly equally responsible for the problems in our relationship, Dutch wanted out of the marriage, and quickly at that.  It was almost over night.  I truly believe that I would have stayed with Dutch forever; my word, after all, is my word.  [In the interest of full disclosure, I now also truly believe that one day I’ll be glad I didn’t have to.]

So, now, on top of of a legal dissolution, Dutch wants a religious annulment, which to my understanding, basically results in a declaration from the Catholic church that our marriage never existed in the first place. 

What?  How can that be?  That isn’t real. 

I looked up the traditional grounds for annulment and I’m still not sure how Dutch can do it.  We’re not related, we did consummate the marriage (ew), we were of legal age, neither of us were under duress, and although my heathen-ness is debatable, I have, in fact, been baptised. 

But, more importantly, how can Dutch even buy into this religious fiction?  Why would he want our marriage to be deemed invalid?  Doesn’t he remember the wedding?  The six-week honeymoon?  And the almost seven years that followed – which, though sometimes filled with bad, were also often filled with lots of good.  We basically grew up together.  We bought our first home together.  We traveled traveled through Europe, to Hawaii, Guatemala, and Australia together.  We cooked out on summer nights -he’d do the burgers, I’d put together the salad.  We watched Scrubs (and though he wouldn’t admit it, Sex and the City) religiously.  We went to countless weddings together and spent all the holidays with our families.  We went on donut runs at 2:00am when we couldn’t sleep because we had been up talking and laughing.  

If there’s been one thing that’s kept me going, it’s knowing that all these years together weren’t wasted.  They certainly weren’t invalid.  They helped shaped who I am today, and though I can’t see it now, who I will become.  And now some Catholic guy is going to say it wasn’t really “real.”  How is this possible? 

I’m not sure how all of this works, but I think I’ll have to sign something, maybe fill out some paperwork.  It never occurred to me not to do it.  I mean, I love Dutch and I want him to be happy; and if I can help get him there, then fine.  But, having talked to others about it, and sitting with the idea a little bit more, I’ve realized how much this religious fiction bothers me and how I want no part of it.  I agreed to sign the dissolution papers.   I left him pretty much everything in the house.  I even agreed to give him back the wedding rings, which I later learned he had turned into earrings for some girl he’s not even with anymore.  Isn’t that enough?  (ok, that last part about the earrings came from a very bitter place . . . i may regret saying that later, but i honestly don’t care right now). 

I think I’m holding on to this idea that Dutch and I can be friends.  And Dutch means so much to me, and I want us to be friends so badly.  I’m still hopefull even when he says things like: “So are you still seeing those a**holes like the one you were dating last summer?….So you’re not on match.com yet?” 

Diane again saved my life through laughter Wednesday night.  We came up with a bunch of “could have, should have” comebacks including: “oh my god no, I only did match.com when we were married.”   Somtimes I really wish I had it in me to say those things. 

At the end of the conversation, I did say, “You know, you really caught me off guard when you said, ‘Hey, this is Jason.'”

He said, “Oh yea, well, I don’t really hang out with anyone anymore who calls me Dutch. I’m pretty much Jason now.” 

That moment was very significant to me.  I think I’ve been holding onto the idea of having Dutch in my life, as a friend.  (I never wanted to let him go in the first place.)  But the fact of the matter is, Dutch, My Friend doesn’t really exist anymore.  Jason, The Catholic has taken over.

I’m not yet sure how this affects my feelings toward the annulment.  Maybe I just sign it because my marriage to Jason, The Catholic never existed anyway.  Maybe I don’t because I remember my marriage to Dutch, My Friend, and it was real. 

I cried a lot that night, but I think it was less about me or the loss of our marriage, and more about the loss of Dutch as a person.   

The rest of the week was a lot better (despite Memphis losing last night!).  Earlier this week JB said she saw a sprout in me.  “The invincible summer even in the depth of winter.”  On that, I am beginning to focus. 

And speaking of summer, I hope it gets here soon.  I’m planning to open a few lemonade stands around town to help me with my taxes. 

(Maggie, You can be in charge of the electric lemonade stand.)    


February 20, 2008

Just be inspired!

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:57 am by LG

On the first snowfall of each year, my 9th Grade English teacher Mrs. Bucy put away her lesson plans, told her students to turn their desks to face the window, and instructed them to “Just be inspired!”  We could write whatever we wanted, think about whatever we wanted, or just sit and watch the flakes fall. 

