Monday, November 9, 2009

Guilty

“Hey, how long ago did you get this ticket?” Corbin asked, flipping through some papers on my desk.
“Oh yeah, I meant to ask you about that. What do I need to do with it?”
“Well, did you read it? Looks like you need to go to the courthouse. But it says within eleven days, and the date on this is Oct 19.”
“Agh! So today is day 12. Think that’ll matter?”
“I don’t know.”
“Think it’ll matter that I still don’t have a new driver’s license?”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on, you’re the attorney here. You really don’t know?”
“I really don’t know. But you need to go tomorrow.”

I was hoping Corbin could do something about my ticket - call someone or take it somewhere and make it just disappear. A couple of weeks ago I answered my cell phone driving through a school zone. Big no-no. The officer was merciful to fore go the automatic $200 fine, but instead issued me a ticket for an expired registration sticker. No kidding, the new sticker was paid for, sitting on my desk at home, waiting to be affixed to my front window.

So last Monday morning, citation and renewed registration in hand, I walked up the courthouse steps in hopes of getting my ticket dismissed. With $1.50 in the parking meter and the kids at lunch with Corbin I figured I’d bought myself an hour or so to take care of this annoying inconvenience.

Despite the crisp, sunny weather outside, the building’s dark, dank ambiance mirrored my spirits. After walking through a metal detector and waiting in line for the teller, I was summoned to courtroom five. Whoa. Turning the corner into the hallway, I joined the ranks of a mass of legal offenders. Searching for a kind face of someone who might speak English, I asked a lady where the line started and who I should give my paperwork to. She shrugged her shoulders and told me that the clerk would be by to get my papers at some point. I pricked my ears for any information and overheard comments like “three-hour-wait” and “been here since 9:30.” I couldn't make sense of the process and instead leaned against the tile wall and waited.

As my watch ticked by minutes. I contemplated how I would get back to add more change in my meter, and how Corbin would do with miniature shadows at work the rest of the afternoon. Was it worth the wait? How much would this ticket cost, anyway? Would this “process” devour more of my time with a driver’s safety course?

Glancing through the tiny rectangular window of an adjoining courtroom I saw my friend Kim, sitting as Judge on the bench, issuing verdicts to those who stood before her. Kim! If only she would look up and see me - maybe I’d be saved! But she never looked my way, and I was unfortunately assigned to the next court. I (barely) restrained myself from doing cartwheels and waving my arms frantically to get her attention.

At some point the clerk gathered my papers, and before too long I was summoned from waiting in the hallway to waiting in the actual courtroom. I felt the weight of disapproving onlookers as I left the throngs of listless hallway dwellers and entered the courtroom.
Following the clerk’s gestures to a bench, I sardined myself between two seated men, turned off my phone, crossed my arms, and waited. As a man pleaded with the Judge to revoke his warrant for arrest, to no avail, the young man on my right told me he’d been sitting there for two hours and had to catch a bus to Texarkana. The man on my left told me I should just leave and come again at 7:00 am the next day, as the courts open at 8:00. Another man in front of us asked the clerk if his name had been called, as he’d stepped out to use the restroom, and she part-laughed and part-huffed as she told him, “No chance.”

As person after person stood in front of the judge, arguing their tickets and violations, I dreaded my name being called. I was pretty sure I was the only blonde in the room, and quite sure the only one wearing a hot pink blazer. What was I thinking?! I stood out like a sore thumb, and I didn’t like it one bit. I slumped on the hard wooden bench, wondering what I would be asked and how the judge would respond to my delayed appearance. Beyond the inconvenience of throwing away these precious hours, I felt guilty. Guilty knowing that my real charge was worse than what I was actually charged with, guilty that I’d let too much time pass before taking care of this ticket, and guilty crammed among fifty or sixty others in the same position.

All of the sudden, the judge called out my name.
“Tonya Wilson?”
I kind of half-stood, not sure what to do, as I knew my name was no where near the top of her pile.
“Tonya Wilson - your ticket is dismissed, you may leave.”
A room full of strangers stared holes through me. I was one of the last to enter the room, and now one of the first to be leaving. I heard sighs from those across the aisle - not happy ones.
“That’s it? I don’t need to do anything else?”
“No,” the Judge said, “you’re free to go.”

So out I walked. Out into the crammed hallway, through the dim teller area, and down the marble courthouse steps. I squinted my eyes in the bright noon-time sun.

Free. Liberated. I was released, with no real explanation. I could have cried right there standing on the bustling sidewalk among lunch-hour suits. What just happened?

An unexplained pardon. It was such a picture to me of my debts being wiped clean - an undeserved gift. My entire wait was about half an hour, and I didn’t even have to go before the judge. My ticket was completely dismissed in mere minutes, while others waited hours. I was free to go. A humbling, startling picture that will go with me as I continue to appreciate the ultimate, real, eternal Grace.

Footnote: My friend Kim later explained that I was likely released because of the nature of my ticket - just one, and I’d given the clerk proof of my registration that had already been paid for. She never saw me through the window.