One of my worst fears came true earlier this evening as I drove the 45 minutes from my parents’ house to my own home, going from one perimeter of the outermost suburbs of Raleigh, NC to the other. Lost in thought but still aware of the numerous highway patrolmen that I had seen clocking the speed of passing cars, I thought I was minding my speedometer quite well. I was wrong. A mere two exits before my own in quiet Cary, the blue lights and loud sirens which I have not had in my rear view for several years now startled and shamed me as I pulled over, feeling like a puppy who piddled a pricey Persian rug.
Ashamed, I handed the very friendly highway patrolmen my information and told him that if he was only letting people go that had spotless records, that he should go ahead and write me a ticket – this was not my first square dance, though I had been a much better driver for the past 6 years. He sensed my dejection, I think, rapped on the top of the car with his knuckle, and told me he would be back. True to his word he returned after what felt like an extremely elongated two minutes, letting me go with a warning because true to my own word, though he had seen in my history a rather impressive history of amateur training for NASCAR, he had also seen a change for the better and was willing to let me keep defining myself, it would seem, as a reformed terrible driver.
This got me thinking about how hard it is to change, and how easily a setback can seemingly give us a “reason” to re-categorize ourselves as what we were before, even if there is equal evidence for both the good and the bad. Judgment is uncomfortable, and terrible, and downright disconcerting. No one likes to be judged, as my experience today is a testament to. What is unique about a situation like waiting for a grade, or a potential ticket, or the like is that you know that you are being judged. In fact, people like me LOVE school because we love not only the challenge and the stress but also thrive off the feedback (not so present in graduate school, which makes it much more difficult). In life, however, you don’t know when you’re being judged. I grew up in this town, and though people say Raleigh is a big city, let me assure you, it is not. It is small. I am sure that there are people who see me and silently judge, and if I could read their thoughts and interject, I would want to, on the grounds that their information is wrong, or in the case of one particularly active and vociferous past judge, that we never met, or in many cases that there is a parallel to my leadfooted days – yes, I did all of that stuff, but look at everything I’ve refrained from and engaged in instead for the last half of a decade and better. Can you know the hearts and minds of people as they judge you? No, and this is what we call a gift. What we can do, I think, is judge others and ourselves with a bit more grace than we do, because it is quite likely that it’s deserved across the board.