It’s hardly the first snow of the year, and I’m hardly able to take an hour to stare out the window today at work, but I did give myself 10 minutes to watch.  A haiku popped into my head.  (I’m no writer, particularly of poetry, but every once in a while, it’s fun for me to try). 


Today snow falls, as
confetti, to celebrate
the summer in me.   

Assorted Snowflake Hanging from China

February 18, 2008

Happy Presidents’ Day

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:52 pm by LG

Appropriately, I spent the weekend in Chicago…though, I forgot to think about ol’ Abe until just now.  *holding head in shame*

Weekend was fun – spent it with some girlfriends, mostly indoors (brrrrr!)  [Thank you for hosting BM!]  Spent lots of time talking and an equal amount of time eating; there’s so much to choose from in Chicago.  We went to a great place Saturday night, and while we were there a guy proposed to his girlfriend.  They ordered champagne for the whole restaurant (which extinguished the small fire of bitterness I shamefully discovered inside).  It was actually very sweet and I felt special to be a part of such a huge moment in their lives. 

I had to fight a lot of “what might have been” thoughts this weekend.  Dutch and I had planned to move to Chicago this year.  Indeed, I even took the Illionis bar exam, which, according to my cacluation turned out to be a total waste of time and money.  I’m sure it added some value to my life, but geez, I just can’t figure out what that might be.  Today, waiting on the Washington/Wells platform for the orange line to Midway, I found myself staring at an empty bench.  I remembered sitting there — that exact bench — with Dutch after we found my apartment for the summer in 2006.  I saw me, sitting on his left, but facing him with my legs draped over his.  I did that a lot.  We talked about how great it would be to start our own adventure outside of Columbus, yet still in the comfort of the midwest.  Less than six months after that visit, he asked for the divorce.  I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it all.  But today, watching that scene…. it was as if I could walk up and touch us, give us both a hug.  And I wanted to do that.  I wanted to hug us both.

Yesterday, the girls and I went to Flirty Girl Fitness– a really, um, unique gym for women only.  Everything is pink.  Hot pink with butterflies.  They offer classes like pole dancing and chair striptease.  I think it’s a great concept; everyone there was having fun, buring calories, and feeling good about themselves.  We took “House Music Honies” where I relived my dream of becoming an In Living Color Fly Girl.  I also think I threw my back out…guess I better stick with this attorney thing.   

I got home this afternoon and went to see the Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  Wow. 

I have lots on my mind, but am too exhausted to write, and need to let some of my thoughts marinate a bit. 

I turned on the tv, hoping to watch something mindless before bed…landed on Girlicous – a reality show dedicated to finding the next hot girl group.  It’s presented by the Pussycat Dolls.  Hmm, ok, I’ll try this one.  Afterall, I did learn some killer dance moves this weekend.  I had to turn it off after the subtitles came on.  Now, the movie I saw today had subtitles too.  I can handle that.  But that movie is in french.  Girlicous is in english, but sometimes it’s just hard to understand the girls.  You have to sift through a lot of “like” and “oh my god.”  And I’m not sure the subtitles work anyway because your eyes are on, well, they aren’t on the words. 

And most of the contestants are from LA. 


February 15, 2008

V-Day: A Single Girl’s Story of Survival

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:21 pm by LG

Ok, that’s a bit dramatic. (I am a leo, remember?)

I thought yesterday was going to be tough for me, being Valentine’s Day and all (not to mention my half birthday…less than six-months ‘til 30!). Instead of ignoring and/or powering through difficult situations like I normally do (that is, until it gets so bad that I have to close my office door), I tried to prepare for this one.

First let me say (in an effort to defend my sappiness this year) that I never really cared about Valentines Day when I was part of a “we.” But I’m discovering a lot of things that didn’t bother me at all before, and now — suddenly single — they do. For instance, I can’t yet watch a movie on dvd by myself. It’s weird. I can go to a theater alone, and I can watch a movie at my home by myself if I happen to catch it on tv. But there’s something about putting in a dvd and watching a movie at my house, alone, that I just can’t seem to do. Grocery shopping is the same way. I just bought a gallon of milk for the first time in at least 8 months. Previously, there was nothing but 40’s in my fridge (don’t ask). I used to buy groceries when I was married – even when I lived on my own during my summer internships. I watched movies then too. And I didn’t care about V-day. Life is different now.

