In line at the court house, people wore everything from tattered jeans and flipflops to stylish blouses and business suits. Heavy jewelry. Some speaking Spanish. Some with family members. A few babies in strollers. Teenagers in cutoff shorts. Elderly women with powdered hair and bright pink lipstick.
Now and then, lawyers speared through the lines. They were carrying briefcases. They wore suits. They didn’t wait to be told where to go or what door to open. And they were swinging their arms as they walked in big, purposeful steps or leaned in to chat with the people behind the imposing desks and glass windows.
In the midst of so many people, the process was an isolating one. Only one person at a time through this door. Those who are done are quickly ushered out past the clerk, through a different door than the one they entered. People in line read a book or stare into space. Eye contact is shifty, tentative.
Given the slightest hint of a smile, people around me would begin to talk. They wanted to know what was going to happen. They wanted to tell their story. They wanted someone to listen. They wanted someone to alleviate their guilt, or to share it. But no one wanted to be the first to ask. We–or at least I–didn’t want to show that we were nervous, or confused, or a little lost.
A woman behind me got to talk to one of the officials “directing traffic” through the lines. She had been pulled for speeding while trying to get help for her 82-year-old mother, as I understood her story. She was angry, and she had been telling everyone around her that she didn’t belong here; she had only done what she needed to do.
When she began talking to the officer, she said the same thing to him–angrily. He took her citation and looked at, listening patiently. She finished, “And the officer told me to bring my ticket here and they would dismiss it, but–“
She would have continued, but he interrupted her: “And I’ve just dismissed it,” as he scribbled his initials on the pink slip with a thick green penstroke.
Her response was not what I expected, based on her past performance. Not, “It’s about time,” not “Why did I have to wait all this time?” but a loud “Hallelujah!” which was echoed by several people nearby who shared in her relief, even though it did nothing for them.
Shortly after that, I noticed that a man one loop of line over from me had a tattoo on his arm that read, “Grace.” The woman’s response to her sudden reprieve of judgment made me think about how ungrateful I can be about the grace I have received.
My instinct, as I tried to distance myself emotionally from the people around me, was to judge them: their complaining, and justifying, and grumbling. Even as I practiced my own excuses, I scorned theirs. Even as I hoped for some show of mercy from the court, I privately decided that they did not deserve to be let off.
…to be continued…