When I was a teenager, I had a close friend who would call me Madame DeFarge-- the villain of A Tale of Two Cities. He claimed I would sit on the sidelines of life, quietly knitting away, all the while playing judge, jury and executioner with anyone who happened to wander into my path.
“Off with their heads!” That was the verdict, every time. There was very little give in me. No one was exempt from my judgment—mainly because everyone was guilty. No one managed to succeed in the arduous but necessary task of saving me from myself.
Off with their heads, indeed.
I liked watching life from the edges back then. I stood on the borders, waiting, watching. Judging. It was safe. It was comfortable. And the verdict was always the same, so how could I be hurt? How could I be disappointed?
How could I ever not be disappointed? I lived in an endless loop of disconnection and separation. I set everyone up to be my God, then cried “Guilty!” with every failure. I judged the world, and found the world wanting.
I'm happy to report that I don't do that so much these days. Over the years, I learned to temper my judgment with mercy and kindness. Mostly. Sure-- there are times, when I'm hungry, angry, lonely, tired-- lost in the the inimitable maze of HALT (an acronym I learned in early sobriety, and which has stood me in good stead). It is always useful, as a way to keep me in check, to curb my natural instinct for judgment and cynicism and biting sarcasm. It's a challenge, but one that can be subdued (not conquered quite, but I'm practicing progress, not perfection)-- when I can stop for a minute or three, and breathe, and get out of my own way.
Ahhhhhhh. I allow you to be you, in all your glory, free of my judgment and drama.
One small kink in this rosy scene. When I'm being honest, and open and diving that extra few inches in honor of Elul, there is (of course) a hitch. When it comes to the fine and laser-sharp art of judging, the kind that draws blood and wreaks some amount of havoc in its jagged-edged wake, there is one person who falls outside the bounds of my compassion-- who has always fallen outside those walls, and lives in the constant shadow of Mme. DuFarge's harshness.
While I may have learned, over the years, to let you off the hook of my judgment, I haven't yet learned-- with any consistency-- to find that respite for myself. I often judge my insides by your outsides. You look happy and shiny and thin and popular and successful and smart and together and competent. So you must be, right? And I? I know what goes on in my head. I know those voices quite well, the ones that whisper in sibilant snatches that I am less than and unwanted and weak.They are the same voices that tell me I cannot be forgiven, I will not be redeemed. They are the voices that declare me wanting, again and again and again.
I have no idea (for the most part) if the stories I tell myself in the dark, have anything to do with reality. I have no idea if you are, in fact, happy and shiny and popular and successful, and all those other ands. You may be. Thing is, it doesn't really matter.
You get to be who you are, in all your glory. And that is enough. One day, if I practice enough, if I ask for help enough, if I stop and breathe and get out of my own way enough, I will finally put down the knitting needles and allow myself to be me, in all my glory. I will temper my judgment with mercy and compassion and love.
And I will be enough.