So, my strategy yesterday was based on the old adage: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And I was in it to win it. I went to my fitness class in a pink and red workout outfit. I passed out valentines to the participants (like the kind you used to buy for school…these were paper hearts with holes to weave in pixie stix like an arrow…even came with little paper arrow head to put at the end of the stix). I ended class with a breathing exercise as a reminder to focus on and love ourselves. I ate chocolate for breakfast. I *deeply enjoyed* the lavish gifts that Diane gave me (and I was glad to see her wearing red.) I passed out treat bags to everyone at work. And I donned a pink shirt with a red butterfly (symbolic for me).

I even decided to dash out in the afternoon to Bug’s Valentine party. Bug is two. She’s in a preschool with a bunch of 2-year-olds. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I imagined cute little toddlers, all dolled up in red, white, and pink, like pretty little cupcakes. Instead, I walked into a classroom filled with icing-smeared faces and kids bouncing off the walls (literally: one child, high on cookies no doubt, kept running into the wall and falling over), and a faint smell of poo that I fear lingered with me the rest of the day. I tried not to focus too much on the runny noses or grubby hands that seemed to surround me, and instead got as many Bug-hugs as I could and headed back to work.

I spent the evening in excellent company at my favorite spot (and second home), Northstar, went to see the movie Definitely, Maybe (pretty cute), had a heart-to-heart with one of my closets friends, and came home to find some CDs left in my mailbox for me by the instructor of a wonderful meditation class I took last fall. 

Turns out my strategy worked. Even though I didn’t have anyone to cuddle up with at the end of the night, my day was filled with people I love, and I guess that’s what Valentine’s Day is really about.

 In other news, scientists are actually discovering new solar systems.  I wonder how Valentine’s Day was over there. 

February 11, 2008

Momentary Meaning

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:06 pm by LG

I ran a quick errand at lunch today and stopped into my favorite soup/sandwich shop, Spinelli’s Deli; they have The Best Tomato Soup In The World. They should really consider naming it that. I sat down and finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning while enjoying my meal. Yes, I know I’ve been reading it for several weeks now; I’m a slow reader to begin with, and I’ve now taken up the habit (from my good friend Brian) of reading several books at once. I actually really like doing that because now I have different reading options depending on my mood. Today, I was contemplative.

The second half of the book is about Frankl’s philosophy of Logotherapy, the tenets of which are as follows:

  1. Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones (see my post “Life Behind Bars” for more on that).
  2. Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
  3. We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangable suffering.

To Frankl, there are three main ways to find meaning: through work or doing a deed; through experiences or encounters with someone (i.e., love); and (most important to Frankl) through finding courage during difficult times. It is this last one that Frankl believes (quoting Edith Weisskopf-Joelson) “may help counteract certain unhealthy trends in the present-day culture of the United States, where the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading so that he is not only unhappy, but also ashamed of being unhappy.”

Yea, this guy rocks my world.

Frankl teaches that logotherapy is “concerned with the potential meaning inherent and dormant in all the single situations one has to face throughout his or her life.” While there may be some long-range (ultimate) meaning, in order to fully understand it, one must one must actualize the potential meaning of each single situation. He likened it to a movie: although the end scene may have a tremendous amount of meaning, it cannot be reached but for each individual scene leading up to it. That is life, he says.

I kind of like this idea because the concept of discovering life’s “ultimate meaning” is a tad daunting, don’t you think? It’s a little easier to think about each situation and find meaning in it.

So there I was at Spinelli’s slurping my soup, book in hand, glancing out the window occasionally in deep thought. All of a sudden, this elderly gentleman (I’d say late 70s early 80s) shuffled past my table on his way out the door and he said, “Young lady, thanks for brightening our day.”

I looked up, a bit startled, eyebrows raised, and said, “Pardon me?”

“Thanks for brightening our day,” he said again.

Shocked, I said, “Well, I didn’t realize I had done so.” (I actually almost said, “Oh I’m so sorry” because I just expected a stranger to be registering a complaint of some sort).

He replied, “It’s just your presence. Thank you.”

Wide-eyed, I managed to get something out: “Well, gosh, thank you for brightening my day.”

We both gave each other smiles and nods, signs of appreciation and respect, he walked out the door with his companion, and they trotted up to Neil Ave.

Now, my first reaction was to give myself a quick once-over to make sure I didn’t “brighten” his day by leaving my zipper down or not realizing my underwear was hanging out.

Nope, jeans and (conservative) sweater covering all areas that should be covered.

Hmmm. My presence? Well, I guess I do smile a lot….

