A Study of Justice

I have to clean my room,

I’m saying, “Not fair!”

Even though I make the mess,

That’s neither here not there,

Because I’m talking about justice,

I’m going to make you aware,

When you’re five years old,

Well, it’s just not fair!

(“Not Fair” by Joe Scruggs from the CD Ants)

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“Just not fair”: sometimes imagined, sometimes real. (Credit: Reji Jacob on Wikimedia Commons)

Wife Kathy’s been downsizing lately. Children’s books and CDs from when our own kids, Elena and Micah, were young are migrating toward grandson Cole, nine months old and already getting ears-full of songs and stories. He’s heard over and over “I Been Workin’ on the Railroad,” including the “Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah” part, “Nessun Dorma,” and another tenor aria I can never remember. Pavarotti calms him down in the car. Soon he’ll be ready for the lessons and play of Rafi and Joe Scruggs, whose music Micah was singing (poor “Joshua Giraffe,” “stuck in a zoo with buffalo poo”) on Saturday as he helped his mother put in a new basement window and I considered justice.

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A little guy like Joshua. Micah’s singing about him was a blessing. (Credit: Chrumps on Wikimedia Commons)

The Gospel yesterday from Matthew was Jesus’ “Parable of the Householder Who Hired the Laborers.” Summary: the householder pays those who worked only one hour the same as those who toiled in the sun all day. As the children’s song repeats, “Not fair, not fair, not fair.” If I had busted my hump all day, the householder’s lapels would have been wrinkled and torn. I would have yanked his beard right out of his loving, generous, foolish, unfair head.

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Some beard on Benedict of Nursia. If the houseowner had such a beard and paid me the same as people who worked an hour, he might have come out of the tussle with a Fu Manchu and not much else. (Credit: photograph by Eugenio Hansen, OFS, on Wikipedia)

In the parable, the householder obviously represents God, and the teaching is that God isn’t fair. God is loving. But I don’t intend to talk about God. The world is so full of beauty that I get verklempt occasionally, but its blood-ugliness has the same effect on me, too. God for me is above all Mystery. I have neither the nerve nor desire to explain or even speculate much about how God dwells in the here and now. God is first-string in my heart, but I’m letting God ride the bench for a thousand words or so today. All I want to do is think about justice (or as Joe Scruggs puts it, fairness).

I got in a fender-bender this morning. (Nobody hurt, both vehicles just fine. Thanks for asking.) I was merging into traffic, checked to be sure the coast was clear, and hit the accelerator. Sadly, the woman in front of me was carefully assessing the traffic—waiting for her embossed invitation to arrive—so I gave her a stout “good morning.” It took her a long time to pull to the berm, and when I looked in her window, she was crying, face in hands. She rolled down the back window, got her bearings, then rolled down the front. No, she didn’t hit her head. No, I hadn’t given her whiplash. She may change her mind about that tomorrow.

After we exchanged information, I numbly drove to Starbucks, where I’m licking this immediate wound, speculating on the rise in my premium, and tending a couple of other bumps and bruises. I really couldn’t see any damage to my truck, but her bumper, made of that wonderfully durable plastic that ripples if somebody in the backseat farts, sports a horizontal crack down the middle.

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Ah, a dimple on the chrome to the left. A 1998 with over 200,000 miles on it. Think I’ll pass on repairs.

The morning’s gravity is pulling toward the blues. Poor John! Actually, poor driver in her seventies with an Eastern Bloc name sorely in need of a vowel or two and an unfair jolt of adrenaline to work off. I’ve got no worthy complaints against fairness. Although I’ve been something of a mess lately, that’s my own problem. I like to say that I’ve got a great life, but sometimes I suck at it.

Where fairness is concerned, I’m the defendant, not the plaintiff. The evidence against me is damning:

1.) I have four weeks of vacation each year, and I’m taking one day today. Two Xanax will soon have my jittery soul calmed down. I’m on my third free refill of deliciously bitter iced decaf. Nobody’s got a knife to my throat. I don’t live, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “under the bomb.”

2.) When I head home, I’ll have to decide what not to have for lunch. The house is dry and warm or cool as necessary. Bills paid.

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Too much clutter at 322 Shenley Drive, but never too many flowers.

3.) The perils I face are mostly my own doing. Too much debt. Health risks to be brought under control. All this, so far as I know, is on me.

