In our head, there lives a judge who passes judgment on ourselves. We can knock our skull with our fists and stuff a finger in our ears and sing “tra-la-la-la-la” to drown out the voice, and still it drones on about our shortcomings and mistakes. This judge issues pronouncements from its perch in our head, and if we choose to cower under its assault (and we do have that choice), then off we go to a jail of our own making.
And behind those bars, we sit in judgment of others.
When others make judgments of us, we might manage to shrug it off, send them a blessing for living in their own private world of hurt. But there are times, like in the midst of Christmas shopping, when we dig in our heels and lash out, which is what happened on a Friday evening at 5:00 in a Ross Dress-for-Less.
I was browsing the sweaters when I heard a commotion behind me, a woman yelling for a manager, demanding the phone number of corporate headquarters, threatening one and all with: “I’m never shopping here again!”—which might have earned applause storewide, but the woman, when I glanced over, was gargantuan, and seething, and she was flinging the contents of her shopping cart onto the floor, blouses and pajamas and slippers and flip flops and purses and decorative boxes, all her Christmas stash into the aisles, and no one in the vicinity wanted to attract her attention.
A woman of smaller dimensions stood beside her; a friend, I presumed, as she added her own two-cents worth, dumping her vitriol on a clerk:
“Do you realize how it sounds, talking about a customer when they can hear? Do you know what that sounds like? And did you apologize?”
“No,” said the clerk who stood ramrod straight, without a hint of blushing.
“And you kept interrupting! You didn’t even listen when we tried to explain.”
“I’ll get the phone number for headquarters,” said the clerk, making haste for the registers.
“I want your name!” The seething woman added. “I’m going to report you!” She had emptied the cart completely, and gave it a shove into a clothing rack. Then she zeroed in on me. Her face loomed close.
“Don’t judge me,” she said, and pushed past, issuing a parting judgment of her own. “Cunt.”
Quick as a whip, I blurted, “Excuse me?” I wasn’t about to let this slur from a stranger slip by.
“Stop judging me.”
“I wasn’t judging you.”
“Oh yes you were!”
And there we stood, having it out over the racks in Ross Dress-for-Less. I envisioned her taking a swing at me, and me swinging back, and the two of us tussling in the aisles, pulling sweaters from their hangers, toppling the displays, tumbling onto her scattered merchandise as her friend tried to yank us apart.
All because neither one of us wanted to be judged by someone we would never see again.
Then I caught a glimpse of my face in the full-length mirror at the end of the aisle. The raised eyebrows. The pinched mouth. By jove, she’s right.
Tsk, tsk, said the judge in my head.
The woman continued ranting until her friend pulled her from the store. I allowed sufficient time for the crazy woman to drive away, and then slunk to my car, keeping an eye out in case she was waiting in ambush.
In my head, the judge was having a field day.
“That was a mistake, engaging with an irate nincompoop. Don’t engage, and the other person has nothing to engage with. An enlightened person would have remembered that. A sane person would have kept her mouth shut.”
Blah blah blah, on and on, talking about me as if I wasn’t within earshot.