Revenge . . . . Justice . . . . .Forgiveness ~ Part 1

The extortion attempt began with my opening a monthly statement from the attorney who represented me in my divorce from the pot-smoking skier.  My two little girls had been kidnapped twice by him and it was imperative that I secure the expertise of an attorney so that I could protect my daughters and retain permanent custody.  I didn’t have time to do the proper due diligence in selecting legal representation so, based upon the recommendation of a friend, I hired Ed.  

Papers were filed, I hid the girls on a remote ranch in Roseville, CA for a few days and I tried to concentrate on work. Finally, after months of worry, the depletion of all of my savings, a move from a middle-class San Leandro neighborhood into a violent Hayward ghetto with my little girls, ages 2 & 4, the divorce was final and my now ex-husband had been sufficiently threatened by the State of California, that I no longer feared that he would kidnap them again.  One less worry, finally.

Ed, as my legal counsel, knew of my desperate financial situation, my income, the lack of child support and my general financial vulnerability.  He agreed to accept $50 per month in payment for the legal services he rendered until I could pay him in full.  So, it was with consternation that I noticed on that monthly statement – 5 months into making payments – that he had increased the balance to the original amount.  In making the phone call to his billing office, I was connected to him immediately and he said that he had decided that he couldn’t carry the balance without charging (previously undisclosed) interest, which raised the amount currently owed to the original amount incurred.  

I stopped paying the bill.  He obtained a judgment against me and called to tell me that he could access my bank account, garnish my wages, and take my car.  But, being the good guy that he was, would rather just meet with me so that we could work something out.  I was to meet him at his office.  It occurred to me that I should take a small tape recorder in my purse, to document our conversation, just in case he decided to change the deal again.  And, I had some idea of what the deal might include. 

He was dwarfed by his enormous walnut desk, and leaning forward with sweat glistening his balding head and his sausage-like fingers clasped and resting on the desk, he presented his plan for my repayment for his legal services.  I was to accompany him to Mexico for a 3-day trip.  However, before he spent good money on a plane ticket for me, I was to meet with him at his home on Thursday while “the wife” was away and the kids were in school.  He would determine at that “meeting” if I was worth the cost of the plane ticket and expenses for 3 days in Mexico.  And he would deduct $100 from my legal fees after the “trial run”.   

Feigning the resignation that comes to one with no options, I asked him to detail with clarity how the bookkeeper would record my weekly “payments”, to insure that I could eliminate the perpetual balance owed.  And with clarity and detail, Ed explained how it had worked in the past – there are some perks in working divorce cases for young divorcee’s – and then gave me directions to his home, where we were to meet on Thursday.  

Ed mis-read the apparent flush in my cheeks as excitement and desire.  Indeed I was filled with desire – desire that all that he had said was recorded on the tape recording in my purse – and the desire to leave the now-profusely sweating Ed.  With great restraint, I walked to my car, slowly backed from the parking spot and drove a few blocks from Ed’s office building.  And then I listened to every single damning word that Ed had said.

The next challenge was to find an attorney who would represent me in sueing Ed for his extortion attempt and after numerous phone calls, I found a young attorney who was hungry and had not yet been corrupted by the legal system.  I was Richard Kalish’s first client.  He gladly represented me so as to “weed out the scum” in his profession and refused payment.  

On Wednesday night – the night before the anticipated “meeting” at Ed’s house – Richard called Ed to let him know that he was filing suit on my behalf at the Contra Costa County court house at 9 a.m. the following day and that we expected KGO-TV to be there for a brief news conference wherein we would outline the “extortion for sexual favors” case against Ed and would invite other victims to come forward.

Ed’s response was typical: First, Denial – until proof is presented, which in this instance was Richard reading from the transcript of the tape recording, Ed’s giving me directions to his personal residence;  Next,  Fury – and in this case, a threat to kill me and my children; And finally, FEAR & Remorse for having been caught – and a threat to kill himself. 

Richard had already put together a deal that included a sizable lump sum in punitive damages, the dropping of all claims for remuneration and the satisfaction of the judgement against me, and an annoying and significfant monthly sum to be paid to me for 5 years as a reminder to Ed of his corruption and foolishness.  In return, we would not file the suit, nor hold the news conference and we would provide Ed with a copy of the written transcript of his meeting with me in his office. We may or may not seek other victims, depending on his timely monthly payments, and whether I felt threatened by him in any way. 

