Last night around 1:00am, I found myself loitering in front of some place called the Tattoo – Rock Parlour on Queen West.
I was distracting myself, as I often do, by making premature, and often grossly inaccurate judgments of the many people who wandered through my frame of vision.
Lots of people will tell you that they don’t judge. Well I do. I also judge people who say they don’t judge. I judge them as being “untruthful,” perhaps most of all to themselves.
We judge in others those things we ourselves feel most guilty of.
At least I don’t pretend I don’t judge though. Judgment is how we know that the present environment is safe, or sexual, or whether we can expect to eat or go to sleep. Judging people, that is, drawing conclusions based on incomplete information, is unconsciously happening pretty much constantly. Sorry.
The “Tattoo” in Tattoo Rock Parlour, is a little Tattoo shop, with a wide, well-lit window, flashing directly to face the lined-up semi-drunks, and the buzzing street beyond. In the window is a woman wrapped in white, but for a black bra, and the bodily-scars of past visits to the artists’ chair. I saw her, from across the street, and I wondered, “what would compel a person to display themselves as such?”
Not that there’s anything wrong with it. Really, it’s beautiful. But not everyone would voluntarily sit, lit in display on such a stage. So what kind person does such a thing? And so I judged. Etc. Etc.
I met a woman, standing on the street. I had met her before, so to speak. “Can you spare some change?” That was her sales pitch, repeated… I had heard it many times. The insanity of urban life made us neighbors, and our chance paths crossed often. She bounced from pedestrian to pedestrian, like a ball in a secret game of soccer that nobody told her she was playing. I guess she wasn’t playing.
Bouncing from one to another, I saw that soon her path would bring her to me. She is older, perhaps in her 50’s. Her fading hair hangs limply around a face that could use some color. Her gait is stunted, as old shoes drag on the sidewalk, and dirty clothes hang on limp shoulders. “Help me.” That’s the judgment I made.
I see her first and catch her eyes: “I’m sorry, I can’t spare any change.” I say with a smile. She looks at me, perplexed at first. She who exists in the neglected and ignored corners of our well swept society is suddenly seen. I continue to smile, and looking at her, see quickly that she understands a great deal more than meets the eye. Her face breaks into a smile befitting the warmth of a grandmother, and she shrugs her shoulders slightly, with a squint, as if to say “great secret, huh?,” before meandering on.
Like I said, I see her often, preying on the fish in the stream as they flow through a bottleneck at a busy street-corner. I also sometimes see her in front of the community housing in which she lives. Leaning back in a comfortable chair, under a tree that seems about ready for puberty, she smokes a cigarette with a cup of coffee in her hand. It’s late afternoon, and the rays of the eventually setting sun fall fully on her face. Though I steal only a glance in passing, it seems almost as though the light reflected is greater, or perhaps grander than it was when it struck her skin.
It is the unmistakable glow of contentment, hiding here in the unlikeliest corner. She is judged, this woman. So it goes, in a life where pride is surrendered. They look at her saying “help me,” and many, I’m sure, read little more than “less valuable than me.” I know that I have encountered many who lived by mercy and kindness in my life and have frequently looked down upon them as I stepped by.
Yet, in her quiet moments, she knows contentment. Contentment, the elusive prey sought by all. I believe it eludes most of us. We have happy moments, sure, but in the silence, we are rarely content. There is always something to need or want, or that soon needs to be done. Or perhaps it is something past that didn’t go right, or a wish for how it might have. If past and future lie silent, the tricks in the shadows plant seeds of worry, and their vines creep slowly, unnoticed until that have already tied us in knots.
No, contentment is tricky to find, and trickier to hold onto. There it was though, glowing outwards from her soul.
Perhaps she holds the greatest secret of all. If she did, would you listen?
Peace and love