"You can put your money in my children's college fund or your children's college fund. It's up to you."
As a divorce lawyer, I spoke these words many times. Any time a client considered waging a costly war in the courtroom over simple household items, I invited them to look at where they wanted to invest their dollars.
I would give my best advice, but the decision was ultimately up to the client. You want to fight over the rocking chair and the cookie jar? Not a problem. Part of the lawyer’s job, I believe, is to help the client be clear about the choices they make and the cost of those choices.
We humans attach tremendous meaning to objects. We associate them with our memories, moments, and emotions. Beliefs about the value of household goods have torn grieving siblings apart and earned pots of money for appraisers and lawyers.
I was reminded of this attachment as I observed my recent reluctance to part with my big blue sofa. It was the first new piece of furniture I remember buying. I spent a thousand dollars for it, envisioning I might just keep it forever.
This was the sofa where I lined up our children, dressed as little vampires, for pictures on Halloween. It was the sofa where cherished friends sat having late night talks about music and books as I poured a second round of coffee.
The big blue sofa was wide enough for two people who loved each other to nap side by side. It was the sofa I rested on too little before I learned better, and the one I could not get up from after my mother died. It was the sofa where my husband lay quietly during the months before his death.
When it was time for that sofa to find a new home, I watched my memories being carried down the stairs and out the door along with it. I wanted to make it stop. It was just a piece of furniture. Still, I longed to hold on to it even in the face of seeing it was best to let it go.
In that moment, my heart of compassion grew for every client who ever contributed to my children’s college fund for the sake of a battle over the dining room table or that red glass pitcher.