Ed’s life changed.  Ed had to sell his office building in Walnut Creek.  Ed had to sell his Tahoe Cabin.  Ed tried to hang on to his Walnut Creek home, but eventually had to “down size.”   Ed’s wife was so disappointed in the apparent financial reversals that she left Ed, taking their two sons with her.  Ed probably didn’t tell her the cause of the financial reversal.  Ed paid and paid and paid for 5 years.

My life changed.  I immediately moved from the ghetto with my two little girls.  I bought a new car and paid cash.  I started a printing and advertising company which supported us very well for many years and I stopped being scared.  I took up scuba diving and continued traveling to my favorite destinations, carrying my newly purchased Hartman Luggage.  Yep, life was good – made better for having been destitute, frightened and alone.  

So I’m left with satisfaction yet again in the telling of the story of Ed and his demise.  This sense of satisfaction – sweet revenge – doesn’t jive with my professed Christian beliefs and I’m wondering if I am to root out of my soul, my gladness that I punished Ed.  

I am weighing the topics of revenge, justice and forgiveness and how one applies these concepts in real life situations.  I have had many opportunities to sort out where these fit in my life, and this is just Part 1.  Part 2 may have something to do with the grounding of the Oakland PD helicoptor cops . . . . 

So how do you apply forgiveness in your life?  Is there ever justification for revenge?  Where does justice fit?  Is it easier to forgive if justice has been served (especially if one has meeted the justice/revenge on one’s own behalf)?  

I welcome your advice . . . 

Nailing the “People Matter More Than Things” lesson ~ George’s Deathbed Tutorial

My husband had just been strongly encouraged to resign from his CEO position of the largest employer in our city.  Local TV cameras captured our attempts to maintain a normal family life, despite the public curiosity and our gracious explanations that it was “time to move on”.  No, we weren’t ready to disclose our plans for the future (there were no plans for the future) and yes, we would be staying in the area.  

The perks were gone.  No more televised weekly business updates by the former football-playing media darling CEO. Our close friends offered encouragement, listened to the incredulous rantings of my now unemployed husband and wondered how we planned to continue paying for the private schools and universities our 6 children were attending.  

Eventually, the shock, denial and anger melted into the realization that we were now in the “Have Not” category of society.  We still had a large home but the luxurious company car had been transferred to the new CEO.  The former CEO purchased a hideous burgundy something that was derisively named “The Stag Beetle”.  Days spent at home job searching for another high-paying CEO position were tense and fruitless.  We watched our dwindling savings and knowing that we had to immediately adjust our lifestyle, decided to spend our weekly “date night” visiting Senior Citizen centers and long-term care facilities.  

It was in a hospice facility where I met George.  He was robust, out-going, talkative and had a great sense of humor.  I thought that he was another visitor – certainly not a terminally ill patient!  George explained that the doctors had found an inoperable brain tumor, but that he felt just fine.  He invited me to play Checkers and that invitation evolved into a standing Wednesday afternoon Checkers date with George.

As the months wore on and I continued winning the weekly Checkers games,  I always expressed gratitude for his brain tumor which we both blamed for his loss and my weekly victory.  Finally, we no longer played Checkers, but sat in the hallway – he wanted the other residents to see his pretty date – and made small talk.  Eventually, we didn’t talk at all.  His personality had changed dramatically as the tumor overtook his brain and within less than 5 months, his death was imminent.  

On a dreary, frigid January afternoon, his daughter called to tell me that George was expected to pass away within a few hours and that he would appreciate a last visit from me.  Upon entering his unlit room, I noticed that every picture of grandchildren and family gatherings had been removed.  There were no more notes, calendars, hand-drawn pictures nor any memorabilia collected over 72 years of life, remaining in his room.   Just cold, Sage-colored cinder blocks and one slipper partially visible from beneath his bed.  

His breathing was labored, with the tell-tale rattle of one whose death is imminent and it appeared that he was sleeping. I quietly sat by his bed, and wondered at the stark walls – the removal of all evidence of his family and life – and then I received understanding that would carry me through many tough times still to come in my life.  

I realized that at that moment, the room in which I was sitting could be filled to the ceiling with the precious treasures of the earth – gold, gems, currency, art, collectibles – and would be useless and meaningless to George.  In fact, his passing would be easier that those earthly reminders were not there to give him regrets of leaving them behind.  Nothing of a material nature mattered any more; only relationships springing from conversations, shared meals, service and traveling alongside others through life, would be the singular luggage admissible at his death.  

My tears flowed freely at the relief that I no longer had to obsess about all that I no longer had because of my husband’s job loss.  I wrongly catagorized myself in the “have-not” column, yet I was abundantly blessed with 6 brilliant, beautiful, talented, loving children.  And I could go on about the aspects of my life at the time, the importance of which I had diminished because of the income loss.  