4.) My family has come through tough times I’ve already chronicled to death. Saying more about the past here would be tiresome, but last evening is worth a comment. Kathy, Micah, and I took family dinner to Elena and Matt’s: sauerkraut and pork and cream of cucumber and avocado soup with pearl onions. We sat in their postage stamp back yard and talked as Micah pushed grandson Cole around in his play car. The soup was savory, garnished with cherry tomatoes, raw cucumber, and avocado. Nobody but Matt had any, but down to my last culinary bone, I didn’t care. I tasted the hint of cheyenne and cilantro, sipped red wine, and received the cool air and love around me. When rain blew in, I didn’t give a thousandth of a solitary damn. I stood where it was sheltered and breathed, by now shoveling in kraut and mashed potatoes. Soon, Cole needed a bath, which he entered joyfully and immediately gave his business a tug. Atta boy, just don’t be too much of an overachiever here. Dinner, holding grandson, rain, peace, and laughter. Mercy within mercy within mercy.

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Cole playing Grrrrrr with Gramps. What did I do to deserve this love? Not fair.

5.) At 5:30 this morning, Kathy said, “You’re snoring.” I rolled this way and that for ten minutes, trying to comply, but finally was informed, “Your snoring is incessant!” It takes brains to say incessant before 6:00 a.m. What to do? I wanted to stay in bed with my wife and feel the healing breezes through the screens, but the rattling of my glottis was messing with her last hour of life. So I decided to remain and let myself get only to the edge of sleep. I don’t remember ever doing this before, but it’s what I wanted. This isn’t about me, but about Kathy. She deserves such love. Until just before 7:00, then, we lay together, me keeping vigil over myself and rising to consciousness at the first sound of sleep and wet head-flesh’s gargly duet. Just before she got up, I issued a last, faint caw. She touched my cheek and said, “I’ve got to get up.” She wasn’t mad. Where’s the justice?

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Lovely Kathy’s approach to life: don’t hold a grudge; let’s get on board and get going!

6.) I emailed Kathy at work about my accident this morning. Her response landed an hour later: “Oh John Coleman, what am I gonna do with you? I might have to ground you from Starbucks. Glad you are ok. Bet little old lady gonna be sore tomorrow. Love you.” No annoyance, even though she has warned me about that stupid merge many times before. When the insurance premium goes up, Kathy will frown, shrug her shoulders, and kiss me.

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My Starbucks? No, anything but my Starbucks!

There’s more, but the prosecution has gone on long enough. Fairness has a litany of complaints against me. My only statement is this: Justice or the world or the universe owes me nothing, so I’ll try to receive indulgent love and all family dinners in the rain with a humble and grateful heart.

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Not fair that I live in such a house, but I’ll take it.

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11 thoughts on “A Study of Justice

  1. John Coleman, you make all my first world bitching seem… unfair. I like bitching, too, so meh on you. (How do you like that? I bitched about how it’s not fair for me to bitch when I have all this wonderful stuff, and love, and wonderful people– not unlike yourself John– in my life. Ha!) It’s a beautiful post. I needed to read some of your words. This week has been difficult for me too.

    • Ah, but your bitching has a witty, humorous backdrop. Any thoughtful person reading your posts–as sharp as any on my radar–would recognize immediately that you deeply appreciate your wonderful stuff. For me, that’s how your humor works. It’s situated in an intelligent, mindful context. If I thought you were petty and shallow, I wouldn’t laugh. So . . . bitch on, sister. And thanks! John

  2. John, your post reminds me of my mother and my nephew, Steven. He used to have terrible tantrums as a toddler, stamping his feet and crying, It’s not fair! That is until my mother turned around and asked him if it’s fair that she has to do this and that….That ended his It’s not fair.
    We’ve had a few expensive accidents this year, too. A burnt glass top on the rental house while we were in Arizona this winter, my drowned by wine laptop and recently someone stole the outboard motor to the boat. We forgot to close the garage door. It’s not fair! 🙂 You have a very cute grandson. I’ve just kindled your book. I’m expecting some good reading.

    • Hi, Lily! Somebody stole your outboard motor? What’s the world coming to? Hey, thanks a million for downloading my book. It’s a slow, miscellaneous read, but I hope it resonates with that quiet, thoughtful part of you that you write about so well. Peace, John

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