Sitting amongst a room full of strangers, yet the silence is numbing, bringing to mind the Pink Floyd song that begins to plays on a constant loop in my head.
“…I can’t explain you would not understand
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb…”
This is not comfortable, though. Not even a little bit. I push my thumb nail into the flesh on my other hand to make sure I’m still alive, and not a first-hand witness to purgatory. My cell is sitting in my car, where I was forced to leave it when I came inside the courtroom, so I stare into space and daydream.
Another potential criminal is called to the stand to receive his fate. He is alone; no lawyer to plead his case. I strain my ears to hear the plight of the man, whose back is turned to me. It is the only thing I have to assess him. His hair falls wavy and uncombed, its length trying to compensate for its lack atop his head. He is cloaked in a black leather jacket that is far too large for his frail frame.
I judged. I judged harshly.
I created a story in my head involving hard drugs, horrific crimes, alcohol-laden robberies, and the like. He turned, and I got my first glimpse of his face. A scraggly, grey beard matched his hair, just as I had anticipated. His eyes, all black pupil, gazed downward as he walked away from the judge’s bench.
The man passed by where he was previously sitting, toward the back of the courtroom. I assumed he was exiting, but instead he pushed his way over to sit uncomfortably close to me.
Judging by his slovenly appearance, I had expected a certain smell to infiltrate my nostrils. A rotten odor that permeated his aura and made the people in his vicinity feel, somehow… dirty.
That wasn’t the case, though. Wafting from his body was a clean scent, that brought to mind fabric softener commercials of fresh laundry hanging in the breeze. The contrast confused my brain, and I looked him over again to be sure that my eyes weren’t deceiving me.
He was still the same guy, though, and he noticed me staring at him intently. I smiled and looked away, but with no phone or even reading material to distract me, I had nothing to turn to. I stared at the neutral-colored paint on the opposite wall, hoping to find a crack- any kind of fissure- to focus on. There was none though. Of course.
I could feel his eyes burning into me, so I turned again, hesitantly, to meet his gaze. I was scared, but determined to stay strong. We both stared, blue eyes into black, and back again.
Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t be the one to look away first.
He softly chuckled and looked down. I won! I thought, as I followed his gaze down to the paper he clenched. It read:
“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The man smiled and walked out of the courtroom just as I was called up to the stand. The judge spoke. “A friend of Detective Bonaventure, I see. Good, good.” I closed my eyes and scolded myself for the judgements I had made, and thought about how blind I had been to myself. I opened my eyes, ready to face reality for what seemed like the first time.