My friend Smooth and I used to be lawyers in private practice together, and while we were about as different as possible — both as people, and as professionals — we got on famously, so we were often paired on projects.
The weekend before we were assigned to what turned into The Big Deal, my ex-husband and I hammered out our separation agreement. It was Long in Coming, and I won’t bore you with too much detail because everyone has heard the story before. The high-level summary is this: After I had moved out in the end of April 2009 as a trial separation, the situation, by August, had become unsustainable. So one weekend, I put Linda Thompson on the stereo, and we sat around what is now my big, round table, and we put on paper what needed to be worked out. Then…it was done. Then I had to go back to Washington, where I was to send the agreement — notarised — from a different city, because the law then in effect required that we maintain separate residences.
New York, for its part, was the last state in the Union to become a “no-fault” divorce state, and it would still be a year from the Summer of Our Discontent before New York would enter Governor Reagan’s California No Fault Free Love Utopia.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, Smooth and I were due for a mid-morning client call to kick off the Big Deal, so I darted out of the office and had the agreement stamped with the notarial seal of the UPS Store off Connecticut Avenue NW. After the package of documents was safely out of my hands, I left the store and slumped on the corner, letting out an ugly sob, before I going back to my office for the call.
Then, before I knew what was happening, I was on a plane to the West Coast, and my life was permanently changed.
I learned Quite a Lot that Autumn. I learned about compassion, and Self Compassion. I learned that none of my young peers knew quite what it meant to be Going Through a Divorce — and for that matter, neither did my Baby Boomer parents. I learned about personal and professional crisis management. I learned how to drink whisky, and that I couldn’t hold my whisky, and that there was only one good Thai restaurant in all of Pacific Grove, CA.
I learned to climb mountains.
I learned that Yosemite Valley, when seen from the top of Half Dome for the first time, was one of the sweetest, most triumphant sights in the world — even if you couldn’t see the Valley Floor through the haze of a forest fire.
I learned that a divorce felt a bit like a forest fire. It felt like burning and churning and being torn apart. But like the ancient conifers, I learned that sometimes the very best seeds could only be released by being scorched.
In other words, ometimes, in order to be renewed, you must be burned.
Ultimately, the Big Deal didn’t turn out as we planned. And when the whole thing closed down and we all went home, I kept in touch with all of the people on the project. To this day, I see them in places all around the world.
Years have passed; life has gone on.
Then, one night a few weeks ago, Smooth and I received invitations to a party, celebrating the re-opening of the thing that was the object of the Big Deal. The party was to take place the same week as the anniversary of my separation from my former spouse — almost four years to the day from the kick-off call; from the morning I sent those papers from the UPS Store on Connecticut Ave NW.
And it was funny to look back, and see how much had changed; how far I’d come. How far we’d all come — how we’d scattered and moved and expanded. It was a weird metric by which to measure change, but the change had happened, and I was glad.
For my part, I had been burned; scorched; broken down; beaten up. But if I hadn’t been burned, I’d never have changed. Like the trees along the rocky coast, without the fire, I’d never have grown.
And I have grown.