Last month I was summoned for jury duty. My husband, Michael was traveling for work the entire week so I postponed it. My card was pulled again for this week. I tried not to complain because my friend Lisa who is running for Fresno County District Attorney helped me see jury duty from a completely different perspective. Sometimes it's good to have a grown up for a friend.
I HATE it when people complain about jury duty, she once told me. I didn't understand. Doesn't EVERYONE complain about jury duty? Aren't we like- supposed to? Why is it bad to complain? I asked her earnestly. It is our civic duty, she explained, and the Constitution provides we are entitled to a jury of our peers. If intelligent, educated, experienced people get out of it we are left with people who can't understand the law or the procedures and we get unjust verdicts.
Wow- I had never looked in from that window before. She used to be a Deputy District Attorney for victims of domestic violence- she prosecuted the bad guys. She needed a good jury to make sure the bad people got put away. In fact, the right to a trial by jury is based on the very freedom on which our great country is founded in. I love it when a simple factual sentence instantly makes up seem down or black seem scrambled eggs.
And after Lisa's hearty dose of perspective a few months back, I was practically looking forward to the experience on the way to the courthouse Tuesday morning. I was feeling extremely civic-y and just. After much waiting, my name was called in a group, and we filtered through a long and fascinating people-watching line of security and filed into the courthouse.
All rise, the bailiff bellowed out moments before the judge entered the room. The judge informed us the case was expected to go until April 8th. JAW DROP. My justness- just flew out the window. Michael had to take the day off from work so I could be here right now- but taking three weeks off wasn't an option. The judge then called for any hardships that would prevent a potential juror from carrying through with a trial of this length. I wasn't concerned because I knew I would get out due to hardship. We are a 1 income family- my husband travels weekly for work, we have 2 children with autism with extremely full schedules of therapy, our extended family is thousands of miles away- come on. It sounds like a Lifetime made for TV movie I would watch. I raised my hand when it came time to declare my hardship.
There were 36 hardships requested in all, each request further diluting the seriousness of the term hardship. Each person sharing specifics on why they can not serve. It's hard- we all have lives, important lives that are usually pretty impossible to suddenly place on hold. I mentally calculated most to least severe hardships. As the lunchtime hour approached, the judge said we were dismissed for the next two hours, except for the following names of people who can go home. Name after not my name was called, but I wasn't afraid. My story was true and serving on the jury was not a possibility- we have no family here. I am the only one able to provide care and juggle therapies for my boys. There are numerous appointments, sessions and meetings over the next few weeks that can not be rescheduled. My husband is our sole provider- and I'm not talking a Michael Bolton song. And finally the last name was announced. It was not mine. The silence was screaming. I sat unable to move, silently urging the judge to announce, Oh wait- I forgot one.
I went numb. My teeth tingled and I was certain my head would explode and make an embarrassing mess all over the courtroom. I slowly walked my legs to a deserted hall outside the courtroom and I sat down on a bench and cried. And then they all came. All the tears in the world. The tears that were stuck Monday, the tears reserved for my heartache for Parker. I couldn't stop crying and I felt like I was in that nightmare when you are absolutely losing it in public and you can't stop. A nightmare where you are that girl, and what the hell is wrong with her and does she realize she is in public?
I sat there for a good twenty minutes lost in heavy and endless thinking. I had to get out of the freezing cold courthouse before I drowned. I went to stand up and I was stuck, literally my pants were stuck to the sticky bench. I ripped myself up and in a trance I got into the elevator and I walked out the door to the nearest Starbucks. Hot coffee poured into my empty and worried-sick stomach. For the entire two hour lunch break I broke a little more and more. two to three days we could somehow swing, two to three weeks wasn't even imaginable. No matter how I rearranged the details they couldn't all fit together.
Finally two long hours later I entered the courtroom and went to directly to the bailiff. After excuse me nothing came out but tears.
The bailiff whispered to the clerk who then whispered to the Judge as soon as she walked into the room. Juror Kelly, you want to open a hardship request? She looked out into the crowd, eagle eyes daring one of us to step forward. You didn't mention one before, did something come up during lunch? She said slightly sarcastically with her lips pursed.
Oh good, I thought. She just misplaced my request. No, I did your honor. But I'm not sure I gave you all the facts. And I repeated my story for the third time. It was so exhausting. It was embarrassing because I wasn't complaining- it wasn't my sob story, it was my truth and my beautiful jagged life. I wasn't crying because of my life- I was crying because I want to be in it. I realized more than ever I am honored to star in my story, and there's no one else who can play me. Suddenly my boring life as a stay at home Mom was the most amazing dream I could imagine. The Judge let me know she was sorry for my situation and emotions, but she stood by her decision of denying my hardship. I was in shock. She said making these kinds if decisions are a very hard part of being a judge and she didn't take it lightly. I squeaked out an okay, and even a thank you. I wasn't even mad at her- like me- she is doing the best she can too.