In a raspy voice, George startled me by asking if I was crying for him.  I slid the chair closer to his bed, and taking his rough hand in mine, said that, indeed I was.  He smiled, told me thanks, and breathed his last breath. . . .  

I sat, still holding his hand in mine, and wept with gratitude for the lessons learned from George, at his passing, and knew that I would never forget him nor the lesson learned.  

WHO AM I? The Search for Answers Continues . . .

The time working for PSA (Pacific Southwest Airlines) in the 70′s was foundational in my journey of self-discovery because the environment was that of a “human smorgasboard”.  I was based at Oakland International Airport and met thousands of diverse and interesting people every week.  Met some stupid ones, as well:  

“What do you mean, the flight has been delayed indefinately??”

“Did you notice the fog this morning as you were driving to the airport?”

“Well, yes I did, but can’t you guys take off with instruments or something?”

“We actually use instruments in all our take-offs, but would you feel comfortable if we blind-folded our pilot just before  the plane hurtles down the runway at 150 MPH with you onboard?”

“OK, ok, well I have a meeting in LA at 10 a.m.  Am I going to make it to that meeting?  When will the plane take off?”

“We’ll take off just as soon as the fog clears and it’s safe to do so.”

“Well when will that be?  Can you give me some idea so I can tell the LA office when I’ll be there?”

With exasperation, “Just a moment and I’ll make a call…. Hello God, this is Liz again.  Yeah, we have another passenger who wants to know when you’re going to lift the fog here in Oakland….. 9:30?  Great, thanks!”

“God says you’ll be there by 11.”

I left the airline business 4 1/2 years into it.  Before doing so, I hobnobbed with professional athletes, their owners, entertainment personalities, business magnates and politicians.  I traveled internationally with some of these friends and socialized regularlly with them and their families.  I was not enamoured by celebrity and felt comfortable running in these circles and maintained these friendships for many years.  When I left the airline business and started my advertising & printing company, Designed Communications, some of my friends became good clients, as well as friends.  I noticed disconcerting changes in myself which served as warnings to me, to adjust my thinking and which became valuable life lessons, as follows:

1.  As one developes more expensive tastes in food, travel, clothing and material things in general, one’s capacity for happiness and satisfaction diminishes.  I noticed that I didn’t enjoy a fine meal, unless it was at the best table in the trendiest restaurant, having arrived by limo, with a curious and admiring audience.  Huh? 

2.  Wealthy famous people are insecure in their relationships because they often wonder if they are loved because of their wealth and fame, rather than who they are as regular people.  Most fear aging above all else.  

3.  If one’s wealth and fame resulted from positive media attention, one can be disgraced by that same media attention and all can be lost overnight.  Terrifying prospect to the untalented.

4.  Money is nothing more than a tool to be used to fund a life with meaning.  

5.  People matter more than things.

6. You aren’t your car.  Finally accepted that when I had to drive a minivan.

7.  Things are not adequate substitutions for time spent together.

8.  When considering problems, I always ask myself whether $100,000 would solve them.  If it’s about money, I can relax. If money won’t fix it, ie; disease, insanity, lonliness, death, betrayal, etc., then it’s a real problem and I had better ascend to a spiritual level in dealing with it. 

9.  At times, one may allow the purchase of one’s companionship.  I spent a weekend in Chicago with Charley O. Finely, owner of the Oakland A’s when I was 25 yrs old.  He was in his 70′s and offered me a job in his large insurance company and wanted me to come to Chicago to check it out.  His home in Lakepoint Towers was decorated in the Oakland A’s colors – Bright yellow and bright green – with several of his World Series trophies as focal points.  He was articulate, brilliant, arrogant, suffered a “short man’s” complex, was extremely generous, hated some of his players, was respectful to me and liked having me accompany him in public. I was at least 8 inches taller than he which made easy work of glueing on his toupee – a one-time experience.  I declined the job in Chicago along with his invitation to be his paid companion (no sex involved!) and went back to California to re-evaluate my focus on obtaining money and power.

10.  Realized that real power has to do with governing one’s own appetite, one’s own responses, one’s own expectations and one’s own passion.  

Big lessons learned that saved me a life time of chasing the wrong things.

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WHO AM I? The Search for Answers Begins . . .

