Today, after helping a wonderful client resolve a modification case amicably with her daughter’s father, I went to get a treat for myself – large soy 1/2 decaf latte. I always feel a bit silly ordering half-caf soy anythings, but I know others order things much more unusual and complicated than I.
In any case, the point of this post is not my coffee order, but rather that in the cafe were three adorable children, dressed in their rash guard swimsuits and smelling like suntan lotion (the courthouse is on Cape Cod, not far from the beach). It made me think about the conflict resolution work I do, and how easy it is for everyone involved – lawyers, clients, judges, friends – to get sidetracked by our stories about the conflict, rather than the heart of the matter. I wondered whether, if everyone involved could imagine smelling that lotion, could imagine hearing the children’s cries as they sank their toes into the hot sand and tasted the salt water, whether we might not get so entrenched in things that don’t matter as much as those very moments. As lawyers, we might stop for a moment and think about whether the advice that we are offering to our clients is really helping them to help the situation, or whether our assistance is confounding an already-challenged situation. As people in dispute, we might think about whether we are clinging to a position because we believe it’s “right” or “just,” or because we are angry at the other person, rather than what makes the most sense under the circumstances and ultimately benefits our children. Our lives are just too short and too precious to allow ourselves to become embroiled in such folly, right?
I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems,”The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?– Mary Oliver