I began 2012 on a dream trip to The Galapagos Islands with National Geographic and some friends I’d met the previous year my trip to Antarctica with NatGeo. HEAVEN!
The day I returned to work, I set out directly for a court case I’d been working on for well over a year. It was an extremely contentious case that completed depositions just before I left for The Galapagos. I had formed the belief that the opposing counsel was a horrible, arrogant, calculating automaton best exemplified by how he reacted when the court reporter started choking during a deposition. I asked the attorney to pause his questioning to make sure the court reporter was OK and he responded, “If he needed a break, he’d say so.” To which I cried: “HE CAN’T BREATHE!” My heart races now just recounting that event.
Let’s rewind a bit: During depositions, this attorney and I had a difference of legal opinion about a particular issue. That happens and is part of what can make law so interesting. I said I’d sleep on our different perspectives. The next morning I proffered a compromise. Because I didn’t fully yield to his position, he maintained his objection for the record – – which he was perfectly entitled to do. I thought the whole thing was over, we’d agreed to disagree, and the judge would make a ruling if and when it came to that. I felt I’d done my job protecting my client while being reasonable. I imagine the other lawyer felt he’d protected his client and preserved the record as well. No problem. Both lawyers doing their jobs. Off to The Galapagos I went.
When I appeared in court for our scheduled status conference after my vacation, this lawyer asked me in the hall if I’d reconsidered my position. After stating that I thought we’d been through all of that and that our respective positions were clear, I asked why he was asking. He said, “Because you bribed a witness and I’m going to make a motion for sanctions.” He was not kidding. It was insufficient that the witness I was accused of bribing overheard this and blurted out, “SHE DID NOT!”
When I received the papers containing his factual and legal assessment of the situation, I shook with rage, shock and fear. This man actually accused me of committing a felony punishable by one year in prison and disbarment. My personal and professional honor was under attack and, for me, if I don’t have that, everything else is pretty much pointless.
Amid drowning in a flood of emotions, I had to get hold of my faculties to help write papers in opposition telling “my side” of what happened. I called on every analytical and writing skill I had to produce an incisive, measured, elegant piece of work. It felt like I was writing for my life. My stake in this game was my integrity, and that means everything to me.
In the meantime, I began marshalling character witness for a potential hearing before the disciplinary committee. I called attorneys with whom I’d had some very vitriolic dust-ups during litigations. Believe me, it’s no easy thing to call someone you know can’t stand you and ask them if they’d testify for you. I knew I could count on my integrity no matter what. Every person was stunned, supportive and compassionate. Each eagerly offered to help, saying “You may be a real b**** sometimes, but I would never question your ethics.” I wouldn’t trade the testimonials of those “enemies” for the world. I was hearing a chorus of: “I may not like her, but I trust her. She has character and integrity.”
In the midst of this siege, I came across a quote attributed to J.K. Rowling: “Rock bottom became the solid foundation upon which I built my life.”
And so it did. As I contemplated how I would feed my dog and pay the rent if I were fired or disciplined (I had quit my upscale health club to save money just In case), I realized there was nothing more I could do and I had no control in the outcome. In that moment, I had a choice: continue to lose my mind, continue to have my soul in torment, or surrender. By surrender, I do not mean give up or give in. I mean acknowledge that I’d done all I could do and that it was simply not up to me. I could continue to tax my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health over something I couldn’t control or figure out what lesson(s) I was to learn. Frankly, that seemed much easier than continuing to go off the deep end. Trust me – that’s not hyperbole.
And I did learn. I learned about myself and others. I thought I couldn’t get through this without using it as an opportunity to learn. I kept thinking about the possibility of losing everything – – career, income with which to pay rent, creature comforts, stability, security. Is that really “everything?” I had people who knew and would staunchly attest that I am a person with steadfast integrity. I realized that was truly everything. The other “stuff” could be rebuilt from the foundation of this rock bottom.
To alleviate the rage and contempt I felt toward my accuser, I trotted out my old stand-by: compassion. Could I see the situation from his point of view? What if he really believed I’d done this horrible thing? I could stand in my self-righteousness or LEARN, grow my soul, and create. When I adopted this different tack, almost instantly, I got more freedom around the entire situation. I felt stronger, more empowered than I’d ever felt in my life. There was nothing anybody could take from me – – this was it.
Can I forgive him – I don’t know. The rage and hate have eased. To be honest, I really begrudge giving him credit for the lessons and for the gift of a stronger foundation of my Self. I think through clenched teeth: “I am grateful to X for this experience.” I’m practicing saying it without rancor, but hey – I’m No Buddhist! So, I’m giving myself a break, knowing I’ll probably get there when I’m ready. Surprisingly, I’m getting there more and more each week as I simply sit with it and think about it and be open to the possibility.
So, forgive and forget? I can’t forget it. Maybe I don’t even want to. It’s given me a stronger, more solid foundation for my Self. Maybe forgive and forget is obsolete. Maybe it’s time for Forgiveness 2.0: Remember and Be Grateful.