Justice is about bringing things into balance, and pointing them in a better direction.
I first felt the tear of justice before I could speak or think in words. There was an imbalance in the one with the beard. That made an imbalance between him and the one who was soft. That made an imbalance in her. And when the chaos between them erupted for long enough, the one with the beard and the one who was soft ended in divorce. And with few words but overwhelming emotions, I, as a toddler, struggled to decide to whom—the soft one, or the one with the beard—would get which portion of love, which I clearly had a limited supply of.
Justice as judge.
My Aunt Aimee was a teenager when I was born. My Mimi and Pipi’s old yellow house burned down when I was a baby. I never knew the house my mother grew up in. Just the ranch that they built in its place. It was a house that only needed three bedrooms since nine of the kids were out on their own. Just Martha, the youngest still lived at home. Aimee lived away at school. However, even though they didn’t have most of the kids at home anymore, most of them lived nearby with their families, and there were lots of big meals to eat together, so the basement was big enough for a kitchen with two ovens, a rack of mason jars of put up foods, a woodshop, a bar, a fireplace, a bathroom and enough picnic tables for everyone to sit at close to the same time. That basement was big enough that I rode my bike around, and not just in a constant circle. In fact I was learning to ride my bike when it was just Aimee and me in that basement. It was the day that I stopped the bike in place and said to her “you’re retarded.”
“Shut up.” She said. “That’s not a nice word.” and she made a sound of vocal cords constricted that came from her nose while saliva gather at the corners of her mouth, with her tongue making a clicking sound that she made when she got upset.
Her pain was apparent and large. Inside, I collapsed, and my stomach reviled in the disgust I had for myself.
Justice as empathy teacher.
My friend Brian is an exceptionally bright and gifted guy, and exceedingly goofy. There’s no one I’ve eaten more macaroni and cheese with. Not a contender on the horizon. He was one of the brightest theatrical lights to shine from our hometown, and of course he moved to New York trying to be a star. He did some things, but later the dream got more tailored to his actual life. I was going to NYC a lot back then for work, and nearly every time, I’d see Brian. A few times I’d stayed with him too. If you know anything about NYC apartments, you know how generous that is. Rent was cheaper—if you want to call it that—out in Astoria. Just twenty minutes ride into Manhattan, still the city, but more organic. Going in and out of his building there was an old Ukrainian man who would sit in a broken lawn chair. He lived downstairs from Brian. He had a golfball-sized lump on his chest where his pacemaker was which I’d just assumed was a tumor. You could see since he just wore an undershirt, or on the hottest New York days, no shirt at all.
“Hey Mr. Thomas.” Brian would say.
“Thanks again for the ice. Thanks for the ice!” Mr. Thomas said profusely. It’s not hard to be a saint. Sometimes you just need to share the benefits of owning ice cube trays.
Justice as neighbor.