August 13, 2010

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

It’s a good thing God is the judge, not us

Cynthia Dewes“Never judge a book by its cover.” “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” You know the drill. The message is, we are not put on Earth to judge one another, tempting as that may be.

As I always say, it is a good thing it is God who does the judging because I would be so much more, well, judgmental about it. Like many of us, I am too quick to size people up and assign them to categories before I really know them.

Traveling often offers both an opportunity to judge others, and to learn just how wrong, or possibly right, we can be. People-watching is a fun way to do this, and also a great way to pass the time.

Recently, when preparing to board an airplane, I noticed a group of young men in our boarding gate’s waiting area. It was hard not to notice them, which may have been what they really wanted. They were decorated in gold jewelry with chains draped at their waists, colorful head scarves and creative footwear. They wore big sunglasses, which never came off.

As I trundled my carry-on bag down the “jet way” and onto the plane, I kept getting stuck on floor tilts here and there. One of the flamboyant young men not only noticed this, but immediately went into “Help-the-Old-Lady” mode.

He ushered me ahead of him onto the plane, lifting my bag up over the door lip. Then he followed me down the aisle and put my bag in the overhead compartment without being asked, smiling and making pleasant small talk all the while. When I thanked him, he said it was “his pleasure.” Rather than being a gangsta wannabee, he was, in fact, a well-brought up boy. So much for first impressions.

When we finally were seated in our usual favorite seats, my husband at the window and me on the aisle, our middle seatmate turned out to be a man we had commented about to each other in the waiting area before boarding. He was about 6 feet 4 inches tall, and must have weighed over 300 pounds! We had joked, “Wow! Hope we don’t get him in between us.”

Right. And here he was, jammed into a seat designed for someone half his size. The poor guy lopped over the sides of his seat even though he tried valiantly to keep his arms folded so they didn’t overwhelm us.

As the trip progressed—and unfortunately it was a long trip—I chatted with the man a bit as we passed along the pitiful snacks and drinks offered by the flight attendants. It turned out that this fellow was a drag race fan who was going home from a big race somewhere. He had heard of the drag races in Clermont, and had even been there. By the time we landed, we were exchanging friendly farewells. Again, the possible first impression of a rather selfish oaf intruding on everyone else’s space changed to a fondness for a big man who just wanted to enjoy his life.

Unfortunately, hasty judgments can sometimes be terribly harmful as in the recent firing of U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod. She was accused of racism, among other things, because of public distortion of a speech she had made explaining her actual rejection of racist hatred. Here, false judgment was the aim of wicked people.

Over time, I’ve learned one important thing about making judgments: Do not act on them quickly because they are usually wrong. Only God can judge.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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