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New Year, New You

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Instead of swearing off sweets or adopting a diet plan, resolve to become a better person

nol_jan08_medres_page_30_image_0001.jpg“Those who know what’s best for us must rise and save us from ourselves.” —Neil Peart, of Rush

Here we are, in early 2008, armed with a slew of resolutions we promised ourselves we’d be obeying by this time for sure. Yet already we’re excited about Mardi Gras, which falls on February 5, a little too close for comfort to the New Year. Those who’ve chosen diet reform resolutions should be wary: Strawberry daiquiris will be flowing into plastic Mardi Gras cups in no time. Office break rooms across the metro area will be teeming with king cakes, and they’ll be the really scrumptious, moist, impossible-to-resist kind. Yeeouch!

Perhaps a less excruciating choice for New Orleanians regarding resolutions might be to just accept the fact that there will always be fantastic food around. It would be cruel to deny ourselves, so we should just adopt a permanent mindset of eating in moderation and enjoying regular exercise and leave it at that.

Before swearing off resolutions completely, maybe we should consider making more life-enriching ones. Every week we could visit our elderly aunt who lives alone, or we could commit to doing volunteer reading for the blind and handicapped at WRBH
88.3 FM. Or we could try something really bold: Change the thing about ourselves that needs a serious overhaul. Perhaps being too judgmental is that thing.

Last Sunday morning, my mom and dad and I traveled to Covington for my newborn cousin’s baptism. Halfway across the Causeway Bridge on this sunny day, we surprisingly encountered a fog that would make a pirate wince; there were ghostlike school buses that magically appeared in front of us from out of nowhere, and the ride became scarily surreal as we crept along at a snail’s pace with other cautious drivers. Once we hit land, we came to another halt in the road: A bad car accident had occurred, and state troopers were allowing only one lane of traffic out of three to move. We were at a standstill for quite a while, and once we saw the horrible condition of the vehicles involved, we hoped for survivors. Now in a somber mood, we shifted forward.

The clock in the car read exactly 11 a.m. as we pulled up to the church. A grim-faced woman entering the church (whom we later learned was the church’s organist) took it upon herself to raise her hands and wag a “Tsk, tsk, shame, shame” gesture with her fingers at us as we drove up. My mother, already stressed from the trip, was about to go ballistic from behind the wheel; my dad told her to calm down, and I started laughing. During the service, I started thinking: What gives this woman the right to condemn us? She has no idea what circumstances led to our arriving for the service right at its inception instead of minutes earlier. In fact, she knew absolutely nothing about us or our state of minds. Fortunately, we didn’t know anyone involved in any awful accident, but what if we had and had just found out about it? What if we were suffering particular physical or emotional pain brought on by tragedy in our lives? For her own safety’s sake, what if we were hot-tempered kooks just looking for an excuse to vent our anger? Most important, why did this woman feel it necessary to cast judgment on us?

After the service, I just had to know why. I spotted the church lady in the back, smiled, and gestured for her to “come here.” Panic splashed across her face and the chase was on, but alas, she disappeared in a flash! I can usually outrun the best of ’em—even in platform heels—but not this one! She scurried away faster than a rat into paneling, vanishing seamlessly into what must have been the fog that seeped its way into the church from the lake. I never saw her again. Later, at the baptismal after-party, as I munched on a modest serving of vegetarian lasagna (can’t give up those cheesy carbs forever!), I figured that the church lady must have clambered up to the organ rafters to escape me. But if I’d caught up with her, I’d have said, “Church Lady, I’m curious: What prompts your puritanical urge to reprimand people in front of a church? Shouldn’t you step aside and leave the judging up to the Almighty?” Or maybe I’d say: “Careful about road rage, girlfriend, my mother’s foot was on the gas pedal when you started all your chastising!”

Who knows, maybe the church lady woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. Maybe she was dealing with her own issues, in her own special way. Perhaps when she exacts her holier-than-thou attitude on behavior she perceives as morally inept, she basks in a deep sense of satisfaction. It could be that the church lady is a most shining example of mankind, one immune from enduring accidents, imperfections, goof-ups, failures, headaches, heartaches, backaches, unemployment, tardiness, burglaries, wrong turns, evictions, demotions, bad hair days, laziness, flat tires, burnt coffee, confusion, embarrassment, scraped knees, inclement weather, ruination, disappointments, diarrhea or mistakes—the millions of experiences that sometimes, unfortunately, define exactly where the rest of us are in space and time during our crazy lives as human beings. Perhaps the normal rules of courtesy and consideration just don’t apply to her.

If you’re going to take it upon yourself to be the judge of others in this new year, please consider all the evidence and possibilities. The people you decide to condemn may have a heavy weight on their mind and in their heart. They may be scared, lonely, depressed, stressed or could just have gotten horrible news about a loved one. Human beings are nothing more than human beings, subject to the cruel trials of life, and there’s not a single soul on earth that doesn’t benefit from a little kindness. Know when to reach out but also when to respect boundaries and the New Year might be a more tolerable one for all of us who share life together on the third rock.