And then I thought about the meaning I found in that moment. I actually almost started crying and probably would have had there not been a (kind of cute) guy sitting at the table next to me who had seen the whole thing and kept watching me out of the corner of his eye. (I think he was scared of my “presence”).

I’m starting to think – – Maybe there are nice people in the world. Maybe there are good people in the world. Maybe most of us are nice and good, but we’ve just fallen pray to depression, aggression, and addiction because of overwhelming feelings of emptiness and meaninglessness. And maybe we’ve done so because we’ve forgotten how much meaning can be found in the individual moments that fill a day.

I think the man who spoke to me in the deli knows what meaning can be found in these moments, and he has taken it upon himself to remind others of this magic.

So, from today forward, I’m vowing to try to find more meaning . . . not in my life overall, but in the situations and circumstances that make up this journey. I’ll keep you posted.

And, in the very, very, very off chance that the elderly man who dined at Spinelli’s today is reading this, thank you kind sir.

February 7, 2008

The Reality of Reality

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:49 pm by LG

I came home from Cincinnati yesterday, exhausted and lonely.  There’s something about being at oral arguments — playing the role of a big bad law clerk — that makes me want nothing more than to curl up on the lap of someone who really loves me when it’s all over…  Since I don’t have that option right now, I settled on looking forward to trying on the new suits that I ordered online last week – I received notification that they were delivered while I was gone.  I pulled up in my parking spot and saw the package on the porch – “yea” I thought, imagining the crisp “New Navy” ensemble and the “Black, Polished Washed” sophisticated get-up.  As I walked up to the porch, however, something didn’t look right… Upon closer inspection, I saw that the box had been carefully ripped open on the side.  Everything inside was gone.  Everything, that is, but the receipt…just in case I needed to be reminded that I spent $400 on items that I will never see. 

I simply sighed, took the box inside, and chalked it up to the reality of city life. 

I realized later that I’m ok with that reality for some reason.  I think it’s because I made a choice to live in the city where the crime rate is a little higher, but for me the quality of life is worth it.  It’s the reality that’s a little more subtle, the reality that’s a part of my everyday life, the reality that I never made a conscious choice for, that just about kills me.

 ….before I get into that, I want to add that while I was telling a friend at the gym this morning about the suit incident, someone in the locker room overheard and said, “Oh my gosh, that’s terrible.  And why would anyone take your clothes, you’re like a pocket person.”  And she gestured like she was picking me up with her thumb and index finger and putting me in her imaginary shirt pocket.  Now, I’m sure that in some strange way she thought that was ok – perhaps even a compliment – but for some reason it really pissed me off.  I’m petite. I’ll give you that.  But I don’t live in a pocket.  Good lord!  I’m starting to understand (read: develop) short man’s syndrome. 

Anyhow, I went to therapy last night.  (Ok, let’s get this out of the way.  Yes, I go to therapy.  No, I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of it.  I’ve had to write a letter to the government a total of three times now to assure them that I’m not so crazy that I can’t adequately uphold the constitution and maintain loyalty to the country.  I’ve laid it out for them, and I can lay it out for you.  It’s helped me tremendously and I’m a better person for having JB in my life.)  In therapy, we talked about reality.  And the reality of my life right now is that it’s hard and painful.  And people who I expect to be nice aren’t always nice.

Her answer:  You are right! 

But there’s something in me that fights that with all my might.  It’s as though someone just told me – in my seven-year-old form – that santa clause doesn’t really exist.  I think that a part of me probably knew that before I actually found out, but even as I was being told the truth, I didn’t want to hear it.  I wanted to believe in the magic, the mystery, the idea that if I was a good girl, I would get gifts! 

And, I’m fighting it now.  But I’m slowly learning about reality, and deep down I know it’s true.

I know that parents aren’t always self-less.  Friends aren’t always loyal.  Sisters aren’t always dependable.  Judges aren’t always just.  Role models aren’t always heroes.  Lawyers aren’t always leaders.  Doctors aren’t always compassionate.  Vows aren’t always forever and promises aren’t always pure.   

Nooooooo, I scream inside!  No!  This can’t be so!  This isn’t how I believed the world to work and I want to go back to that belief.  I want to be a kid again – I want to believe in santa. 

So this is where I am right now, struggling with reality.  I’m beginning to accept these things – these things that I know, and probably have known for sometime but somehow denied. 

