A middle-aged couple walks into court. After being sworn in by the bailiff, the judge begins to question them. The wife separated from her husband over ten years ago, but she didn’t have the funds necessary to pay for a divorce. Neither of them have a lawyer since they cannot afford to hire one. She has seven children, he has eight, and only four of those children were born from their marriage. The judge asks the man if he will pay child support for the four children, to which he responds that he does not have the means to pay a few hundred dollars a month, as he earns very little and needs to support his other four children. The court eventually finds an amount that he can pay, and the judge divorces them.
A second couple comes into the courtroom, and after their divorce has been completed, I walk them down the stairs to process their divorce papers. We reach the counter, and the man and woman are asked if they each want a certified copy of their divorce. Upon hearing that it would cost $10 for the certified copy, the man sadly explains that he and his ex-wife cannot afford to pay the high fee, and with an aching heart, I show them the way out of the courthouse.
This past summer, I interned for a domestic court judge in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Over the course of the summer, I witnessed events like those described above every day. I saw so many people who were struggling to make ends meet, could barely afford to put food on their tables, and took years to end a relationship that was detrimental both to them and to their children.
On my way home from the courthouse, I would see forty people lined up in front of a homeless shelter to get a bed to sleep in for the night. The houses in the surrounding area are old and broken, and the sidewalks are lined with people sleeping on blankets. Then, I would drive about 20 more minutes to arrive in Beachwood, the suburb where my family lives; and it is as if I have entered another world. The lawns are well kept, the roads are freshly-paved, and little trees have been planted by the sidewalk. There are few streetlights, so as to create the atmosphere of a little village. The suburb is so particular about its aesthetics that it will cite someone for having a garbage can in front of their house.
The stark contrast between the life I live and the lives of those I saw in court opened my eyes to just how much I must be grateful for. In our world of technology, we are always watching what others are doing and coveting what they have. We complain of being hungry after not eating for an hour, or of having the air conditioning on too high. We do not think about those who may not have any food to eat today or will not have a roof to sleep under tonight.
Being in the heart of New York City, we see this contrast the second we walk out of the Stern buildings. We have all seen the homeless people on the streets, begging for a dollar or two to buy a meal, but we are often too busy to let it sink in. I do not wish to diminish the severity of troubles that we may experience and the hardships that we may face. However, we have food to eat, dorms to live in, and we are getting an amazing dual college education. As we embrace the coming school year, we must take a moment to appreciate all that we have and take that appreciation with us as we move forward.