In this chapter I explain why I chose to end my hunger strike a week early.
11. Advent – Expectation … and Surprise
David Weiss, December 15, 2010 (The fast is over!)
Advent is a season of paradox. In Latin adventus and futurus differs in how they join the present to the “not yet.” Think of it like this. Futurus describes the “not yet” as what we reach when we get there. It’s at the end of the tunnel that we’re digging toward tomorrow. It is the sum total of our present moments. Adventus, however, describes the “not yet” as what breaks into the present, unexpectedly, arriving not by cause and effect but by grace (what Jacques Derrida calls “the gift” in his post-modernist philosophy).
So when Christians call the season marked out by the four Sundays before December 25th “Advent,” it is a somewhat hapless way of reminding us that Christmas—our conviction that in Jesus God chose quite unexpectedly to dwell wholly in our midst—arrives not by what we do on this side, but by what God does on the far side of “not yet.” God comes to us. And I say “hapless,” because, of course, as soon as we mark it on our calendars, we move toward Christmas like clockwork. We may not be ready with our cookies, presents, or holiday spirit when it arrives, but we know exactly when it will reach us. The word still tries to evoke waiting and wonder, but we mostly manage the expectation away at the primal level.
I began my fast on the first day of Advent to wrap myself in the primal part of Advent, to sit in the company of those who, quite apart from any calendar calculations, live in hunger for that which can only come from what is “not yet.” Advent is the dwelling place for those whose hope—whether for justice or peace, healing or reconciliation—has no foothold in the present.
I settled into the hunger, letting it slowly swallow me over the first few days, like a rising tide. Like a sand dune inching its way along and burying me in its stillness. By the third day the grumbling hunger in my gut gave way to the deeper hunger in my whole being. I became hunger. Not as a restless frantic longing but as a quiet determined waiting. I became the want for justice. And from within that want I wrote my tale. Expecting nothing … and expecting everything all the same.
On December 8 it happened. My stomach, by then already taut through ten days of foodless holy rest, tightened still further when I saw the envelope from the Court. The judgment from the September hearing had finally arrived. I had promised Margaret months ago that I would not open court mailings except in her presence. I would not expose myself to these toxic documents without tethering my soul to hers. So for the rest of that day I WAITED.
Advent taunted me with expectation—though mostly in the form of abject fear. I had lived for ten weeks now under the shadow of that fall hearing, knowing that I had lost and waiting only to learn how much.
I attended our Wednesday evening Advent worship, leaning into the liturgy with heartfelt longing. Hungry and hoping without hope. Doing my best to keep the dread at a distance. Afterwards Margaret had choir practice. It was after 9 p.m. before we settled onto the couch in our family room side by side, heart by heart, hope by hope. We paused for a moment of prayer, anchoring ourselves in the trust that nothing in this envelope could define who I was as a father or determine the value we held in my daughter’s life as a family. And then we opened the flap and allowed the whirlwind to envelope us.
That’s when Christmas arrived in a rush of chaos, confusion, and joy.
I read a few judicial “pot shots,” introductory comments aimed my way by a judge who couldn’t help but frame my frenzied efforts to be heard as the needless wasting of words. But this is what arrived in the substance of the Order: from among the three proposals in front of her, the judge chose to adopt my proposal for my daughter’s placement over the next four years almost in its entirety. I attained almost everything on my dream list of objectives that my last attorney considered so unattainable that he chose to withdraw rather than pursue them.
- The judge rejects my ex’s hope for a four-year calendar of dates set this far in advance. And she rejects the GAL’s proposal that he schedule my placement time year by year. Instead she affirms my voice as having priority in selecting my school year placement time year by year. I need to work within the constraints of my daughter’s of my daughter’s Orchestra commitment, but within that I have the freedom to schedule my nine school year placement as I see fit—as I had requested.
- The judge rejects my ex’s (implicit) hope to continue the calendar errors of the last four school years which have cost me 2 days each year. Instead, she finally attends to school year calendar in a way that allows me to make full use of days off to create longer weekends whenever possible. Although without either acknowledgement or apology, she fixes these errors in the new Order.