The key – I’ve learned through JB – is that I can’t reject everything now that I see the “bad side.”  I’m really good at that because I’ve created a black and white world for myself.  You’re either good or bad, right or wrong.  But the world isn’t like that.  Just because I found out that santa isn’t real doesn’t mean that I don’t still love Christmas or want to take my niece to sit on his lap at the mall.  I accept Christmas for what it is – an overly commercial holiday that’s also filled with incredibly nice gestures of generosity and love.

I have to remember that even though all of the players in my life are not always perfect, they sometimes are.  Even though my parents aren’t always self-less, most of the time they are.  Even though my sister’s not always dependable, most of the time she is.  Even though my friends aren’t always loyal, most of the time they are.  You get the idea.   

So instead of shutting myself in my apartment and turning my back on reality, I’m choosing to accept it for what it is and learn to hold it all – the black, the white, and the gray – in my world together.  Even though I didn’t choose this reality like I chose to live in the city, I’m choosing to accept it for what it is instead of either not recognizing it at all or making it out to be something that it’s not.  In short, I’m going to try to stay on this journey with my eyes wide open.           

By the way, I did call Ann Taylor in the off chance that they may have some sort of “goods misdelivered or stolen” program… turns out, they do.   And although they’ve sold out of my size in the suits that I ordered, I just received word that they will give me a full refund.  I’m forever a loyal customer. 

February 4, 2008

When Does a Compliment Become an Insult?

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:12 pm by LG

I’m in Cincinnati this week for oral arguments.  It’s kind of a draining, but super interesting, experience….one that truly deserves its own website (which I will NOT be creating).  In fact, I’ve often thought that a law clerk reality TV show would be a huge hit.  It can get pretty dramatic…in a nerdy sort of way.    

Anyhow, I’m here with my co-clerk HR and we went to grab a quick lunch and coffee to keep us nourished.  Our server was a jaunty man.  Jaunty, but with a dash of  strange and a sprinkle of sleaze.  From the beginning it was, “well hello beautifuls” . . . followed by, “what can i get you lovely ladies” . . . . the food delivered with, “here you go sweethearts” . . . and the check came with, “this one’s for you gorgeous.” 

HR and I kept looking at each other, clearly uncomfortable and annoyed.  After he dropped off the checks, I thought aloud: Why does this upset us so much?  Let’s talk through this. 

We had different ideas:

Maybe it’s a power issue….like, he thinks because he’s a man that he has the authority/power to pass judgment on women.  As if women are there to please visually and he is simply giving his “approval.”  Ew.   

Maybe it’s our personal struggle…we both are “little” girls (in size) and look like we’re 18.  Comments like that make us feel even younger.  And that we are not to be taken seriously.  Helloooo, can’t he tell that we are high-powered attorneys!!  (or at least on our way!)  We thought this one might be more accurate because we feel uncomfortable even when older ladies say similar things. 

Maybe because we thought he was a bit slimy…. we wondered what our reaction would be if, say, in court tomorrow some tall, dark and handsome number delivered a similar comment.  We both agreed that we would be equally insulted, if not perhaps more.   Hmmmm.    

In the end, I think that for me, comments like this are so bothersome because they are clearly not genuine.  Like any woman, I appreciate compliments (in fact, there were days when I wanted nothing more than the man in my life to say, “wow, you look great”).  But to me, compliments are worth nothing if they aren’t pure. 

And maybe that’s just it.  Maybe I knew that all he really wanted was a big tip and he thought we would be willing to pay for these “compliments.”  Or maybe I just have a hard time trusting men and I am hypersensitive.

I left him a decent tip just in case. 



February 2, 2008

A Life Behind Bars

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:25 pm by LG

I saw a man sentenced to life in prison yesterday…no possibility for parole. 

It wasn’t a surprise – everyone knew TH was getting life – the sentencing hearing was more of a formality and to work out certain issues possibly relevant for purposes of appeal.

I was a law clerk in the district court that held TH’s trial last summer.  He was charged with two murders and was eligible for the death penalty.  The jury convicted him, but did not impose death. 

That experience alone changed my life in significant ways, and I plan to write about it in depth at some point (along with a million other observations I made while clerking on the district court, and continue to do so now on the court of appeals). 

The greatest part of the trial, which still impacts my life on a daily basis, was befriending Diane, the amazing woman/attorney/friend/role model who represented TH.  I watched her with amazement during trial and continue to do so in life.  She’s awesome.  We are going to get pedicures today 🙂

Anyhow, I went to the hearing yesterday during which Diane continued to zelously advocate on her client’s behalf, namely so that TH would not spend his remaining years in a super-max facility.  I found myself asking, gosh, does it even matter at this point?  Won’t his life be awful no matter where he is?  ….Is his even a life worth living? 

