This week we get to start over with the coming of a New Year. Many of my friends have had a rough year, and lots of my clients have also. But before we make grand pronouncements on what a horrible year it has been, I offer the following:

There is a Chinese story of an old farmer who had an old horse for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped into the hills and, when all the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

Then, when the farmer’s son attempted to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this was very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

I copied that story from a Web site. It’s one of my favorite parables. I grew up with it as a way to look at life. Events in life take on a hue and meaning only in retrospect.

This past year has been one of the most trying years ever for many people across this country, and across this city. Personally I have had a rough year in many ways. Business has been very unpredictable and unstable. We’ve had very slow months, and then all of a sudden I was in court a lot fighting for a father’s right to see his son, and negotiating settlements in divorces for couples that didn’t survive the emotional and financial turmoil of this year.

For many people this is the time of year that they are considering seriously if they want to spend another holiday season with their spouse. The stress of the financial strains has certainly pushed some people over the edge and they are done with their marriage. Is that a bad thing? Or a good thing? I don’t know.

I know that studies have shown that for most people, a year after their divorce they are quantifiably happier than they were previously. I know in my own life that taking action, any action, is better than doing nothing. The mere fact that I make changes in my life causes me to be happier.

Perhaps it is simply our natural survival skills to recast the past and find the silver lining so that the memories are made valuable to us. If that is the case, if we just rely on a revisionist view to color our past, then perhaps in a few years we’ll see the benefits of this past year.

My immediate emotional response is to say, “Good riddance.” It’s been a year of anxiety, stress, doubt, and weight gain as I find my solace in a good plate of pasta at Fritto Misto, or Bravo Cucina. I’ve had my share of pad thai at T’s Thai on Fourth and Bowling Alley breakfast burritos.

This year has been one of the most stressful, not from the actual work that was required, but from the anxiety of not knowing if there would be work. The fear of the bogeyman under the bed is the fear of what might happen, not what is happening. Living in uncertainty was the source of most of my stress this year.

But as we wrap up this year, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And this time, it’s not an oncoming train. The economy has stabilized. My client load is coming up again, and that is an indicator that people are getting on with their lives, homes are being sold, and the credit markets are freeing up a bit.

This year was rough, but I don’t know yet if that was a good thing or a bad thing. The lessons that many of us learned this year will likely carry over into the future and provide benefits for one and all. If we learn from the difficulties, then they have served a purpose, and cannot be all bad.

David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at or (310) 664-9969.

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