Duty–a Funny but also Unpleasant Word

Yesterday I had the distinct honor of making my way to Salem MA to participate in our patriotic duty of Jury Duty (opps–double duty—yes I said duty twice!). I took the 7:00 AM train from Newburyport to make sure I would get there in time. I will admit that I was a little worried something might happen to the train causing me to be late because that is considered delinquent and could result in me having to pay a big fine (and perhaps being thrown in the clink—you never know how these things are going to go!). But if I drove I would run the risk of traffic and the challenge of parking in downtown Salem—I thought the train would be the safer bet. The whole thing is a little nerve wracking frankly. Turns out the train was on time and I was able to find the courthouse without much of a problem.

I was greeted upon arrival at the security check point by a very serious looking guard who practically yelled at me as I approached, ma’am are you here for jury duty? Thankfully even though I looked like a ma’am I guess I didn’t look like a criminal so maybe this was a good start. He proceeded to tell me very sternly to put my bag through the x-ray machine and then to take off any bracelets I was wearing. Unfortunately I was wearing fifty million bracelets, part of my plan to maybe look like “some sort of hippie” as you may recall has been said before, so perhaps I would be an undesirable candidate for the case. I know, not a fool proof plan but anything was worth a shot. As I stood there trying to get them all off I tried to make small talk guess it wasn’t a smart idea to wear all of these bracelets today. No response. Then I tried to send the bracelets through the x-ray machine as well and he shouted, NO! as though I was a bad dog, and grabbed the bin from my hand. I decided it would be best not to make any more comments.

I got all my bracelets back on and made it to the jury pool room with enough time to spare. Phew! Now what? Check in, get your ticket with your juror number and sit down. It was a big room so people spread out. For the most part no one spoke or sat next to one another, except two professional looking women who were chatting quietly and a kind of geeky looking kid who sat right next to this pretty woman and proceeded to talk his head off for a few minutes mostly about the Whitey Bulger case, wondering if he would get a fair trial. He was very concerned about it. No one else seemed to be and they definitely did not want to talk about it, or about anything for that matter. He finally shut up.

I write this because it hit me how weird it was to have almost thirty adults from many different walks of life corralled together in a room pretty much against their will. We all just sat there in silence. Most people looked somewhat antsy to start. The judge came in and explained that we would have to just wait while the parties tried to make deals and throw cases out—whatever they do. Minutes ticked off. Minutes turned to hours. People’s incessant foot tapping stopped and instead many contorted themselves so they could sleep somehow in the increasingly uncomfortable chairs. I tried that as well but as I drifted off I almost fell out of my seat as my elbow slid off the little arm rest. Damn—usually I can sleep anywhere but this was a challenge. Fortunately for them, many succeeded and were out cold.

At one point while bored and looking around what popped into my mind was that movie The Breakfast Club—remember that one where a group of students all very different (the geek, the beauty, the burnout, the jock, and the nut case) have detention all day on the weekend together? As hours continued to pass I thought about what might happen if some of this group ended up on a jury together. A diverse group of people thrown together for a common purpose, a purpose no one seemed to be interested in. Would having our humanness in common be enough to have as work well as a team together? Would our oneness shine through in that situation? Would anyone end up making out with an unlikely partner?…OK maybe that only happens in detention in movies and not in the courthouse. But it did really make me think about how it would all work out. Would we as a jury of peers do right by the person convicted of an alleged crime? It was interesting and at the same time a little frightening to think about. I could only hope that our humanness would prevail and we would do a good job.

I didn’t get to find out—six hours after we sat down in the room together a security guard came in and told us we could go. And that was that. We all got up and herded out of the room, again not speaking and went about our lives, whatever that might be. I most likely will never see any of those people again, but we all shared this common experience, albeit it silently, together. There was a sort of camaraderie in that which I found comforting. Yet I found it strange to have this connection, this humanness, yet to feel so disconnected with our silence and lack of acknowledgement at the same time.

I guess that is really what being a human is all about. At some deep level we know we are all connected, we are all one. But on the surface there is the feeling for many of us of disconnection as we don’t remember what our true nature is really all about. So if you are feeling disconnected for whatever reason remember it doesn’t have to be like jury duty. You don’t have to get assigned a case to see if you can connect with your fellow human time space travelers. All you have to do is dig deep and remember your true nature, and then sitting in silence with a group of strangers can have a comfort in it all its own.


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