Wednesday, November 4, 2015

We're All In This Together

Yesterday was a big day--it was election day and my very first time having jury duty.  I voted and I served.  Most of the people I voted for and wanted to win didn't. That usually happens where I live...I am in the minority here in what Madonna once famously called my "provincial town" (she is from here and was in the minority when she lived here a million years ago).  I expected the poll results.  But I did not expect to fall in love with jury duty and leave with my $25 voucher and priceless life lessons.

When I first got my summons, I felt annoyed. Annoyed because I haven't worked outside the home in over a decade and now I get jury duty? I mean how, why, what? Luckily, it turned out that my jury duty date was on a day I wasn't scheduled to work. However it turned out to be a day my kids didn't have school. Ahhhhh! I decided that if this were 1980 no one would think twice about leaving their newly 14-year-old son in charge of the other kids. I mean think about ET, those kids were trick-or-treating alone and Gertie was a pretty independent little kid. Right?

So, I left a list of rules for my kids like "feed your brother" and "no wrestling" and "don't eat all of your Halloween candy" and "for the love of god don't be on electronics all day."  Then headed to serve my call of duty.

"Welcome to Jury Duty!," said a man wearing a bow tie and holding a microphone. He was enthusiastic but not silly. He was serious but not intimidating. He was a circuit court judge warming us up for our day of service. He was the opening act, if you will, and he was good. (If I'm being totally honest, this whole get excited about history and jury duty and have a microphone is a gig I'd totally be interested in having. I mean there's a microphone!)

He recited the Declaration of Independence. He talked about truth, justice, the pursuit of happiness. The judge told stories about past trials he'd been a part of, why jurors didn't want to be a part of it and how it changed their lives and their beliefs. He gave us all a history lesson. He interacted with the group, asking questions, engaging. He was good.

At the end of his act/speech/introduction, I wanted to stand up and yell "I believe!"  I didn't. But we all clapped and most of us looked ready and possibly a little excited to be a part of the process.

Then there was a lot of waiting. A lot.

It was a big room full of people.  A few of the older gentleman talked about when they were in Vietnam. Two women did a puzzle together. People read books, daydreamed, paced, made small talk, told stories about their families and made repeated trips to the vending machines.  

When we were finally called they called us all, the whole group.  We formed lines and went to the courtroom. Inside, it looked exactly like the courtrooms on TV (Judging Amy and The Good Wife are two of my all time favorite courtroom shows and I half way expected to see Amy Brenaman walk in the side door, um it would be a total dream come true!). Seated in front of the judge were the attorneys and the defendant. The defendant was a young man, we had walked by an older worried looking woman I presumed was his mother in the hallway. It was a criminal case, whoever was picked to be on this jury would decide the fate of this young man and that worried mother. It felt heavy and intense. I wished the hopeful judge with the bow tie and microphone would pop in for another pep talk. He didn't.

The judge in this courtroom was all business and totally good in his own way. He exuded a sense of fear and warmth at the same time. It was a serious drug case with serious implications. Juror numbers were called and jurors were interviewed.  Each juror had to answer personal questions about their lives. One woman said she couldn't be a part of the trial. When the judge asked why not, there was a long silence. It was so quiet we could hear each other breathing. "Because I am a drug addict," she finally said, her voice cracking when she spoke. This woman had been one of the most friendly women in the big waiting room, I remembered her because of her big laugh. But there she was in front of 60 people, attorneys, a judge and cameras not laughing at all, revealing her most vulnerable self.  She was indeed excused from the jury after the judge thanked her for her honesty and candidness and realness.

One after another, people shared their truths. There were stories of great loss and struggle, physical abuse, fathers who were drug addicts, childhood abuse, domestic abuse, unemployment. People confessed their pain and shared their strength. I cried as I listened to their stories.  Some of the people were dismissed from the jury, others were not. We all smiled at and several people squeezed the hands of the dismissed jurors as they left the courtroom.

It took almost four hours to complete the jury selection and I was never called upon. I was disappointed but sort of changed forever.  

I was a witness in that courthouse, a witness to these people's stories, lives, pain, their big laughs, their memories of Vietnam, their sadness, their joy, their stress, their worry about their son the defendant, their annoyance with waiting, the smiles when people talked about their kids and grandkids. It was that old saying that everyone has a story right there in front of my face. It was the idea of we are all in this together, because we really are.  

We vote, we are on juries, we are defendants, we are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons; we worry, we judge, we complain, we suffer, we rejoice, we make mistakes. We support each other, celebrate each other and care for each other. It's not about agreeing or always winning the election or getting selected for trial, it's about listening and feeling compassion and reverence. It's about honoring the process and the humanity of everyone involved. It's about telling the stories and being honest and candid and real. It's about redemption and forgiveness and being a community and being patient and empathetic and grateful. 

I get it, the justice system isn't perfect, elections get really nasty, people and courts can be corrupt. BUT striving for justice and peace and happiness; having the freedom to run for office, get a trial, share our stories and have our voices heard and have witnesses and community, you bet I'll celebrate that.

So, today even though my candidates didn't win and I will forever wonder what happened to those jurors and that defendant...I am grateful to have been a witness to hard-fought campaigns and long days in the big room and hearing the stories; and taking comfort in and feeling hopeful that we are all in this together.

I wore my Abe Lincoln socks to jury duty because it just felt right. He is one of my personal heroes. I became obsessed with him this summer.  I love how he is known for his storytelling and his empathy and his toughness. From one of my favorite reads about him, Team of Rivals, "Though Lincoln's empathy was the root of his melancholy, it would prove an enormous asset to his political career." He was candid and honest and real. Boosh!


  1. I didn't know jury selection meant all that. Thank you for your post.

  2. You inspire me to be a better person and to find the good.

  3. I just love you, Angela. Your ability to see the good in everything and everyone, your enthusiasm, your gigantic heart.

  4. I just love you, Angela. Your ability to see the good in everything and everyone, your enthusiasm, your gigantic heart.

  5. OMG YOU HAVE THE ABE LINCOLN SOCKS. We saw those socks in a store earlier this year and I was all I NEED ABE LINCOLN SOCKS.

    You are the real deal. The ability to see the real in everything and the way you make me laugh ("I believe!") and cry and the straightforward and open way you tell your own stories are what draw me to you. You inspire me every day.

    (I only got called one time for jury duty, and I remember the beauty of having a whole day to myself, even though I was on government time. And my many trips to the vending machines.)