I’ve had several ecstatic, transformational, almost out-of-body experiences. They are rather hard to describe, and I don’t know what they are (if you do, please fill me in!). But each has been intensely beautiful and powerful, and in each case I’ve felt like I was on a different plane of existence.
The most recent occurred on one of my numerous visits to the Family Court Self-Help Center (JM-570 in the Moultrie Courthouse at 500 Indiana Avenue, NW) while representing myself in filing a petition for divorce.
My husband and I were married for 38 years, and separated 6 ½ years ago. He moved to Asia; I struggled to assemble everything for the divorce petition and filed with the aide of the pro-bono attorneys at the Self-Help Center. My husband and I met in high school, had 3 sons together… and it’s been very hard.
Finally the day arrived for my hearing. A dear friend accompanied me to provide moral support. (Thank you, darling!) We sat dutifully on the chairs outside courtroom JM-5 as directed, waiting for a clerk to call us in. And waiting… and waiting… After 4 hours, we couldn’t help but notice that the locked courtroom did not appear to be reviving after lunch. A guard recommended I go upstairs to the information desk to inquire about my case. I did, only to learn that my case had been dismissed. Evidently, the judge thought I hadn’t appeared for the hearing.
Back to the drawing boards. I returned to the courthouse the next morning to file a “Motion to Vacate Dismissal”. The courthouse, always crowded, was unusually packed. The line for security stretched way out the door into the plaza fronting the building, and snaked back and forth toward the scanners within. Someone using a microphone in a nearby public space was yelling about Islam, though the words weren’t clear. People in line looked at each other, both curious and resigned.
Once inside the courthouse, I took the escalators down to the the Family Court area, a massive, majestic corridor of courtrooms holding a veritable sea of humanity. Children eagerly ran up to fathers as they arrived, their mothers bitterly looking the other way. A tough-looking young man cried openly in frustration, with two officers bearing guns in their holsters and cuffs hooked to their belts gently counseling him to stay strong, be calm, let the process work. Couples threaded through throngs of people towards the marriage license bureau at the very end of the hall, to a room with glittering red hearts and the word “Love” draped in silver above the desks to apply for their marriage licenses. The room was largely full of women waiting for certified copies of their marriage licenses to append to their divorce petitions. At the opposite end of the grand hall a woman loudly yelled “fuck” and “fucking” over and over and over again.
I signed in at the self-help center and sat waiting, watching as others entered and signed in, first come, first serve. A man glided into the room in a wheelchair, very jovial and comfortable in his own skin. A weary young man came in with his mom, a police officer on a break, who was not about to let her son go through this process alone. A woman with two toddlers, a baby and a wooden expression on her face signed in next. A young attorney came to get me and I quickly recounted how my case came to be dismissed. “Really?” he said, shaking his head. “Really?” We completed the Motion to Vacate Dismissal and I filed it with the nice filing clerk, who is always such a pleasure to see.
Then I passed back through the sea of people with faces expressing so much bitterness and pain and frustration and fear — and so much bewilderment on the faces of the children.
So much suffering.
As I walked down the majestic marble hallway, threading my way through clusters of lawyers and families, I began offering a stream of metta, silently sending comfort and love:
May you be held in the heart of loving kindness
May you be safe, happy, healthy, and live with ease
May you be free from suffering
May you know peace, equanimity and joy!
May you be free. May you live with ease.
Then I began experiencing a transcendent feeling, a force greater than myself, moments so much larger than any other, channeling love to so many suffering people. The practice embodied, real, and astoundingly beautiful. It felt like months of visiting this space had helped attune me to the need, and that I could share positive energy with people in a moment of deep need. I felt I was touching into my life purpose, full of light and love, suffused in gratitude.
A little girl shyly smiled and me, and a young man passing at the same time caught the feeling and smiled, too. We were in a loving moment together.
Several months later I returned to court accompanied by my middle son, bless him! He kept me company throughout the morning, as we listened to the caring and courteous judge gently probe the status of case after case brought forth by broken-hearted people, sometimes angry and bitter, mostly tired and empty of expression. The judge quickly granted my divorce petition and invited us to stay 10 minutes while the clerk typed up the decree. We walked out into the sunshine and to a good lunch at a nearby favorite restaurant where I saw a painting by one of my oldest and dearest friends on the wall. I felt surrounded by love; my love for my former husband, of so many years; for our 3 sons; for my dear friends; for all those struggling in the Family Court; and for all beings. A circle felt complete.
We have the power of love to offer to all who are suffering.