(To go to the beginning of this story, please click here.)
I love people.
From my earliest memory, and from stories my parents would tell me, I was never afraid of people, even if they had cruel intentions. I love to look into each person’s eyes, my favorite part about the human body… as an artist, I would draw eye after eye after eye. “The eyes are the window to the soul,” I had once heard, and I believe it.
I have had occasions where just my gazing directly into someone’s eyes caused them to tell me their life story. I can see pain, brokenness, true joy, struggle…. holiness…. humility…. pride…. Just by looking into a person’s eyes. I especially recognize brokenness, because I, too, am a broken person. I have a history of hurt, pain, healing, struggle…. I can see your pain. I am almost attracted to it, and my heart cannot resist wanting to reach out and embrace your heart…
Many people love this quality, but there are those, a few, who feel threatened by it. Some want to maintain their fragile brick wall, and refuse to meet my gaze. Some want to hide behind their pain and pretend that they are NOT broken, have NO need of me or anyone…. Some people’s pain has made them bitter rather than better, and they turn a lowered gaze of hate in my direction…. my direction, mind you, not directly into my eyes. Because, I guarantee, if a person has either psychotic walls, or anger at someone or something from their past, or are simply trying justify evil, I WILL out-stare them, until they uncomfortably look away. And that is because truth and love and humility sting the proud and deceptive, without even so much as a spoken word.
There were many “eyes” in the court room. Because I had never committed a crime, I had only seen the justice system from the “outside,” and it was shocking and humiliating for me to go before a judge. It was like a mock trial, and I was waiting for a curtain call at any moment. Surely this can’t be real….
But it was.
My only experience in a courthouse prior to January involved being called for jury duty, but I had narrowly escaped jury duty for what looked like a traumatic trial involving domestic violence. I was happy to be out of there… Mainly because I did look the defendant in the eye, and I saw what was there…
So now, I was a “defendant” (of sorts…) I didn’t know that there are many meetings before an actual trial. The meetings are an attempt to work things out so as to see if a jury trial is desired or necessary, or if everything can be worked out through a plea bargain. Many times, at these appearances, the judge would see 20 cases all back to back, starting with those “in custody” (imprisoned), and ending with those less urgent cases like mine.
Before these appearances, I had just assumed that if you had an orange jumpsuit on, you were guilty. You were some nasty drug-pusher or nasty wife-beater or gross child-kidnapper or wretched thief. You deserved it. You always deserved it. Yeah.
I was wrong.
One by one, I watched as humiliated men (and a few women), in handcuffs, approached the podium before the judge. We had been blessed by a judge who was brilliant…. who seemed to have the same gift as mine, regarding eyes and judgment of character… She used her expertise, but would also look each person in the eye. She could “tell,” it seemed, if the person was really trying to get on a good track after being caught disobeying the law, and if they had truly amended their ways.
I watched, as if in the most intense school of my life, each and every person approach the judge. One factor that stood out above all to me was that of humility. Oh sure, there were some non-repentant hardened criminals. But for the most part, these grown men were hunched, in handcuffs, escorted by police, eyes barely able to lift up far enough to meet the judge’s gaze. Privately hired attorneys in fancy suits and fancier shoes strutted like peacocks outside the courtroom. The prosecutors often times joked in between cases, sipping their coffee and going through files that could change a person’s entire life, as if they were leafing through a catalog. ….. NEXT! They had inside jokes, and the court recorders typed away like cold robots. Who cares. These are just criminals.
For the first time in my life, I cared about them. I’ve been a victim of criminals. I’ve had my car broken into and everything stolen, I was a victim of rape when I was a teenager, I was a victim of identity theft three solid times…. I used to want those tyrants to rot in hell. But, for the first time in my life I realized, they are people, too… Just like me.
And what if, just what if, some of them were set up, like I was, by those who have clout and power, who know they can take advantage of the poor or the addicted or the disadvantaged, because they don’t have the money or ability to fight back.