- The judge rejects my ex’s desire to further reduce my daughter’s summer placement with me, and she rejects the GAL’s proposal to simply continue it at “50% plus four days” with no compensation for time lost during the school year. Instead, she awards me “50% plus six days”—and puts in place a formula that will figure this time accurately each and every summer. I had hoped for more than this; my last proposal had been for “50% plus eight days,” but I had been bracing for much less. The correction will increase my placement time in practice by five days each summer. Although without either acknowledgement or apology, she fixes the error that has cost me two weeks of summer placement over the past four years.
- The judge rejects the plan by both my ex and the GAL to eliminate my daughter’s opportunity to participate in the Young Authors Conference. Instead, exactly as I had proposed, she guarantees my daughter the chance to attend for as long as she wishes.
- The judge incorporates a process into the Order that insures unforeseen changes to the placement schedule time will happen by exchanging placement time on day-for-day basis. (In the past I sometimes simply lost days if something came up in Wisconsin and my ex or the court found it too cumbersome to offer “make-up” placement later on.) This was also part of my proposal.
- The judge outlines a conflict resolution process that makes it impossible for my ex to simply stall on a decision and turn time into her weapon. This was also part of my proposal.
Some of the language in the Order is paternalistic where it has no need or reason to be so. There are some aspects of the logistics it proposes that strike me as less than ideal. But the bottom line is that this new Order, while not perfect, is at last an Order in which I can recognize the presence of justice. It addresses almost everything I named as non-negotiable this past summer, and in every case it addresses these things almost entirely to my favor.
Sitting on the sofa side by side, Margaret and I were stunned. Good news was the only thing we had not braced ourselves for. Had I received this Order back in October when I expected it to come, I would not have started a hunger strike. It now seemed unthinkable to continue immersing my body in hunger when this Order—astonishingly—finally gave me the measure of justice I longed for.
I cannot explain the Order. There is no way to show a direct line from my experience in this judge’s courtroom over the past four-and-a-half years—especially my experience in her courtroom this past September—to the words in this Order. None. And in many ways, the gift of justice it bears can in no way offset the price it has cost me over the years. But I accept it nonetheless.
In the end, after speaking with my (new) attorney to confirm that this new Order was really in force now, I chose to ease my fast by drinking juice over the past weekend, on days 13 and 14. By then I had lost 17 pounds altogether. Sunday evening and on into Monday I slowly began reintroducing solid food even while I continued to tell my story. Tuesday I began eating regular meals, though decidedly smaller portions. And I completed my story.
I began the hunger strike determined to see it to completion. And I took for granted that completion meant 21 days without food, immersed in lament and witness. But I found myself more fully in Advent than I could have anticipated, because half-way through my time of hunger and waiting Christmas—some good measure of justice and wholeness—arrived unbidden but undeniably real. Completion came—this time at least—by way of joy.
My hunger strike did not in any way trigger this new Order. Not only does the judge know nothing of my fast, but her Order was written and signed on September 27, 2010. Then, for reasons I may never know, it sat in her office, unsent to any of the parties, until ten weeks later on December 7.
Moreover, it is not the case that everything is suddenly “fixed” now. I did lose forever at least 21-28 days with my daughter over the past four years. Those days will never be returned to me or to her. I will probably be paying off my legal debts until I start paying for her college tuition four years from now. The energy that got diverted from our family life into this legal battle has cost everyone dearly. And the strain this has put on the relationship I have with my daughter has been noticeable over the past year. Much healing remains to happen.
Getting a measure of justice now does not undo the costs of injustice that my family and I have experienced over the years. Nor does it weaken my commitment to use my voice on behalf of others for whom the injustice continues. There is much to do, and I have an appetite for the work that awaits me.
I have a couple more pieces that I need to write yet in the next few days. They will complete this round of reflections on justice and family court. They “belong” to the fast, but I will write them on a full stomach. Filled not just with food, but with joy.
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This entry is now the eleventh written during my 21-day fast for justice in family court. You can learn more about the fast, including ways to support me, at https://tothetune.wordpress.com/hungry.