I came home last night and continued to read Man’s Search for Meaning, in which I found some answers.  First, let me say, that I originally thought that the comparison which I am about to make (between a concentration camp prisoner, a convicted murderer, and, at some point, myself) is not only insensitive, but ignorant.  The three of us have lived very different lives, and one could justly say that the imprisonment that Frankl endured was borne of someone else’s evil, and the imprisonment that TH experiences is due to his own choices . . . (and my “imprisonment” — hmpf — is a bed of freakin’ roses compared to either of theirs).  Totally true.  But, in some way, all three of us (like everyone) are victims of circumstance – the circumstances of our family, environment, upbringing, and social setting.  It is on this commonality (which everyone contains) that I base this comparison.   (And on the fact that I believe there are lessons to be learned in others’ experiences, even if they are entirely unlike my own).  So, please understand that I recognize the vast differences but choose instead to focus on the similarity.

Frankl’s core message seems to be that although a human being is completely and unavoidably influenced by his surroundings (a lot of which is out his control), a man still has a choice in how he will react to it.  The sort of person one becomes, in the end, is the result of an inner decision, and not the result of external influences alone.  Frankl held on to his spiritual freedom, while undergoing the worst forms of torture known to man, and this alone gave his life meaning and purpose.  There is purpose in a man’s attitude to his existence, notwithstanding the fact that it is an existence often restricted by external forces. 

The way in which one accepts his life, and all the suffering it entails, is an opportunity to add a deeper meaning.  Frankl recognizes that although only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards, such “opportunities” are not just in concentration camps: “everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.” 

Frankl explained that those prisoners who lost the “inner hold” on their moral and spiritual selves quickly fell to the camp’s conditions.  Such man began to take on a “provisional existence” and because he could not see any future for himself, his thoughts turned to the past to help make the present suffering less real.  But, Frankl teaches that – stay with me (this is an amazing message) – in “robbing the present of its reality” one can easily overlook opportunities to make something positive of life. 

Frankl lived by Nietzsche’s words: “he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”  Those who saw no more sense in life, no more meaning, faded quickly because the “hows” were just too hard and there was no longer a “why.”  To develop a strong “why” for himself, Frankl underwent a fundamental change: he taught himself that it did not matter what he expected from life, but rather what life expected from him.  He stopped asking about the meaning of life and instead thought of himself as one who was being questioned by life – daily and hourly.  And his answers were in taking the right action.  For him, life was about taking responsibility to find the right moral answer in any given situation – therefore the hows became easier to withstand.  (eg – “My purpose is to find the right moral answer for me, in any situation; life has presented me with this particularly awful situation now to see how I will answer here.”)

Ok, we can all agree Frankl was amazing and achieved human greatness.  What does this have to do with TH (or me)?  Well, TH is going to live his entire life in prison.  And I sat at his sentencing yesterday ready to give up for him.  But, as Frankl recognizes, maybe TH can still make a victory of his experience . . . or he can ignore the challenge and vegitate.   The point is, TH still has a life (unlike his victims, I recognize) and he still has a choice.  Even though external circumstances will be entirely out of his control, he can find purpose in his own attitude toward his existence. 

Although I’ve made this discovery for TH, and naively wish to share it with him, I realize that he would probably tell me to go to hell in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.  Nevertheless, I I hope he finds this “inner hold.”  The same goes for the victims’ families.   

For myself, I realize I have been viewing my life as “provisional” for the last year and half.   Indeed, I often feel like I’m waiting for “my real life” to begin.  And because this existence is often so painful, I occupy my mind with retrospective thoughts.  I haven’t yet viewed this difficult situation as an opportunity to grow and reach new spiritual heights . . . an accomplishment which may not have been possible under ordinary circumstances.

And what power it is to know that no matter what happens on the outside, I have a choice about what happens on the inside!

So, (to end on a lighter note) last night, one of the first Friday nights I have stayed in by myself since the divorce (I’ve been really “good” at filling my time with happy hours, dates, shopping, working, etc), I found not sadness nor loneliness.  Instead I found an opportunity to curl up on the couch, eat a dinner of chocolate and popcorn, watch What Not to Wear, and later read and reflect upon Frankl’s teachings.  … all of which contributed to spiritual growth!  And by the end of the night I was actually really thankful for my life and the evening I had with myself . . . who, by the way, is turning out to be my favorite “date” of all.