Gayle sat in the chair to my right, and beyond her was the Sheriff’s deputy who we found out was named Jerry. He sat down rather uncomfortably adjusting his sidearm so he could sit in the chair. Once everyone was seated, the judge cleared his throat to indicate it was time to begin, and looked at the people gathered before him.
“Well, you’re all probably wondering why I asked for this conference, especially you, Greg.” Greg looked up at the judge still white as a sheet.
“Let’s review the facts of the case which both you, Gayle, and Jerry should have gotten by email.” They both nodded looking straight at the judge. Neither of them had made any eye contact with Greg, and seemed to ignore him altogether. I was beginning to get a little irritated for my friend since he, at least, deserved to be recognized for coming at all.
The judge continued, “We are here to consider the case of Greg Smith and the many failings he has exhibited over the last 20 or so years of his short, pathetic life.” Finally, with the pronouncement of the last phrase both Jerry and Gayle turned on my friend, and looked at him as if he was some lower life form not deserving to live any longer.
For my part, I was completely taken off guard by what the judge said at the end of his statement. I was expecting something more professional, sterile, even clinical in his description of the charges against Greg. But, there was nothing of the kind. It was completely subjective and incredibly degrading even ruthless. If you’ve ever been in a courtroom you will understand what I mean when I say that I was a bit hesitant to object to the judge’s wording of his so-called “charges” against Greg. I mean, after all, judges have the final say, right. Needless to say, I was getting a little (okay, a lot) uncomfortable about what was going to come next.
Additionally, I was heart-broken for my friend, and as I looked over at him, he seemed to be shrinking in size as the proceedings continued. His head hung lower and lower, and he didn’t utter any defense of himself. It appeared that he had resigned himself to what was coming, and was bracing himself to “take it.”
“So, let me continue,” the judge said as he began to look over a ream of paper. “So, Greg, do you remember when your brother was playing out in the street, and you didn’t protect him from almost getting hit by a car?” Greg nodded slowly as if he was struggling to remember the incident. He looked up, and said weakly, “yeah, but that was at least 10 years ago, and he didn’t get hit did he?”
“Did I ask for your defense?” DID I???” the judged hissed.
“No your honor,” Greg said duly chastised.
“Let’s continue…” the judge cleared his throat once again. “Also, there has been a clear, and definable pattern of behavior by Mr. Smith to let people down in his life by pursuing his own needs and desires. As a matter of fact, he appears to be driven to make sure that people understand that he is better than them. Sometimes he will do this by acting like he is so humble and undeserving of their attention or applause, yet secretly he has nurtured the belief that he deserves their accolades, and this serves to fuel his infantile fury that he isn’t getting the attention he deserves. On the other hand, he will also pressure himself into performing better than anyone else, and cultivates the pattern of behavior that is designed for people to notice and applaud him.
I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, and looked around to see what the other players is this cruel drama were doing. Jerry and Gayle seemed completely disengaged and were only intent on staring daggers into the back of Greg’s head since it was almost in his lap. I finally couldn’t take anymore of this mountain of insults, remembrances of failure and incompetence, so it was my turn to clear my throat and raised my hand rather timidly.
The judge turned his lethal attention on me, and looked at me as if I had just committed a cardinal sin of some sort. “What do you want?” he said through his clenched teeth.
“Uh, judge, I’m a little confused (unfortunately I wasn’t being very articulate or convincing). This seems to be a cruel, hellish version of “This is your life.” I don’t see how any of this matters in a court of law. This list you have are the kind of stuff that can only be known by people closest to Greg, and even only him. How is it that you can do this?”
The judge resettled into his chair, sat up straighter, cast a withering look at me and said, “You are only displaying your ignorance about such things, Mr….? Do you have a name?”
Before I could answer, he continued, “oh, it doesn’t matter, you’re only here because Mr. Smith decided he wanted one more person to listen to his list of failings. I can’t for the life of me understand why, but so be it. Just for your satisfaction, we have been supplied this information by Greg himself.”
For the next hour, the judge continued to go down the list of Greg’s shortcomings, failures, and examples of his incompetence both socially and emotionally. He recounted old relationships, opportunities to perform both athletically and interpersonally at high levels that were “less than stellar,” grades in school, and concluded during the last paragraph with instances even in the last week that Greg had done at missing a deadline at work, and ignoring the new receptionist who was clearly lonely and needed some encouragement.
When he stopped the silence was stifling, and felt like a load of emotional garbage had just gotten dumped into the room. All the while this was going on, Jerry and Gayle seemed to be waiting for something and eagerly soaking up the beat down Greg was experiencing at the hands of the judge. He looked around, and then looked at Gayle first, and nodded. “Gayle you have anything to add?”
