The first time I ever saw “Lana” she was already on the witness stand as I walked into the court room. I was a new attorney, still in my 20s. I had never seen a divorce before. I didn’t even really know anyone who had been divorced.
Most of the work I had done until then was for other lawyers, drafting the contracts they had negotiated, briefing cases they needed for court, interviewing their witnesses. I didn’t know what type of law I would eventually practice. I had a brand new shiny degree and I was still figuring it out.
I was one of three attorneys from our firm in the courthouse that day. Two of us were on a civil matter and one was handling a family case. When there was a break in one, I’d go sit in on the other to see which attorney might need my help.
I walked into the family law courtroom and slipped into an empty seat in the back row. My associate was interviewing a woman on the witness stand. The witness sat in front of the courtroom full of people and with perfect calm, grace, and poise answered every question put to her, while tears silently rolled down her cheeks.
She was only a couple years older than I was and in that moment she was becoming a self-supporting single mom. By choice. The husband was her high school sweetheart, and she loved him, but he couldn’t settle down and raise a family with her and she could no longer support him, herself, and their two year old son. She was cutting him loose, and it was breaking her heart.
I didn’t know most of this at the time. What I knew was this, the judge asked her why she had agreed to accept decreased child support, and she looked across the room to where her husband sat staring down at his hands. “My husband is a landscaper,” she told the judge. “His work is seasonal and when he doesn’t have work he doesn’t have money. I can’t ask him to give me what he doesn’t have. I know that when he makes money he’ll take care of me and Luke.”
The judge reminded both parties that if he did not “take care of her” she could always come back to court and ask for more child support. Then he pronounced them single and unmarried. She thanked the judge, stood up from the witness stand and walked straight past her lawyer and over to her ex-husband, where he stood waiting for her. They did not say a word to each other. They just stood there, facing each other, each holding both of the other’s two hands with their foreheads touching and tears falling on the floor at their feet.
I have never seen another divorce like it. I am proud to say that I became friends with Lana and more than twenty years later still count her as one of my dearest friends. In that moment she was, in every way, one of the most beautiful people I have ever seen. I have learned so much from her strength and generosity of spirit in all of these years, but never more than I learned from her the very first time I ever saw her.
And . . . she never had to go back and ask for more child support.
What We Love: Sometimes giving people the benefit of the doubt works to your own benefit.