My children’s father and I amicably worked out the settlement of our divorce in mediation without attorneys. In Arizona where we lived, the mediator agreed to shepherd the papers through the courts. Awhile after the mediation had concluded I went to my mailbox and opened an official looking letter. I discovered I’d been officially divorced by the Maricopa County court, four days earlier.
Although I’d known the final document was coming, I wasn’t emotionally prepared to receive the papers in such an impersonal way. I became profoundly sad. I called a divorced girlfriend who understood the swirl of emotions surrounding the finality and we talked it through.
My life moved on, and ultimately I moved back to my home state of Iowa to resume my practice of law and mediation. Three years later, I married FP. I loved my husband and we settled in to our life as a married couple. I was so grateful that I’d been given a second chance.
Unfortunately two years later, I faced my second divorce. This time, the circumstances were much different. There was drama surrounding the parting. I wasn’t expecting things to end, and I was reeling from pain when I filed for divorce from FP. He left our home and quickly moved on with his life, choosing not to look back. I was the opposite: stuck in the quicksand, unable to move at all. I felt shame at being twice divorced.
Because our marriage was relatively brief, I chose to handle the divorce myself. I was relieved when he hired a respected and fair-minded colleague to represent him. Midway through the divorce, on a day when I was serving as a mediator on a case, one of the lawyers stayed behind. She asked me to sit down at the mediation table after everyone was gone. Knowing I was going through a divorce, she inquired how I was doing. I confessed that I was not doing well, and that I was trying to settle the legal matters by myself.
This generous woman attorney touched my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “Give me the file.” She took the file, drafted the Decree and tied up the few loose ends of the settlement with FP’s counsel.
Remembering the cold way that I had received the final notice in my first divorce, I asked her if she would accommodate a timed finalization of this one. We picked a day that worked both for the court and for my attorney friend to “prove up” the divorce. I booked a plane ticket to Arizona so that I would be there when my case was finalized in Iowa.
On the morning of the date chosen, I arrived at the base of Squaw Peak Mountain in Phoenix. I called my lawyer in Des Moines and as we had planned, she was simultaneously pulling into the parking lot of the Polk County courthouse. After hanging up, I got out of my rental car and sent out a text to a group of friends who had seen me through the darkest days.
“Thanking you for your love and support from the base of Squaw Peak where I will climb up the mountain as a married woman and climb down as a single woman to begin my new life,” I texted.
“U go girl!” “Sending u love!” “U are a courageous woman!” and similar responsive texts poured in.
Tears streaming behind my purple sunglasses, I set up the mountain with an iPod playing in my ear that had been loaded by my oldest daughter. She had specially picked each song to send messages of hope, mercy and love. As I climbed up Squaw Peak, I pictured my lawyer back in Iowa in front of the judge presenting my final divorce papers. I pictured FP’s signature on the page. I pictured the judge signing my Decree as I reached the top of the mountain.
On the top there were three black birds dancing in the air. I knew from my newfound affinity with birds it was the universe reminding me that God had me on His radar. As a Greek Orthodox Christian, I asked my daughter to load the Byzantine chant version of the Lord’s Prayer on the iPod. In the midst of a perfect Arizona day on the top of Squaw Peak, I listened to that selection and I prayed for my new life.
After my time of spiritual solitude, I hit the iPod for the next random selection, anticipating the trek down. Out spouted “Your Wildest Dreams” by the Moody Blues. I was overcome with relief and freedom and I burst out in dance. At the top of Squaw Peak I threw my arms up and looked out over the city from all angles, dancing like a crazy woman. At the end of the song I walked down the mountain, returning to the car to find a message from my lawyer: “Your divorce is final, you are a single woman.”
For three years since, on the anniversary of my divorce in October, I have climbed Squaw Peak (also called Piestewa Peak). My iPod is loaded each time with songs of inspiration, hope, love and healing. I’ve used the trek as a time to reflect on the prior year and to pray about my dreams for the future. Each year I’ve found myself stronger: healing, discovering new things about myself and about life. Each time as I reach the top I listen to the Byzantine chant, pray and then ALWAYS, I dance to the Moody Blues oblivious to people watching me.
As a result of my experiences, I often ask the parties who settle in mediation when they would like their divorce finalized by the court. To the extent possible we avoid dates that would add extra pain: birthdays, the anniversary date, other dates with special significance. I encourage them to schedule something special for that day, at a minimum to be around people or things that are nurturing or supportive. Rituals need not be elaborate, just a marker of the important transition with dignity and grace.
My ritual is unique and I am grateful to my dear friends Laura and Alan who have let me stay at their home in Scottsdale every year when I have gone there for the climb. This October, the four year anniversary of my divorce from FP, I will not climb the mountain. I feel my healing now allows me to reflect on the past year, and the dreams for the future, wherever I am. This year, I have plans to do things on that day that honor my heart and bring me joy, here at home in Iowa.
I do know for sure I will send up a prayer of blessing and forgiveness to FP, like I do each year, as I listen to the Byzantine chant of the Lord’s Prayer.
And even if the weather is chilly on that October Iowa day, you may see a woman in a convertible with the top down and the seat warmers on high, blasting the Moody Blues.