Issue #12: Duty Calls
Well, friends. It landed on my front step. I thought I’d laid low long enough to avoid it. But it finally hit me this past month.
The dreaded jury duty summons.
I had just recovered from COVID (and missed nearly a week of work, which is tough for teachers). As much of a pain this was, I knew I’ve gotten lots of these jury duty summons before only to be quickly dismissed. So I expected the same outcome.
I realize that I tempted the fates to mess with me that day. No doubt.
When I reported to the courthouse, I brought papers to grade and a book to read--even a laptop to work on. Ha! Silly, naive me. Within 10 minutes of checking in, my name was called to move to jury room six. Confused, I packed all of my gear, and headed with the 40 or so others who were called. As I entered the small courtroom on the third floor, I remained confident that I’d be dismissed that same day.
Then they assigned us all numbers and called on each of us to answer detailed questions about our lives. And I mean detailed.
I learned a lot about strangers’ lives--fascinating stories about their families, jobs, brushes with the law, and health issues. As much as I had tons of work to catch up on, there was no way I was going to get any grading or reading done in that room.
“Oh man…this is the best part of jury duty,” the big burly man sitting next to me said, giggling excitedly like this was an episode of a favorite show.
The judge had enough that morning and called a lunch break, asking us to return promptly in one hour.
It’s okay, I told myself as I ate my sandwich. I’ll probably get dismissed sometime this afternoon--no problem.
Then we reported back to room six. Before I knew it, the bailiff said, “Juror #137.”
Lugging my heavy teacher bag on my shoulder, I gingerly took my seat. I turned to the judge and attorneys, who were already scribbling notes on their notepads. The room grew quiet, and my face grew warm.
I answered their questions, follow up questions, and more follow up questions. The judge asked, “Do you feel the legal system has treated you fairly in the past?”
I paused. “Yes.”
When he learned that I am an English teacher, he decided to have a little fun at my expense. “Who’s your favorite author?” he asked.
“Toni Morrision,” I immediately replied. She always was an easy pick.
He furrowed his heavy white brows. “I don’t know that name. Who else?”
Crap. “David Sedaris . . . Maya Angelou . . .”
“Um... Robert Frost?” I tried.
“It doesn’t ring a bell,” the judge said, shaking his head.
Was he really going to make me list every author on the planet? Didn’t we have a trial to start?
“Charles Dickens?” I offered in sheer desperation. He had to have known that name!
“Is that because you think I’m old?” he said in mock offense.
“Okay, now I can safely say the legal system hasn’t treated me fairly,” I cracked. The judge and everyone in the courtroom erupted in laughter.
I grimaced, knowing that was when I clinched a spot on the jury.
Sure enough, about an hour later, after they questioned more jurors, the bailiff announced: “Juror #137, please take the seat for juror number one.”
My head was spinning. This couldn’t be! I was too busy. I already missed too much school! Desperate, my mind raced.
Can’t someone else get picked?
Is it too late to plead hardship?
Can I raise my hand and speak up?
No. No. And No. It was too late. They called the rest of the twelve jurors, asked us to raise our right hands, and swore us in. Boom. Done. My face was calm, but my my mind screaming like a petulant toddler:
Then the trial commenced without even a five minute break. The attorneys dove headfirst into their opening arguments.
The second day of this nearly three week (!!!) trial for a complicated medical malpractice case, us jurors had gotten to know each other just a little during our awkward small talk conversations when we waited to be called into the courtroom. Don’t worry--we obeyed the rules and never discussed the trial before deliberations.
Juror #126 turned with a grin and asked, “You enjoying some time off?”
“It’s nice to have a little break, right?” Juror #102 added.
“Right.” I grumbled. They had no idea that my workload had DOUBLED. I was going into my classroom to prepare for the sub at 6am every morning. Then I’d go home after a long day to catch up on grading, emails, etc. I’d been going to bed much later just to keep up with sub plans and everything else on my plate.
[Me each morning]
But then, despite my resistance to this summons and desire to give up from sheer exhaustion, my overachiever and curious tendencies jumped into overdrive. Determined to learn and listen closely to each testimony, each cross-examination, each piece of evidence, I furiously wrote down every detail that I could. I cried after witnesses shared their hardships. I questioned contradictions. My finger joints screamed. My hand muscles burned. But I ignored the pain and remained resolute in my efforts to take this task seriously.
I ended up writing 96 pages of notes. Front and back.
That’s basically a novel, right?
Once we finished deliberations--over two days of thoughtful and meticulous discussion, we finished deliberations and came to a verdict.
I asked the bailiff if I could keep my notes. You know, as a souvenir? He shut that down faster than Ticketmaster shut down Taylor Swift concert ticket sales.
So I completed my civic duty with care, thought, and attention. My only souvenir? My experience, the lessons I learned--and the loads of knowledge I gained about the spinal cord.
Upon returning to work from being out for nearly three weeks, one of my students asked, “Would you do it again if asked?”
I thought about it for a moment. “Yes,” I replied, surprising myself. “But only if the legal system allows a few years to pass before summoning me again.”
Alexander Pope once said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again.”
Don’t we all know someone who read one article, served on one jury (ahem), or heard one podcast and was suddenly a self-proclaimed expert on the topic? Yeah, it’s pretty annoying. Don’t feel bad--I’ve been that person at times.
Let’s do each other a favor and resolve to avoid shallow knowledge when it comes to a topic. Learn deeply, read lots of books. Talk to experts. Then you can sound off of Twitter (or TikTok, or whatever social media is around at this time) without being insufferable.
Recent Read: Hey, Kiddo by Jared Krosoczka; How to Be a Person and What Can I Say? by Catherine Newman
Since I've been exploring the graphic Memoir genre of books, I decided to reread Hey Kiddo, a graphic memoir about Jared Krosoczka’s experiences growing up while his mom struggled with substance abuse, forcing his grandparents to step in and raise him. It was a difficult situation since his mom was not the only absentee parent: his dad is not part of his life either. However, Jared did have caring grandparents who did their best to make sure he had a good upbringing while supporting his artistic endeavors. His story resonated with me because it didn’t shy away from the pain, but it also had heartwarming moments and lighthearted moments. It was real. It was authentic. It was complex. From the opening pages, you’ll get pulled into Jared’s story, rooting for him through his ups and downs. I highly recommend it!
I also wanted to highlight a couple books I bought for my sons, which also have a graphic novel format. How to Be a Person and What Can I Say? both deal with growing up, how to navigate awkward social situations, and how to do the essential tasks to feel more independent. The illustrations are super engaging, and the text is easy for upper elementary (9 and up) and middle schoolers to digest. If you have any older kids, these would be great nonfiction titles for them!
Lilo had some puppy training recently, so now she’s a more polite and proper pup! While there is still more room for improvement, the cats are happy about her newfound self-control.
I’ve been so busy that I’ve just had time to revise last month’s short story, “Pork on the Pali” and develop concepts for other stories I’m working on. But even when I’m not sitting at my desk and typing, I’m always thinking of the stories, letting ideas marinate and swirl around in my mind. That counts, right?
Our persimmons have come in for the fall, although they are smaller this year (maybe due to the heat). We’re excited to make some persimmon cookies once they ripen. We just have to make sure the squirrels don’t get to them first.
That's all for November. In the meantime, feel free to reach out and say “hello!” I’ll catch you again next month. :)
Some updates, musings, and sharing of inspirations.