Gayle looked at Greg with the kind of loathing that I had never seen between people before except maybe in the movies, but who believes that would be possible? But, here it was, and it was breath-taking. She finally spoke, “Since I am a member of this jury, judge, and I would be considered the “fore-woman” of the jury with the responsibility to speak for the jury, I’ll save you some time. I find Greg Smith guilty of and forever branded as a man who will “never be enough” for anyone. His ongoing and continued pattern of selfishness, ignorance, and stupidity garner for him this sentence.” She looked at the judge and nodded with satisfaction.
“Jerry?” the judge nodded to the deputy. Jerry, much like Gayle, looked at the judge with a frightening level of smugness and self-righteousness, and said, “Well, given the sentence pronounced by the jury represented here by Gayle, it is my duty (and desire I might add) to inflict judgment and on Mr. Smith. I will gladly take on the job to accompany Mr. Smith wherever he goes and remind him on an hourly basis of all that is held against him.”
“How the heck are you going to do that?” I had just had about enough of this charade of a trial, and had decided that if Greg wasn’t going to speak up for himself, I would for him.
The deputy looked at me and thundered, “AND YOU CAN SHUT-UP, OR WE WILL CONDUCT THE SAME KIND OF PROCEEDINGS ON YOU TOO! AND DON’T FOOL YOURSELF INTO BELIEVING THAT WE CAN’T! Right, judge?”
While the deputy and Gayle were talking, I noticed the judge rummaging around in a drawer of his desk, and then finally pulled out another legal sized folder and laid it on his desk.
“Yes, that is right, deputy.” He locked his gaze on me, and said, “Tell me again your last name. Wait, isn’t your last name Riordan? Yes, of course it is. I thought I recognized you, and sure enough I have a file right here with your name on it Mr. Scott Riordan.”
Have you ever been driving on the highway, and suddenly a set of red and blue lights appear in your rear-view mirror? It is all you can do to keep your heart from leaping out of your chest into your throat until the lights pass you and head into the traffic in front of you. That was how I felt at that moment. Questions flew into my head like, “How did he get that? Or, who told him?” At that moment, I knew that I had nowhere to go to help my friend, or I would be the next one on trial and I didn’t’ think I was ready for that. I had a choice to make either protect my friend and face my own trial, or be quiet.
While I was mulling over my options, Greg looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said, “Scott, don’t sweat it. It’s okay. They’re right, and there’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing I can do. I will never be enough, and the judgment has already been made. It’s just the way it is.”
The judge got up from his massive chair, and moved to the front of the desk. He looked at the deputy and nodded. Immediately the deputy left the room, and returned with a silver case, and snapped open the clasps of the case. Inside, he pulled out what looked like a massive syringe that was made for a horse, but at the end was a hollow tip with what looked like a multi-pronged cylinder with a small light blinking.
“Get up!” the judged shouted at Greg.
“Wait, wait, what the heck is going on?” I shouted trying to slow down what looked like was going to happen no matter what I did. “What is that thing?”
“Given Greg’s sentence by the jury, and carried out by Mr. Jerry here, he will be implanted with a small device that will be lodged at the base of his skull. It really doesn’t hurt that much, but it will repeat over and over in Greg’s thoughts (I know it sounds weird, but I was beginning to believe anything was possible at this point) all the failures, losses, ignorance, incompetence, his inability to perform at satisfactory levels so that he will never forget the sentence pronounced on him today, NOT ENOUGH!“
As I began to shake my head and scream, “WAIT! WAIT!” I felt my shoulder being shaken over and over again, and in the distance I heard someone saying, “Scott, wake up! WAKE UP!” It was at that moment I realized that I had been sleeping and opened my eyes. There was Greg stifling a smile as he seemed to be amused at my nightmare. “Dude, what the heck were you dreaming? Wait, wait for what??”
“Nothing, never mind… I must have fallen asleep when I got home from work. I didn’t think I was that tired. “
As frightening as a situation like this would be (in spite of how improbable), it happens every day in many (if not all) of us. We all fight with the lurking, and what seems to be, the undeniable sentence of judgment on ourselves that we are simply not enough. Why is it that we feel so compelled to forgive ourselves? We have become our own “judge, jury, and executioner” who are equipped with all the worst “inside” information they can have with which to convict us. We have an internal “kangaroo court” designed to pronounce this judgment no matter how competent, “perfect,” or high-performing we might be. In the posts to follow, we will endeavor to journey into the origins of such a court of condemnation, and consider patterns or principles we can practice to mute the voices of our judge, jury, and executioner.