Before You Judge My Life…

Before You Judge My Life…

I recently celebrated my birthday, as much as one could do while slowly escaping lockdown. Not that I ever found lockdown resembling a prison. It was what it was. Radical Acceptance: it’s become a mantra of mine. Thanks, Jenny!

Resistance is futile when entertaining a fleeting digression… Lockdown is now on my mind. Oh, do find it in your heart to forgive my mind’s pondering… My experience of the drastic change, and the curious way COVID-19 affected us all, can be summed up by Seneca with his famous quote below:

“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.”

Desire for nothing. Equals. Have everything.

I inhale a deep breath and exhale it with force. Now, with the digression mildly dealt with, I shall return to my birthday.

Saffir, a close writer friend of mine, arranged a dinner party at her friend’s place a block away from where I lived in north London, the night after my birthday. Two out of the four women had daughters of the same age, six years old, give or take a year.

The one mother I had met only once previously. I wouldn’t have recognised Martha if we passed each other on the street. She had hacked off her shoulder-length hair and resembled a pixie. A pointed hat would have completed her fresh look.

Martha was a good decade younger than the rest of us. Saffir called her daughter “feral”. I understood the meaning when Martha attempted to get her daughter to leave and return to their home. The child screamed. The walls vibrated and shuddered three rooms away from the dining table. This is where we sat devouring the homemade Indian food Saffir had cooked. “Feral” refused to surrender. Martha gave in to the horrific demands, returned to the feasting room and poured herself another glass of wine, flopping down on her seat, defeated. I reached for my glass and sipped repeatedly on the non-alcoholic sparkling wine I brought with me. I needed to distract myself, I needed to stop myself from blurting out a question or two… How do you allow your child to control you? Ever heard of a positive reinforcer for shaping problematic behaviour? I made a mental note to find out when it was her birthday to purchase her a copy of “Don’t Shoot The Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training” by Karen Pryor. I hoped she would take the message in the right way. Is there ever a right way to interfere in parenting, especially when one did not have offspring of their own? If I had to hazard a guess, then probably not.

Martha spoke of her spooky encounters, a haunted spirit, a screeching banshee flying over Hampstead and things being moved in her bathroom while she soaked in bubbles. And finally, a new love interest. ‘Aren’t you married?’ I asked. ‘Yes. It’s hell. I’ve experienced a hell of a lockdown with my husband and… I’m trapped…’ She then provided further details about being in love with a betrothed father of one of her daughter’s friends, and the mishap she caused by him. ‘What do I do?’ She asked us. ‘Is there another way…? There’s no doubt he feels the same.’ In unison, the three of us instructed to leave well alone. She agreed to consider it. I doubted a bored, married, struggling artist had that ability. Shame on you, Cressida! Who was I to judge someone I didn’t know at all?

She gave me a book as a gift. “The Inventions Of Daedalus”. Oh no, I couldn’t now get her a book for her birthday. How unoriginal! “Don’t Shoot The Dog” was out of the question; no further questions required. As she handed me the book, she said, ‘It’s the weirdest book I’ve ever come across. I must do you a reading from it before you go.’

Huffing and puffing, I blew out the candles amidst the fiery sparklers while making a wish. After devouring three pieces of the moist, especially made vegan carrot cake, I got ready to leave. Martha reminded me of the reading, the telling of my fortune. I asked a general question: ‘Will our (referring to my partner and my) dream come true?’ I explained the dream. ‘Okay,’ she said, ‘give me a four-digit number.’ She scrolled through the pages of the book until she found the first two numbers from the set of numbers I pinched from the air. Next, she ran her index finger down the first page and then halfway down the second, she stopped. She read out a paragraph. She interpreted it to mean that one of us didn’t really want to follow the dream. Shock! Horror! No!

The following morning Saffir and I met for a walk and coffee. ‘Martha thinks you’re so straight-laced and prim and proper.’

‘Really?’ I turned to Saffir, who understood my background. She knew the shady shenanigans I’d dabbled in throughout my first three decades, at least. ‘What has given her such an impression?’

‘Because you don’t drink or party and live a calm, perfect life.’ She laughed. ‘I baulked at the calm bit…’

‘I quite like the “goody-two-shoes” image. I doubt many have formed such an opinion…’

‘It’s interesting how people form first impressions and find it hard to shake them without knowing a thing. I suggested Martha ask you to share a few stories. She’ll probably want you to reveal your secret about how to stop. She’s young, a rebel without a cause and isn’t ready to get it out of her system yet.’

I agreed with my friend. I explained to her how someone who knew nothing about me judged me and then discovered my anonymous writing blog and judged me even more so for every word written. Upon realising I had done the same to her, I tried to make amends. Sometimes making amends at certain times turned out to be the wrong times. Thank fuck for hope and new beginnings!

We decided we shan’t judge the judges and instead be curious about all experiences encountered, no matter if positive or challenging.

‘Remember,’ Saffir said. She ended off with Wayne Dyer’s quote:

“When you judge another, you do not define them. You define yourself.”



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