As I sit here in the waiting room I try to review my life. I am sixty years of age this year, so this is of great importance to me. I try to consider what wrongs I have done in my life and what have I done right. It is not so easy to determine these things. Circumstances we find ourselves in are very complicated to analyze. For instance, trying to do the right thing often will lead to unforeseen consequences which may effect other peoples lives in negative ways.
Oftentimes we do things unconsciously that have a detrimental effect on others that we may not even notice or anticipate. Then again, we perceive our life from our own perspective. From the perspective of others our behavior may be quite different than what we intend.
We also behave in ways that are self-promoting. This is a natural instinct, but it can cause harm to those around us. All these aspects of one’s life and more must be taken into careful consideration.
As I look around the waiting room to the other old men and women sitting here, I study their faces. Some have a concerned expression on their face, but most a frightened expression. I assume they are all as thoughtful about themselves and their lives as I am. Only two men I see have contented looks. I know these kinds of people. These two I think have a surprise awaiting them.
Some question this Judgment of ours. Usually these criticisms occur when we are nearing the legal age, of course. In our youth and middle age the Judgment seems to reside in the distant future, so we do not concern ourselves much with it. But, when we near our sixtieth year, naturally it begins to occupy our minds more and more often.
This Judgment has been our law for untold generations. However we may consider its propriety, the law is the law, after all, and must be obeyed. We must accept our fate before the Judgment, whatever the outcome.
Some have tried to escape the Judgment, of course, have run away into the hinterlands, farther and farther, ever more deeply through countries unknown to us, to discover a final refuge, to vanish forever from our society and from our laws. Our Provence Governor tells us these miscreants are always caught and punished.
I hope this is not the truth. I like to think there is an outpost of escapees living happily somewhere far away out of the reach of our authorities. I am too old now to join them, and was too timid or perhaps too cowardly to attempt this myself in my youth and middle age. This I regret now. However, would taking the risk of being caught and paying the penalty for this venture be any different than what I face today?
All this dreaming does not help my present situation, so I will return to the matter at hand.
No one knows of what this Judgment consists. None of its details are we acquainted with. There have always been speculation and rumors of course. If I may, I will speak of some of the more credible suppositions.
Basically, we are judged by the authorities according to the good and the bad we have done in our lives. We are then judged either innocent or guilty. Our behavior, our decisions and their consequences are examined, and finally the verdict is handed down.
Now, just who judges us is also a matter of speculation. Some say there is a panel of three Judges who make the decision among themselves. Some offer that there is a Prosecutor and an Advocate who argue our case before the Court. Others maintain we alone must defend ourselves. Some even suppose the decision has been made even before we appear.
In any event, the decision is made and the verdict handed down. If we are found innocent, presumably there is a happy ending. If found guilty, due punishment is decreed. In either case, the one judged is not allowed to return to his home or to his family. No one who has stood before the Judgment has ever returned to our village.
This has always seemed odd to us, even suspicious. We can understand the disappearance of those judged guilty, as we suppose their punishment would preclude their return. But, those judged innocent we would assume would be returned to their village to continue their normal lives. This never occurs, however.
The general thinking is, the innocents are sent to a more pleasant life than they could ever experience in their own village. This would be an agreeable reward, except in this event they never see their parents, friends, wives, children or grandchildren again. How can a life lived separated from our own loved ones be a pleasurable experience and a reward for having lived a virtuous life?
Another opinion is that everyone who goes before the Judgment is found guilty. This is very possible, as who lives an innocent life?
I must also explain the process of the order of selection in the waiting room. It seems to me completely random. A door opposite opens and a uniformed guard stands tall and proud in the doorway. He loudly and rather harshly pronounces a name. The person suddenly named is wrenched from his or her reverie with a shocked look on their face. They inevitably grow pale, hesitate, then slowly rise and shamble slowly toward the guard and the door.
They often stop momentarily to turn and gaze with longing at the empty chair they have just left. However, the guard holds the door open a little wider to beckon the person through. The selected then turns back to the guard and the door. Averting their eyes from the guard’s stern stare, they regain their composure somewhat and dutifully continue toward the opening, seemingly resigned to their fate.
After this person has disappeared into the passageway, the guard always pauses and turns his attention to those still waiting with an unsympathetic and reproachful gaze. Then he slowly recedes and closes the door softly behind him.
We all look at each other with concern after these little scenes, then with relief, and then bow our heads, lost in our own thoughts. I, too, bow my head. I also will be selected this day, I too will start when I hear my name called in that loud harsh voice, turn pale, rise uncertainly and shuffle hesitantly forward.