Yesterday, up until about 4:30, this was going to be a very different essay. Yesterday, up until about 4:30, this was going to be an essay about a quote by Plato, who said "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle," although he probably said it in Greek, as English wasn't even a glimmer in anyone's eye, and a thousand years or more before it was starting to be invented into something even vaguely resembling English.
That quote, though, is, I think, my favorite. It is something to which I aspire, and often fall far short. It has everything to do with me being judge, jury and executioner. Like the Queen of Hearts, I sit on my lofty (but imaginary) throne, watching. Observing. Judging.
No one is spared. I judge everything: Clothes. Abilities. Vocabulary. Grammar. Veneer. Happiness. Truth. Sorrow. Drama. Driving. Wit. The list is infinite. I judge things they haven't even invented categories for yet. And I find them all lacking. Without fail. I am proud to say that, these days, at the ripe old age of old-plus-three, I mostly keep my judgement to myself. Not because I am any less judgmental. Mostly because I've learned, in my five-plus decades, that I really do need to filter myself. I am allowed in public much more often, and with much less (imaginary) bloodshed when I do.
As I've said, in other painfully honest essays, my tongue is rapier sharp and I can use it with surgical precision. Sigh.
Many years ago, sitting in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, I heard someone say something about trying to live a life based upon the principles of Patience, Tolerance, Kindliness and Love. It was, literally, a breathtaking moment for me. The thought of living a different way - not based upon fear and judgment, where the best defense was a good offense (and what better offense could anyone have if not push before being pushed, destroy before being destroyed?) that thought rocketed me to another plane. I had no idea how to do any of those things, but just knowing that they were there, that I could reach for them...
It was one of those defining moments that changed my life forever.
Up until about 4:30 yesterday, this essay was going to be about that, and the finding of that Plato quote a few years after that AA meeting, and how I realized the why of being kind: Being kind wasn't about me, or making me feel better or making my life easier. Being kind was all about you.
It was about how maybe, just maybe, when I judge you - when I judge me, my insides, based upon your outsides - I have no idea who you are or what is happening in your life. And that maybe, just maybe, I might be wrong, because I don't everything, let alone what's going on with you. And that maybe, just maybe, if I am kind, if I stop judging, I can be of service. If I am kind, I can take down the walls that separate me from you (whether they're my walls or yours), and offer strength, and kindness and patience and love. And maybe, if I do all of that, maybe there can be healing. Or ease. Or God.
What a holy thing that could be, if I can be kind, because I can be of service, and offer hope instead of pain.
Up until 4:30 yesterday, that would have been my essay. I would have liked that. But at 4:30 yesterday, I got an email from my dad. In case you don't know, he's a federal judge. I like to brag (because, hey - it's really cool) and then immediately minimize, saying "it's not as impressive as it sounds; he's an Administrative Law Judge for the Social Security Administration." Even so, it really cool. He loves being a judge. He's 81 years old, and he loves getting up every morning at 5:00 so he can get to the office early and do his judge thing.
The email yesterday had nothing to do with that. Here's the body of his email, that was sent to all of his colleagues:
I need someone to take my court call for. I didn't realize that this was the Jewish High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah (New Years day), a day that Jews are forbidden to work.I have now been informed that I must find someone to trade days with—that if I don’t appear for those hearings, which will not be cancelled by the powers that be, I will be considered as AWOL, which I consider as religious persecution.Therefore I request that you consider trading hearing dates with me. If you like, I’ll give you’re a 2 for 1 deal.
I'm sorry. What? What the hell century are we in? What country? He MUST work or be considered AWOL? What the hell? Are we still fighting these battles? Am I naive, to think that a worker cannot be forced to work on their religion's holy day? Don't pay him for it - ok. Declare him AWOL?
Again - what the hell?
I would much preferred to have written that other essay and been done with it. Stopped there. But I am angry. I am judging - fiercely, with much teeth-gnashing and sword-bashing. I have donned my shield maiden armor and am prepared to do battle.
I hear this voice in my head (ok, I hear a thousand voices in my head, but this one is whispering the loudest - and why is it I can hear the whispery ones so much better than the shouty ones?): be kind. And right behind that: breathe.
This is me: an immediate leap to judgement, declaring war. True, I am doing it on someone else's behalf, but still. It is immediate. Without thought. It may be the right move, but I have no idea if that's the case. My father may have solved it already. He may have changed the language slightly, to say AWOL, rather than a more measured "hey, we can't inconvenience the people who have hearings scheduled for that day in your courtroom, so you need to find a replacement." It's not as if they are saying "you may not take this day off at all." Could be, they're just looking to cover the bases.
And in an instant, all my self-righteous indignation - gone. All my fierce judgement, so unbending, so sharp (sharp enough to cut) - gone. In an instant. To be replaced with the whisper of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love.
Perhaps I got to write my essay after all.
(c) Stacey Zisook Robinson