ImageUprooted from the large family-owned Wyoming cattle ranch, and finding myself uncomfortably situated in a small Utah town, fraught with cliques, bored (and predatory) teens,and the myopic self-importance common in so many rural communities, I struggled with questions about my identity.  As a 10 year old, I was entering the 6th grade and was overwhelmed with how out of sync I was with the rest of my world.  Kennedy was assasinated that year, my mother cried over being ostracized by the church ladies for declining the Bridge invitations, my brothers had left home, I realized that my voice would probably never develop vibrato, but hoped that my skinny tall body would eventually develop curves.  I was an incredible annoyance to my older sister and I desperately wanted to fit somewhere.  I began weighing the cost/benefit of fitting in.  

Advice from my brother resonated with me. He told me to mark time, finish school, avoid stupid social (moral) mistakes that would hinder my future and then escape to more fertile grounds.  I gave up Rodeo barrel racing  and dashed my father’s dream of being the county Rodeo Queen’s Dad.   My passion was centered in skiing and politics. I debated, mourned Goldwater’s humiliating loss, grew taller, was appalled by the Viet Nam war, and stayed out of my angry father’s stike zone.   I made out with my friends’ boyfriends, didn’t drink, smoke or party – primarily because I wasn’t invited to parties – and noted that I was much more appreciated in eclectic cosmopolitan environments.  I escaped to California.  

By then, I had devoloped the long-awaited curves, had modeled professionally, married a pot-smoking womanizing skier, taken an airline job with Pacific Southwest Airlines, borne two daughters and was still searching for an identity that would define me.  The year was 1975 and at age 22, I was a mother, wife, disowned daughter and sister, anti-war advocate, and women’s rights advocate.  I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and cultivated friendships with people very unlike my family and girlhood friends.

Lessons learned to this point in life:

1.  One can differ in opinion, lifestyle, background, appearance and personality without posing a threat.

2.  God may deny us certain desired talents or blessings . . . . for our good.  Had I been blessed with the beautiful singing voice of my sister, I certainly would not have wasted it on singing opera, but would have, in my imagination, been a ROCK STAR.  I don’t want to consider where that might have taken me (and my little girls).

3.  Living vicariously through our children – imposing our dreams onto them – is a form of child abuse.

4.  At a certain age, women gain great power over men, but usually don’t have the emotional maturity to wisely handle that power.  More on this later. 

5.  Immediate gratification is just that – immediate/fleeeting.

6.  When one’s sense of worth is tied to external input, ie; the opinions of others, then one relinquishes self-determination.  So, if I feel good only if someone expresses approval of me, then my happiness, my moods, my confidence and my sense of worth is tied to their moods, their willingness to communicate approval, and their opinion. I have then given them my power to decide who I am, how I feel and what I do. 

7.  Constant feedback is addicting. (Don’t mean to offend you Facebook or online dating site junkies.)

8.  Much of the feedback we receive from others comes with an agenda . . . might be jealosy . . . could be love/concern . . or hatred . . . . maybe it’s a form of symbiosis.  It should be sifted, analyzed and weighed before taking it into our hearts and souls.

9.  Every human being wants to feel valued by others. Even if the approving audience is a herd of cows looking up from their grazing as a gawky teenage girl belts out the song, “Everybody is a Star” from the other side of a barbed wire fence. 

10.  The above photo is of our PSA uniforms and had the effect of “fishing for piranha”.  The Oakland Raiders usually chartered our aircraft for their NFL travels, as did the Oakland Raider Booster Club which was comprised of mostly middle-aged men, decked out in their polyester Leisure suits with color-coordinated unbuttoned shirts – collars splayed across their shoulders – white “shinyl vinyl” shoes and matching belts, gold necklaces and Frisbee-esq toupee’s.  Despite their heavy drinking,  it was incumbent upon us to be polite, patient and sweetly answer the always-asked question, “So how far up do those legs go, Honey?”  

These were heady years for the one-time cowgirl from Wyoming, with life lessons learned and many more to come.

LIFE’S LESSONS LEARNED

This is my  maiden voyage into the blogosphere.  Why now?    Milestones . . . . . yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of my having been diagnosed with cancer.  Even more impressive is my impending 60th birthday.

No, my life has not whizzed by.  I’m not wondering where all the time went. I have hammered out a life of extremes ~ poverty & wealth, sickness & fitness, loneliness & love, failure & success, spirituality & emptiness, romance & betrayal ~ indeed, a life of superlatives.  Just the life I needed.

Along the way, I have endured (and caused) much pain which has been the catalyst for, and the most direct path to compassion, understanding and growth.  So I will use this forum to write about Life’s Lessons Learned.  I hope you will join me.