“There are TWO ways, ” the judge emphasized, “that citizens are granted civic duty in America. One is to vote. The other is to serve on a jury.”
I did both at the same time.
In case you’re wondering why I haven’t posted in a week, it is for this reason. Last Monday, November 7, I was selected for jury duty. Legal Admonition: no blogging. Immersing myself deeply into these two rights in the same historic week has left me a changed person. Journalists, cameramen, attorneys, marshals, plaintiffs, defendants…I was plunged into this world without warning, without transition. Just as suddenly, I was removed: Deliberations over. Verdict read. Done.
Except…the world is a different place! Law and order in the courtroom, where everybody stands just because I (and the other jurors) enter, was a stark contrast to the outside world. Civility. Absolute courtesy: “May I approach?” “May I request the court’s indulgence?” “Thank you, Your Honor,” even when the objection was sustained.
On Election Night we heard witnesses on the stand. On The-Day-After we heard witnesses on the stand. We jurors didn’t talk about politics. We didn’t talk about religion. We didn’t talk about anything that would increase our vulnerability, our individual transparency. Over Jason’s Deli sandwiches, we passed time decoding the letters penciled onto the brown bags. SM/TK, we finally decided, was smoked turkey. PJ was pepperjack cheese. The entire globe was changing and swirling and demolishing around us. But this was the life of 9 strangers, whose heads were filling with Fact and Fiction, and whose job it was to determine which is which. Despite the outcome of any election, presidential or otherwise, the plaintiff still wore his striped suit. The Judge still had her massive head of curly hair. The bailiff still did eccentric things like toss a bubble gum wrapper on the hallway floor of the Justice Center, explaining, “Throwing things like this in public places lets me know I’m guaranteeing job security for somebody else.”
“If you were one of my first graders, I’d be telling you to pick that up right now,” I told him.
“No you wouldn’t,” responded a fellow juror. “You’d be telling him not to chew gum in the first place!”
We laughed. Once the bailiff walked away, a third juror hopped up from the metal bench we were sitting on. “I can’t stand that,” she said, and picked up the shiny metallic wrapper and walked it over to the trash can.
Each juror was pleasant with the small talk. We listened and we took notes and we showed up on time. And when Deliberation Hour at last arrived, we were finally allowed to voice our thoughts. Hooray! One more day and my head would’ve exploded.
It didn’t go my way! In my bubble of a world, where twenty 6-year-olds listen to me read “Little House in the Big Woods,” and practice spelling the word DOT, I don’t hear a lot of argument. My coworkers are a well-oiled machine; there’s not much to get controversial about. When the proverbial duct tape was removed from our mouths, I saw a whole new side of my fellow jurors. Five days prior we had been complete Strangers. Then we were Acquaintances and evolving to Friends. Then Enemies. Wow. There wasn’t much room for debate: virtually no one was persuaded differently after discussion. Kind of like on Facebook, where millions of words are poured out in (my newly invented word–) a venting machine.
So the verdict was read, the plaintiff was disheartened, the jurors drove home. We’ll each re-emerge from our gopher holes and look around with fresh eyes and allow the events of the week to absorb. The changes will soak into us like a…like a well-constructed flood control plan. We’ll tell our friends and family why we were right and the other side was wrong.
And I’ll go back to my classroom Monday morning, to hug the little bodies I haven’t seen in a week. I’ll sit down in my big chair and explain to them why the world changed: why I disappeared from their lives, and why the people on television are screaming at each other. I’ll try to answer why people burn flags I’ve taught them to honor. I’ll continue to teach them No Name-calling, Put-downs, or Threats. And in some God-only-knows way, I will assure them they are safe and protected and cherished. I’ll reach deep into my soul and teach them that nobody can take away their inner peace. No matter what: One nation under God.
My civic duty: Voting. Jury duty. Civility. Love.