Monday, October 22, 2012

Personal Choices

My last post evoked a storm of controversy. Why did I let my ex-husband “off the hook from paying child support and alimony?”… “ It’s his responsibility!” … “You needed the money!”…

All true. Nonetheless, I decided not to choose that path. Perhaps it was pride—I wanted to be able to stand on my own feet, rather than be a burden to someone. Perhaps I wanted to avoid the mental anguish to count on payments that might not come or I might have to plead for. Time is too precious for that.

It’s true, I had no assets, but I had landed a job. Money was not of prime importance to me, probably because I grew up in Europe where you do not mention the word. The focus is on values, education, manners and consideration for others.

For me this path felt right. I had confidence in the future. I was willing to work hard, I wanted a happy and harmonious life for my children and me. Staying within our means was a small price to pay. Obviously, this approach is not for everyone.

True, we didn’t wear the latest fashion! Our tight budget called for setting priorities. Ours were sports, art and music. I added moonlighting jobs and acquired second-hand tennis rackets and bicycles and later a fine, upright piano. It wasn’t a Grand, but it still sounds grand today. Instead of visits to the hairdresser I took first aid courses so I could join the Ski Patrol and we could ski—I still remember fondly the ball we had at ski swaps getting ready for the slopes.

This unconventional course of action allowed the children an unclouded and good relationship with their father and a cordial one for me during social functions when a father’s presence is important.

I have a tenant, a good-looking young woman with two children. Her rent is always late because her ex-husband hasn’t paid yet. One day she gave me his phone number so I could call and remind him—but no thanks. Every month the power company sends me a warning that they’ll turn off her utilities—luckily that’s not my problem either. Eventually, the rent does arrive, but I feel sorry for the constant stress she suffers.

Life calls on us daily to make choices. Some are easy and automatic.  Others require thought when a solid foundation is helpful to make wise decisions—something permanent and indestructible like values, because our rational mind is willing to justify just about anything.

May you be fortunate in making yours,


Saturday, October 6, 2012

When things go wrong

How does one cope with an unexpected, painful divorce? It’s not easy! However, life goes on and whether we like it or not we need to deal with it.

Mine came out of the blue. We had barely moved to the Bay Area when my husband had to go back to Los Angeles. Six weeks later he returned. The children and I decorated the house with flowers and shopped for his favorite foods to celebrate.

I was making the beds when suddenly a wave of cold terror gripped me. I shot up and turned around. In the doorway stood my husband. He looked somber and distant.

"I want a divorce," he said.
I was thunderstruck, unable to comprehend or think. Like a robot, I helped him pack and made him a sandwich for his trip back to the other woman. Within an hour he was gone. The idea of a divorce hadn’t sunk in yet. My head was throbbing with pain.

Wearily I re-read his letter. Where had I failed? Where did I go wrong? Most troublesome were his words: you are too good for me... you deserve better...with her I can smoke and drink.  True, I didn’t smoke and drink, but I didn’t mind that he did. There had to be some plausible explanation, some grievous faults of mine.

This was 30 years ago. It was an emotional tsunami from which I thought I'd never recover. But eventually I found answers and learned lessons that stood me in good stead in solving the problems that crop up ever so often.

Don't complain; take action. I had no money and no job, not even a credit card or checkbook. Whenever I needed money while I was married, I had to ask my husband for it. Never again! I looked for work and soon had a full-time job and moonlighted at three others. Hard work, I found, can be an excellent remedy for a troubled soul.

End dependency. When he asked to postpone the alimony and child support payments for a month, I wrote back that I had a job and needed no further support—a crazy move according to most levelheaded persons. As it turned out, it was a good move for me; it restored my pride and saved me from ever having to worry that a payment might not come. It taught me to live within my means. And that made me thrifty, independent and free. I don't advocate this approach to others, though it worked very well for me. Do what is best for you.

Remain civil. One of my cardinal rules is never to speak ill about anyone, especially not to children about their father. After all, he is their parent whom they need to respect and love, primarily for the sake of their own emotional well-being. To his credit, their father adhered to the same rule. There's nothing in the world that courtesy cannot achieve better than anger.

Focus on understanding. It's useless and indeed harmful to become bitter. Yet his words that I was too good for him had cut me to the core. Kindness meant everything to me. Why did being kind destroy my life? I finally figured it out. My husband had fallen in love with another woman. His emotions had propelled him to act, but his rational mind had to justify it in socially acceptable terms. An emotion is like a hypnotist’s suggestion: close the window when you wake up. We wake up and close the window, and then we call upon our reason to justify it: “It’s cold outside.” In other words, kindness had nothing to do with the divorce.

Forgive. You've heard the expression, "time heals all wounds." It took me seven years. I came across an article that spoke about the healing effect of putting onto paper what disturbs us and then forgiving the persons who were involved. So I sat down and wrote. It was the last time I shed a tear. I concluded the letter with the words, that I had put it behind me and forgiven him. And I meant it. It's a strange thing, when I mailed that letter, a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. I knew I was on the right path.

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. There's a vast difference. Forgiving means letting go of a grudge for having been hurt. It does not mean to forget it. It would be foolish to ignore a lesson we've learned the hard way; we don't want to repeat it. People rarely change their basic characteristics. Studies have shown that people who remarry their former spouses can succeed only when they thoroughly take into account and make adjustments for their differences that once tore them apart. It's important, therefore, to remember the lesson we've learned—just as important as to forgive, because forgiveness heals us of our emotional turmoil and pain. The Dalai Lama is a shining example.

The foolish neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.   Thomas Szasz

Until next time,


PS.   Part of this story is taken from my book, Live, Laugh and Learn  (available also for Kindle)