Last week, I went to a movie in The Upper West Side of Manhattan. As I took my seat in the theater, I realized the median age in the room was about seventy. It made me smile and shrug.
A cute older couple sat next to me. The woman and I made eye contact and she asked me which row and seat I was in to ensure they were in the right spot. Her husband was fumbling with a backpack, not really paying attention to anything.
“Dear, do you have the tickets?” she asked.
“No,” he snapped. “Why?” The question dripped with accusation.
“I just want to make sure we’re in our right seats,” she said gently. Central casting for a kind grandma.
“Oh stop it,” he spat. “Look around. The theater’s almost empty. You’re always like this. You’re always on trial.”
Admittedly, the husband could have been kinder. That’s an understatement. But his comment got me thinking about myself.
I am just like this lady. I’m a rule follower. I don’t want to get in trouble. I’ve never heard that phrase before, but I am indeed always putting myself ‘on trial’. I see the world around me as judge and jury, ready to cast a sentence on me.
I am afraid of making mistakes. Afraid of failure. Afraid of not being enough. And in such a state, I have turned myself over to the authorities. I have a list of crimes so long and ingrained I couldn’t even articulate them fully anymore. Mostly, I just don’t feel that I am enough.
And so, I turn every little thing into a federal case. Everything is a damning piece of evidence or a promising one. It is scrutinized, packaged, and labeled, compartmentalized to ensure no one taints the evidence, because it will need to be brought back out again and again.
Everything is interpreted. My thoughts, actions, and feelings are defended with vigor, over-explained, combed over.
How did I get here? Who was it that accused me? Certainly not God. Is it Satan? The world? Have I believed lies spoken to me? Has someone or someones dragged me into this court.
The answer is no. It is me. I stand accused. And the accuser is me. If I were able to look around the room and see the jury in the box – my peers, the testimony of the witnesses – my past relationships, the observers who have gathered – friends and family. The judge who presides. I wonder what he is thinking.
The truth is I am not handcuffed to the defendants table. I am there on my own volition. I am a prisoner in a cell of my own making.
Could it be so simple as this: I can leave whenever I want. I can choose to exit the courtroom. Let myself off the hook. Perhaps there is a courtroom where I will need to stand trial. But this one isn’t it.
Just because solutions are simple does not mean they are easy. All it takes is a simple change in perspective. A simple alteration of my worldview. To adjust one’s approach to life is no small thing.
Yet, it is for freedom we have been set free. It is easier to stand on trial, to submit to the whims of those around me, to hand over my choices over to others.
What would be like to stand up and leave? What would they say if I rose to my feet and politely took my exit? Would they scream for me to stay? Would they smile and let me go?
One thing feels certain. I cannot live the life I was meant to cooped up in this courtroom, revisiting accusations, measuring meaning in the biased face of the jurors. I suspect there is a transcendent life out there. But I must let myself off trial.