I had a 341 meeting in Lansing last week. This is where a bankruptcy attorney has a meeting with their client and the Chapter 7 trustee. The Chapter 7 trustee has a bunch of questions for my client.

This hearing is so routine. At this point in my practice I think a monkey could do it. My clients are always anxious and nervous even when I tell them not to be. This goes with the territory of being sworn in under oath and having to discuss the most intimate and humiliating reasons why that individual needed to file bankruptcy in the first place. It is financial failure at it’s finest. I feel for my clients. I am often humbled by their struggles.

My client insists that I attend this meeting. She wants me to go. I could have hired another attorney to attend. This would have saved me both time and money. I never have enough time. There is never enough money.

I really care about my client. So I go. As I pull off the downtown ramp I feel my body tense. I know this town well. I lived here. My past self walked these streets. She feels far and distant from me. I see her as a stranger. I bump into her at the courthouse.

I ask her if her struggles were worth it. She smiles. It could have been easier she assures me. If she would have known this and that. She could have remained single and entered law school. It took her some time to figure her path out. Would haves, could haves, should haves.

Yes but there are the children. You can’t ever wish them away.

She reminds me that she had two small children when she entered law school. She also started an in home day care to help pay their bills. She would get up at 4 a.m. every morning and read until 6 a.m. The children would come and she would watch four additional children until 5:30 p.m. When the last child was picked up she would run out the door with her books to class. It was a 6 p.m. to midnight haul every night of the week. Weekends were library days unless she had to grocery shop. She did this for four years of her study.

I know her husband was not very kind or supportive. If you ask him he would tell you he was. He would tell you a lot of things about her and none of them were very nice things. I wondered why he wanted to marry her in the first place. What did he really see in her to begin with? She wonders why he objected to their divorce. He constantly would remind her that she was really quite worthless. I mean couldn’t she see that she was a horrible wife and mother? His words were stones. He really liked throwing them.

There were a lot of arguments. She really couldn’t do much of anything right. One night her law books ended up in a mud puddle in the middle of the street. Another night he tried to throw her down the stairs. Police were called. Too many times they came and went.

It was easier for her if the suppers were hot and on the table at 6:00 before she left. Laundry ironed and folded. House cleaned. Bills paid. She was only lacking sleep. She would anticipate what he would complain about and take care of it before it became an issue. This was also very taxing and exhausting. It started to become an exit strategy.

When she softens and attempts to defend him she will blame herself for the currents that pulled them apart. At the time neither party could really define with clarity the currents that tugged.

She wanted a law degree. He wanted a stay-at-home wife.

He wasn’t her soul focus. He began to hate her for it. She began to lose respect for him. His anger was violent and volatile. She never knew what would set him off. Lack of money didn’t help. Her lack of attention didn’t help.

The library and the school became a safe place to be. She loved it there. She loved her professors. She loved her classes. She loved the intellectual challenge. She would stay as long as they would let her.

She will tell you that there was a moment of complete despair. That moment where you face that wall of self-doubt. She was left wondering why she was put on this planet. Thinking it would be so nice just to sleep and never wake up. Wondering what drove her to this. Why wasn’t she just happy being a wife and a mother? Why exactly was she working and trying so hard? Questions that bombard her—what are you really doing? Do you really think you can make a difference? Do you really think you can become a lawyer? There are so many of them. Look at the hours of study. Look at the lack of sleep. You are never going to make it. You are not smart enough. This is so expensive. You don’t have any friends because you have no time for them. Your children miss you when you are gone. Your husband can’t stand your class schedule and your marriage is falling apart. He is right you should just up and quit.

You are facing the tax code, rules of evidence, and the UCC. This is that moment when that distant stranger is in the library. She puts her head down on that table and just closes her eyes.

This is too hard. She and I can’t do it anymore.

And then there is silence and she squeezes out a silent prayer: “Please God, just let me make it through. I will do anything if I can become an attorney. I want to help people. I want to make a difference. I want something for myself. I want to provide an example for my girls. I want to contribute to the financial well being of my family. I want to carve out something for myself. I want this to belong to just me. I want to make my parents proud. This is what I would like to become. Please just help me.”

She is back on the courthouse steps and I am looking at her. I remember her story when the security guards make me take off my shoes and belt and ask that I open up my briefcase. I am reminded of who I am when they scan my driver’s license and check my bar card.

I am asked to give my appearance for the record. I feel needed and wanted when my client hugs me and thanks me over and over for helping her though this very difficult time.

When I get back to my car I am relieved. I want to leave her and those difficult times in Lansing. They are hard to look at. When I look up, I see her smiling in my review mirror.

She is nodding and waiving goodbye, “Yes, it was definitely worth it.”