Thursday, October 21, 2010

Looking on the Bright Side (of Jury Duty)

I know I’ve spent some time complaining about jury duty, so I feel compelled to present the other side.

There are things I actually love about being there.

I love how organized it is. I love the language that’s particular to courtrooms and the law. And I love the theater of it all.

I love the movie that they show at the beginning of your first day about how it’s a huge inconvenience to serve, but it really is everyone’s responsibility. I know people who have been wrongly accused of crimes and it’s only through this type of system that they might possibly get a fair crack at justice. I’m not saying it’s a slam-dunk, but as the judge in the orientation movie says, at least they’re not being judged by tyrants, or by “professional jurors.” No one wants to be at jury duty. In that way, a jury pen is the great equalizer.

Well, the first day there was one woman who was happy to be there. I saw her as soon as I arrived and immediately pegged her as The Happiest Juror In Essex County. She couldn’t wipe the smile off her face, even on the long lines, in the cold waiting room, on the uncomfy chairs. During lunch, she happened to sit across the table from me and I started up a conversation right away. “You’re the happiest person in this whole building,” I said. It was a risk, I know. She could have been a nut.

But she wasn’t. She was just a Special Ed teacher from a Vocational School and in all her many years of adulthood she’d never been asked to serve. This was a novelty to her. And an honor. She came to it with Beginner’s Mind (which is a Buddhist term that basically refers to how when you don’t judge things and imbue them with all your residual ca-ca, everything – EVERYTHING – is pretty remarkable and amazing). She was fascinated by the proceedings and her excitement was infectious. It prompted me to start noticing what was lovely about being there as well.

I love how beautiful that courthouse is. From the outside, the old structure is an amazing piece of architecture, and I’ve seen parts of the interior renovation that have taken my breath away. The landscape and grounds are beautiful: marble benches, flowering shrubs, quiet fountains.

I love how they seem to redo the jury pen every few years – keep it from getting run down and shoddy. Flat screen TVs in the waiting rooms. A clean, quiet wireless enclave for computer users. Free coffee and tea (and not just any coffee – they have several of those fancy Keurigs that I like to play with whether I want a cup of coffee or not).

More Beginner’s Mind: There was a judge in the cafeteria that was dressed like Mr. Rogers. The sandwich counter serves whole wheat wraps, which you can get with anything you want in them. And one TV in the café was playing Judge Mathis (which is not nearly as good as Judge Judy, in my humble opinion, but is it’s own special delight nonetheless). Best for me today was the conversation I overheard between three women at the next table about Autism and Asperger’s. A fourth woman within earshot interjected: “I heard you talking about Asperger’s and it caught my attention…I have Asperger’s…” and then the four of them were off on that for an hour.

That’s what I love most about jury duty: that a disparate group of people can come together – I mean really come together, not like on a subway or a post office line, but like at a cocktail party, which is what jury duty always seems like to me toward the end. As the hours tick by, you can see people striking up conversations with strangers. Someone they just sat next to during voir dire, or the folks at the coffee table. People laughing, telling stories, like a big ole block party. I would pass by different groups and think, “They’re having fun. Maybe I should join them.”

Jury duty makes that very act so easy to do. Unlike a party, where I’m afraid I may be imposing on a longtime circle of friends, here I know that no one knows each other. They’re just friendly and having fun.

Sometimes it takes something cataclysmic for a large group of strangers to pull together and make the best of a trying situation. And sometimes it takes nothing more than just donning Beginners Mind and showing up for your civic duty.

1 comment:

  1. I am sitting here at jury duty, feeling very grateful that you wrote this!