The bailiff brought me tissue after tissue, his kindness making the tears appear at an even greater pace. What's your dog's name? I asked the rainbow-haired woman next to me holding a large stuffed animal, reaffirming the feeling that I was in bizarre-o-world. Clifford, she said like duh. At closer inspection I realized it actually was Clifford, the big red dog. Are you okay? She asked. And I nodded yes, because yes is the only acceptable answer to that kind of question when clearly you are falling to pieces and everyone in the room knows your business. I know you don't know me, she said- but if I can help you with your situation I would be happy to. At that moment I was grateful for her and her little dog too.
My name was the first called, and I was potential juror number one. I sat there on jury row, quivering and sobbing into myself as best I could, which was pretty terrible based on the number of tissues I went through. Oh please God! I thought. Help me understand. If you have me here clearly I am needed HERE, but I don't understand how we will survive at home.
The judge read the counts. MURDER. Another count of attempted murder. Each word making the tears flow harder. The young man sitting just feet away from me all morning- he is accused of murder? Did he really murder someone? Who was killed? What about their momma? Or his Momma? How does life go so wrong? Years worth of rain poured down my face. What happened to him? I looked at the accused murderer- just a young boy, with a softness I was surprised to feel. His eyes locked onto mine but I wasn't afraid. I wondered if he is afraid. Is he bored? Was he paying attention when I talked about my boys? Did his Momma love him that same big way? If he pulled the trigger, how can he not just start screaming- I DID IT. I am so sorry. I was wrong and then just crumble up and die from sadness? Does he feel remorse? Does he ache at night? What did it feel like to pull the trigger? What happened that made him unable to value the human that's no longer here on earth? Did it happen all at once, or slowly did his soul just lose its way?
And it all sounds so meaty- a murder trial. But all I could see were people. Real people all experiencing loss & pain. And it's an important reminder that we were not there to judge, only decipher facts, because judge I couldn't do. Terrible high waisted jeans, a bump-it, half shirt and muffin top? That I can judge, but this a real and messy life in front of me, I couldn't fathom. I could decide facts, but I could not judge. It was all just so much pain. Even the potential of criminal activity was really just pain.
After Monday- hearing Parker was given the diagnosis of autism, Tuesday was a day for chocolate and unicorns. Not murder. Not being away from home without even being able to have my cell phone turned on. How are some people equipped to sit here and listen to this pain and I am just so absolutely not?
My mind faded in and out as potential general questions were reviewed. I finished my box of Kleenex. I went numb. Finally around three the judge called for a 15 minute break. I need everyone to leave the room except for the lawyers and potential juror Kelly, she said. Oh shit. I'm busted for crying. She is going to say I'm in contempt of court. I'm going to be the only person to be arrested for crying and then put in jail. There is something so humiliating about coming so completely undone in front of strangers. Not that I cared they were judging me- but because I felt so alone and so completely out of control.
The room emptied out and the judge looked at me without indication of emotion in her eyes. She said she thought after a little time I wouldn't be so emotional, but clearly that wasn't the case. And now even as I speak your lip is quivering and you are not okay. I have no choice but to dismiss you on a hardship. It's still early enough you can leave now and get home to your family. I wasn't sure, but I think I saw a twinkle in her eyes.
She amazes me. Think about what she sees for a living. Think about what she hears. The side of humanity that only exists on Law & Order for most of us, she knows as a reality. She does what she can to keep our world safe- to keep stay at home Moms like me not ever seeing this horrible side of the world- the side she sees every day. She can't be a big softie, she wouldn't survive. I thanked her and apologized for the disruption I caused her courtroom. I then rushed home to the greatest gifts I've ever known.
These people and this life. Mundane Moming was suddenly a dream come to life. I prefer days with sidewalk chalk...
And strawberry fields forever.
I felt like I had just fought for my life and won. A life that is exasperating and boring and beautiful and alive. Suddenly I felt at peace with Parker's diagnosis. Is that what this was all about God? I don't know. Chances are we never really know many of the reasons why. We just have to accept them, try to love them, breath even when it hurts, pull ourselves up when we are stuck and live on.
And a special thank you for all the people who fight crime, and do everything you do to keep us safe. I never realized I was taking your for granted.