For the record, my dear readers, I want you to know that I absolutely believe in the justice system. I believe people who commit crimes should make amends for their crime according to the severity of their crime. I have seen the necessary role of good attorneys, on both the defense and prosecution sides. I believe in jury trials and judges and the system that makes America great. My point here is not to say that we shouldn’t have jails and shouldn’t name a criminal when we see one. There were plenty of people in that courtroom that made me grateful for the police and judges’ protection…
But there were others. There was one who was arrested with no warrant, there was one who was set up by an angry ex and had lost custody of all his children and now couldn’t get a job because of his charges, there was another who was set up by a girlfriend who sat smirking at the back of the courtroom. The judge saw through all of these cases, but still, these men were in orange jumpsuits and possibly paid a price “too high,” because of the malice of others before they ever reached a court room. They were hunched, humiliated…. and I began to finally make sense of the plea from Jesus: “when I was inprisoned, you visited me…” (Matthew 25:36). Even if they were guilty, they still had dignity.
And then, it was my turn to approach the judge. My attorney was a person who imminated compassion. Her eyes were deep blue, confident, and contained within them the wisdom of someone who has seen much. But the system hadn’t “gotten” to her. She was still joyful and just…. And she looked me right in the eye. I have wished that we could have met as friends over coffee, because anyone who defends the weak and the helpless is a friend of mine…
The judge’s eyes also contained wisdom. I have newfound respect for those who decide the fate of thousands of people… such responsibility on their shoulders. She was professional and calm and cool… And she also looked me in the eye.
There was a slight smile on her face. I could see compassion… I was seven and a half months pregnant at our last meeting. I had observed her in a previous court appearance, asking to see the picture of a baby from a young girl who had turned her life around and had given up drug addiction. The judge had commended her for changing her lifestyle and said these words: “I will never pass up an opportunity to look at a baby picture…” The now “clean” young girl giggled with excitement and pride as her attorney showed the picture of the baby to the judge, who said “he’s beautiful… He looks just like you.” The young girl wiped a small tear of joy from her eyes… And I knew that God had arranged everyone who was in that room that day.
I had the same sense of humility as the other accused people… Begging for mercy (in my head)…. and I am still humbled by the fact that I was on the news and that what the “accuser” told them contained only lies… (I was grateful that they interviewed me as well, and did an excellent job of reporting, I must say, even though the whole ordeal was humiliating!) I always took pride in my reputation, and in my writing, and in how people view me… Like most of humanity, I want to be liked and respected. I don’t want people to judge me by rumors…. But that humility, once I let go of my pride of “being well-thought of,” opened me to a whole new world… One that opens itself more completely to God’s will. One that trusts that if God is on your side, who can stand against you? Even if all looks jumbled and messy and embarrassing now, even if everyone has “an opinion about you,” even if well-meaning people say “I told you so,” God is using it, and will use it, for His glory. There is no way around that fact. And for those who don’t believe in God, you could call it “karma”… What goes around does come around… It’s a life rule. It’s embedded in nature…
It took me a year to begin writing about my experience…. At first, the reason was because of sheer post traumatic shock… But in the end, I was embarrassed. I was afraid people would believe the rumors and the hype. I was afraid I would be judged (by people). Yes, I was too proud, and lacking in humility. I was afraid people would say “oh, there goes Shalimar again, with her wild adventures…” or that they would actually believe the lies… (Seriously, I don’t know how politicians handle all the stories and criticism!)
Thankfully, I realized that my true friends know the truth, they know my character. Of course I am flawed (like everyone else on the planet), but I love life too much to even squish an insect if it is outside in its domain (seriously). And I want to thank publicly all the beautiful friends who have come forward to me in support and kindness. You gave me strength, when I had doubts… You showed me that you would hold me up, support me and my family, and gave me unconditional love without rash judgment or fear that my trials would “infect” you somehow. I have not forgotten, and I never will, and I look forward to the day I can “pay it forward.”
There is only one person I have not had the pleasure of looking in the eye, as of yet. She is the one who made a phone call, based on a rumor… A stranger, not from my neighborhood… who isn’t even aware that my case involving my sheep and goat was dismissed, and yet continues to talk about it… A stranger who is driven by an intense passion, and doesn’t realize the effects of her actions…
A stranger, who by her actions, has helped transform my life in ways I could never have imagined….
(…to be continued…)
Picture above: Baby Drew was in my womb during my court appearances. 😉