A few years ago, I was getting divorced. The paperwork had been completed with a mediator, but I had been advised to hire a lawyer to review our settlement agreement to make sure everything was clear and fair.
I made an appointment, and when I walked into the law office, I found the lawyer was a woman about my own age. She had a beautiful stylish haircut, manicured nails and lovely shoes without a scuff on them. I suddenly felt self-conscious about my own uncolored roots, chewed nails, and the old pumps from 1992.
She led me into her tidy office full of shiny, new furniture and offered me a bottle of water from the fridge. We made small talk. Her au pair was picking up her kids today; I had been an au pair many year ago. As we talked, I thought about my old laptop, piles of papers, and file cabinet I had rescued from the side of the road that made up my “office” at home. I recalled trying to work while my kids played or watched TV.
And as she went to work, reading and examining the papers I had brought along, I found myself consumed with envy. This could have been my life!! I could have been a lawyer. I could have had the beautiful clothes and the fancy office and the nanny to help take care of my kids. Why had I decided to become a writer?! Of all the stupid decisions I had made, this was surely one of the worst.
Half an hour or so later, she was done with the review. Everything was in order. I thanked her for her time and stood to go.
“Wait,” she called after me.
I turned around to look at her. She looked kind of wistful.
“You did say you were a writer, right?” she asked. Before I could nod, she went on. “Because that is so cool!!”
And suddenly, I saw everything differently. She envied me! Maybe she didn’t want to spend hours in a salon, getting her hair and nails done each week, but felt she had to maintain a certain appearance for the firm. She was stuck in this office, all day, everyday, while I could work when and where I wanted. In a cafe. At the library. At home in my pajamas. I had the freedom to imagine stories that I wanted to tell, that were meaningful and important to me. Her days were filled with paperwork, the sad stories of the end of people’s marriages. Maybe she wanted to be the one to pick up the kids from the bus stop.
We looked at each other for a moment and smiled. I told her the names of my books, gave her a card in case she wanted to go to the library and check one out. If we had met in a different manner, I think we would have been friends. I thanked her again and walked out grateful, not only for the legal advice, but for the change in perspective, the realization that we both saw the good in each other lives.
I think this is one of the most important things good writing does for us - it allows us, for a few moments at least, to see the world from someone else’s point-of-view.