The Day I Enjoyed Jury Duty

If you live in a country where it is your duty to serve on a jury, than you probably already groaned as you read my title.

The thing is, serving jury duty, is more than a duty.  It is an honor and a privilege.

I am the last person who you will normally find lauding America’s justice system, especially due to my own experiences seeking justice for my pain and suffering following being the victim of a hit and run.  However, there are many countries in which people do not have the right to a fair trial, or a jury of their peers, where one person is in charge of deciding the fate of another, and I believe that is not just.

I am proud to be able to serve on a jury, and help someone who needs an objective opinion to deliver appropriate justice.  After all, as I believe so many forget, I would want the same.  So when I was called to serve, I was happy that I was finally able.  When I was first called, I was unable to sit for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces, due to my injuries from being hit by the car.  I had to put off my duty several times, with a medical excuse written by my doctor, until I was physically able to serve.

It’s not that I am some saint, and enthusiastically sat around for hours waiting to maybe be called onto a jury.  I was bored at times like everyone else, and found the orientation video just as hokey.  Although, I was able to appreciate a forced day where nothing could get done except sitting in that room waiting to be called, and I took advantage by using the time for writing.

Since jury duty is random, people of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life come together in one room.  It is a strange thing, seeing a thick man with tattoos all over his neck and arms, next to a petite, elderly asian woman, both simply reading.  Despite the announcement of the woman in charge of our orientation and calling our names should we be chosen to become part of the official jury pool for a case, a few people, still felt the need to conduct private business calls in front of the entire room, instead of stepping outside.  I know that one woman is concerned about someone killing themselves, and thinks they should be moved to a facility.  I know that one man likes to conduct business loudly, and rudely, yelling at those low on the totem pole, and demeaning them in their jobs while demanding unwarranted refunds on flights that he mistakenly booked.

Despite these distractions, I kept typing away on my keyboard, noticing that my clacking was echoed by the woman sitting across from me.  I looked up, realizing that I had noticed her already, out of the hundreds of other people on our way in to the security line in the morning.  There was something about her vibe, her clothing, her demeanor, that I identified with.  Falling back into my writing, I didn’t notice that she had relocated, but shortly before lunch, I had to move to plug in my laptop.  I mumbled an “excuse me,” as I kneeled by her feet to plug in my chord next to hers.

Earlier, I had admired her sleek, understated backpack, that was actually a laptop case, so I decided to ask her where she got it.  After she told me, she complimented me on my system of using a carabiner to group my belongings together.  I thanked her, briskly mentioning that it was due to my climbing experience that I always used carabiners, and this led her to asking me if I had ever climbed Mt. Whitney.

This question made me pause, and I looked at her, smiling as if she would already understand why the questions was surprising in this moment.  Only ten minutes before, we had been typing across from one another when my cousin had texted me asking the very same question, and if I could share my tips and experience with her.  I informed this woman of this coincidence, and went on to tell her my experience.  She had to excuse herself to lunch with a friend, but asked if she could inquire more upon her return.

She arrived back from lunch just as I was pondering whether I smelled of the garlic I had on my veggies at lunch, thinking that it was impolite to have had so much garlic in a stuffy, crowded room.  As she sat down, she began to apologize, in case she smelled like Fajitas from lunch.  These seem like small details, but it serves to show how similar we are as people, and the subtle moments that made up a day that felt as if it was fate for us to meet.

When she sat down, she asked me where I liked to hike locally.  Since it had been over a year since I had been able to hike, it took me a little while to think.  I didn’t want to come right out and tell her what had happened to me, because part of moving on is not talking about it all the time.  I ended up telling her of some fire roads that my boyfriend likes to bike, and I could see a shift in her eyes as she said that she wanted to get back into biking.  “I have to get back on the horse, as they say.”  It was words I had uttered myself when trying to find a way to express to strangers what had happened to me.  I watched as her eyes betrayed that her mind was flashing to some traumatic event.

It was as if I knew before I asked, “why, what happened?”  She told me that she had been in a bike accident.  I couldn’t stop myself from blurting out, with a slight chuckle of disbelief, “you’re kidding, right?”  Things got more surreal when I found out her accident was  during the same month as my trauma.  We both could understand the pain and the journey of healing of the other person so well!  I could not believe as we shared our stories, and reviewed our injuries, how similar the lasting effects of the traumas are.  It felt as if the world had always intended for us to experience these events and to meet one another.

In order for us to meet, we had to both have been chosen and able to serve jury duty that day.  We both had to be not chosen for the official jury pool for the case being heard that day, and we both had to notice details and be drawn to the other in order to meet.  In fact, as we sat, in awe of our serendipitous encounter, I told her how I had noticed her, and her awesome backpack, and she shared that she had noticed me and my Swiss laptop case.  She had been in Switzerland when she had her bike accident, and it is only now that I fully recognize the weight of that symbolism.

She asked me if I wondered what the meaning of my accident was in my life.  I told her that in therapy, they had spent a lot of time trying to get me to understand that the world is chaos, and that good things can happen to good people, and we will never know why.  But sitting there, in that jury holding room, having this conversation with this new friend of mine, I had to wonder.  How could the world be pure chaos when in a world this large, with this many people, she and I could find one another on some idle Monday serving jury?

