(NOTE: Grateful to the bartender at one of my favorite spots who lent me a pen so I could furiously get this down and to my Curly Girl, who is forever leaving scraps of sketched upon paper in the backseat of my car.)
None of us are there because we want to be. Except perhaps a mercenary or eager-to-prove herself lawyer or two.
My own lawyer sits right next to me, not apart from his client, as so many others do. His presence is as reassuring as his twenty years of friendship have been. That we are here together is testament to my stubborn belief that we all belong to one another in this life, and that our chosen family matters, too.
It’s mostly estates we hear brought before the judge–decisions to be made about a person’s physical effects and financial property, all that’s left of someone’s father or brother or mother or daughter or lover, as if the soul never mattered most after all. Probate court sounds so clinical–but what you’re really talking about is people’s legacies. And often that’s about, as we are there for, making the best decisions possible for the financial futures of children who have lost a parent or caregiver.
One case before ours got to me, tears pricking behind my eyes as I heard the judge ask, “Where is the father?” and the lawyer equivocated, “He’s…at-large,” only to have the mother, his client, chime in with the truth, “He’s on the run, sir. That’s what he means. He’s a fugitive.” And I think how grateful I am not to be saying that, even though my own presence in the room indicates that life hasn’t turned out like I’d planned either (Does it really, for any of us?). Such is the reality of imperfect dreams.
Smoke rises up from the jacket in front of me, and I shift, uncomfortably, at the smell, instinctively shrinking from it, as I wish I could from all the harsh reality around us.
It’s easy to judge. Easy to say, “How did she get there?” or “How did he let that happen?” as cases are presented, easy to want to say, “Oh, that’s not me…my story’s different,” but the truth is that the unexpected can happen to anyone and life can be brutal. In spades. And some of us are luckier than others.
A dark-skinned woman with gorgeous chocolate eyes taps me on the shoulder, whispering in broken English a question.
“Is this right room?” I think I hear her say and I nod, after checking with my lawyer to be sure. Truth is I hadn’t noticed what room we were in. Not until she asked. She is alone, a young son with her. And I am reminded that I am not alone; and, that even if I were, somehow, it would be okay. Because I am not in the room for me. I am here for my daughter, doing my best to shield her from the heartache she has too early and too painfully known.
For her I can do anything; and every day, including this one, I’m seeking space for her to learn a new hope, to dream new dreams. And this means I can stand tall as we approach the bench and say, with a truly grateful heart to a truly kind judge, “Thank you, sir,” as he affirms decisions and signs his support.
And then we exit–quietly, quickly, and it feels like maybe I can breathe again. Courtrooms are always hard. Because in them is often the worst and best of humanity nestled right up next to each other. And I breathe a prayer of thanksgiving for my own village and hope desperately for those still inside. That they’ve got someone in their corner. Someone or something to fight for. Some pure grace like my Curly Girl to remind them that yes, life is brutal. But oh my…it is also beautiful. And so very full of goodness.
We are all our very worst and very best. We are all vulnerable to brokenness. We are all made of the potential for good and evil both. Still, we are loved. Fiercely. No matter what. And this truth makes it possible to face what is worst about us and then strive towards what is best. I’ve no idea what it is about Courtroom #310 that helps me see this–but for the humility and grace of it both, I am, somehow, surprisingly, thankful.