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<xTITLE>Being a Guide</xTITLE>

Being a Guide

by Joy Rosenthal
November 2019

From Joy Rosenthal's listserv.

Joy Rosenthal

This weekend, I saw the movie, Harriet, a riveting film about Harriet Tubman. We know the basics of the story — that she not only escaped slavery herself but kept going back down south, facing incredible danger, to help others make the journey to freedom. But seeing her life enacted onscreen (albeit a Hollywood version) gives the viewer a visceral sense of what it looked and felt like — I was riveted the whole time and went back to see it again the next day.

Harriet Tubman was an incredible guide. She was brilliant and courageous in a way that is really unimaginable now. How did she find her way north? How did she find shelter and food and stay warm along the way? How did she face the elements? How did she face her fears? And how did she have the fortitude to go back (13 times!), leading 70 other people to freedom — all safely?

Harriet Tubman risked her life again and again — the stakes could not have been higher. What drove her to be so selfless? What drove her to put herself in harm’s way in order to help others? She had incredible heart. What else could have driven her but love?

And this made me think about the job of being a guide.

The guide’s job is largely invisible — it is to assist a person or a group on a journey or trek from one place to another as safely as possible. The guide has to see the big picture, to show or create a path when it is not clear, to create favorable conditions so that the members of the group are safe — and to steer the group away from danger.

The film demonstrates that the guide’s job, although it is a supporting role, is useful and important. It also shows that the people who followed Harriet Tubman had to have tremendous faith because they, too, were risking their lives. They had to trust her for their very survival.

I often describe myself as a guide through the divorce process.  But seeing the film makes me think of the meaning of that role in a whole new light.

My work, of course, does not have nearly the risks that Ms. Tubman faced. I have never been enslaved. No one has ever thought they owned me. I have never faced death the way she did. I have never had anyone’s life in my hands.

And the transition from being married to being divorced is nothing like that from bondage to freedom.

And yet, divorce is a life transition that requires attention.

I help clients make the transition of separating emotionally, physically, financially and legally. My job is to steer the boat and to escort them, to cheer them on, to help them avoid roiling waters, and to make sure they reach the other side safely.

I do this by keeping the conversations focused and productive. I steer them clear of blaming each other for things that happened in the past and help them work together to plan a new future. I listen to them and help them articulate their goals, reminding them of those goals when they forget. I help them listen to each other and make decisions together. I help them come to a thousand little agreements.

I am not risking my life, and my clients are not trusting me with theirs.  But most of all, I help them change their expectations of themselves, and of each other.  And this, I think, helps them ease into their new lives.

The film helped me remember that the task of being a guide can make a difference.

And, when you think about it, we all need guides at some point in our lives. Any journey can be difficult and chaotic without someone to help along the way.

I am so honored and humbled to be able to do this work — to be of service, and hopefully, to make the world a little better — one family at a time.


Joy S. Rosenthal, Esq. is a compassionate mediator, a skilled negotiator and an intelligent litigator with extensive background in the private and public sectors. Joy served as a Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Division for nearly 10 years, where she represented hundreds of children and teenagers in foster care, child welfare, custody, adoption, PINS (Person in Need of Supervision) and delinquency cases in the Bronx and in Brooklyn. Joy was honored to be selected for a one year fellowship at New York University School of Law's Family Defense Clinic, teaching law students to represent parents in child welfare proceedings. Joy founded Rosenthal Law & Mediation in 2006. The firm's practice centers on family and estates law, as well as family-based mediation. In addition to her private practice, she mediates custody and visitation disputes for the New York City Family Courts and serves as a Guardian Ad Litem, protecting the rights of youth and the disabled in New York City Surrogates Courts. She also serves as President of the Board of Directors of the Family and Divorce Mediation Council.

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