November, 2014.

Strangers and Social Norms

My Dutch friends came to town, and we only had one day together.  It took a while to coordinate, and we finally met at a cafe, shared some wine, and decided that instead of sightseeing, we wanted to relax together in a park.  We got provisions for a picnic, and went to a more residential area.  We found a spot in the grass and joined the locals in soaking up the sun, and watching the birds fly.

After enjoying a languid afternoon, we decided to head to a cafe for some dinner and a drink.  Just as we were about to leave, a man entered the park.  He was about forty-five, well dressed with Khakis, a long sleeve button shirt, and canvas loafers.  He paused as he entered the gate, and looked at our group with deep interest.  I noticed him, and he circled slightly around our group.  There was a mix of intensity and childish interest in his eyes.  He didn’t seem threatening, but he certainly was stepping on some social boundaries.

He was staring intently at my friend who has very unique, gorgeous fiery orange and red hair.  The sunset was behind her, illuminating her hair in a very stunning manner.  I had already commented on it myself.  He came over, and immediately in English said, “Please, please, I must see your face. I must look at your.  You are so…so…” and he searched our faces to see if anyone knew French, because he could not find the word.  He made eye contact with me and said, “jolie?” and I said, “beautiful.” He turned to my friend and said, “you are so beautiful.”

Why did I engage with him?  Well, I have experience working in the field of medicine with psychiatric patients.  This man seemed more the type to respond to being “yessed” away, then ignored, or asked to leave.  And, he didn’t seem like a threat.  He was staring at my friend like an artist with a deep appreciation for a piece.

The man went on to ask, “can I just, sit for a moment with you?” and he began to crouch on the ground. Someone said something about the fact that we were about to go to dinner and he got up quickly and said, “No! Please, don’t let me bother you.  Please, you could just sit here for another half hour, and look like that with the sun behind you.”  He began to back away, as if he would rather leave this art, and miss seeing it, than be the cause of its demise. Then he tried to explain himself to us, saying, “you see, I am…I am losing my mind.  I am not right up here.”  I felt so bad for this man-caught between two worlds, between his mind and the world we were in.  I could see a deep sadness in his eyes.  He was at the point where he was aware of the fact that he is slipping away, and yet there is nothing he can do to stay.

I looked him in the eyes, and said “okay” because I wanted him to know someone was listening.  He said, “sometimes I feel like I am dancing, but I am not.”  I thought to myself, at least he has positive hallucinations!  Then he looked at me and asked, “why does this happen?  Why do we have to age? Why do our bodies have to get old? Yours is too.” “I know,” I said. He was looking at me, searching me for answers.  The only thing I could come up with was, “C’est la vie.”  It seemed like a trite platitude and I felt bad that was all I could offer. However, he looked at me as if I was enlightened, and had given him a new way of thinking of life.  “C’est la vie. Thank you.  Thank you. You are right.”

At this point, one girl was shifting uncomfortably because he was next to her, the other girl felt objectified by him,  her brother was silently sizing the man up, and my cousin was looking down trying to ignore the whole matter.  So, I was the only one that would make eye contact with him.  He looked at me, and with urgency he asked, “do you love?”  Again, I had the inclination to say something broad such as “I try to love everyone,” and he must have seen this because he corrected, “are you in love?”  I gave a very emphatic “yes” and he continued, “does he know it?” Again, I responded emphatically, “yes, definitely.”  “Good! That is good!”

Someone mentioned that we should get going to dinner, and he said, “yes, I will leave you.”  Then he looked us all firmly in the eyes, and he pleaded, “make sure you do what makes you happy.  Make sure you do what you like to do.  Do what you like.”  The space around his head seemed to be filled with unspoken thoughts.  Maybe he didn’t do everything he wanted to. Perhaps he made choices for money, and not happiness.  Now that he was losing his mind, he felt he no longer had time.  The regrets hung thick in the air around his face as he pleaded with us to live happy, fulfilling lives.

I don’t really care if he was losing his mind.  His advice was sound.  He was a paradox.  He spoke the sage words of an adult, and yet had the glint and gleam in his eyes of an earnest six-year old.

At that moment, a couple asked him to take their picture, and he seemed torn.  He didn’t want to leave us, but he knew that in polite society, he should.  It made me think about societal norms, because if we were all a bunch of six-year olds in a sandbox, it would be okay for a curious child to come over and talk about what is pretty, and what is scary, and what is happy and important to them.  We have been so trained in society to be wary, because there are malicious people who can take advantage of kindness.  However, this man just wanted to appreciate the basic beauty of everyday life, and impart wisdom before he slips away from reality, and is unable to connect with others.

I felt terrible sorrow for this man.  On the one hand he has a good perspective on life, but on another, I could see his despair and fear of slipping away from reality-afraid he would not be able to enjoy this world much longer.  I know that my cousin and my friends found it easier to shrug him off as a person with mental health issues.  However, at times I wondered if he wasn’t an angel-some sort of guardian or messenger, or even a regular human being used to channel a higher message.
We are all on a journey, and we are all traveling.  I learn the most about life and myself when I travel, so it would be a fitting time.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we never saw that man again, and if he never even existed at all.