Friday, April 19, 2013
There was a group of 72 random (and I mean that in more ways than one) people, sitting in assigned seats, all awaiting our next set of directions. I didn't think that it would be humanly possible for the room to be as quiet as it was, with all of those people sitting hip to hip, but you could literally hear people breathing. The judge finally entered the room and we all stood. He began to outline for us, the next couple of days, and for 14 people, the next three weeks. We were all staring headlong into the possibility of being chosen to decide the innocence or guilt of a man accused of murder. I'm not gonna lie. There was certainly a part that seemed pretty exciting. I sat the entire day, actually thinking that maybe I could do this . . . maybe it would be a good break from reality . . . maybe I'd be a great juror, because I want justice to win, just like everybody else.
After the judges introduction, he opened up the floor and gave everyone permission to share, if they chose, what "hardships" they were facing that would keep them from being able to perform their duties as juror. Some had finals and group projects on the horizon. Some had parents with failing health. Some had child care issues. Others lived far away, but very very few "hardships" actually qualified according to the law and to the judge. During these hours, the room was full of practicing jurors. As each person shared, you could see everyone examining whether or not the voiced hardship in life was a valid reason to be dismissed from the room. And the retired gentleman behind me, complete with his foam front hat and his San Francisco black sateen jacket would huff and sigh in utter disappointment, each time someone would raise their hand to speak. You could tell he was disgusted with the American people. I listened and I watched, but I didn't say anything.
It seemed like people had some legit reasons, but the judge and Mr. San Francisco didn't think so. I kept wondering if my situation was a "hardship" that would qualify. I figured I would let something else weed me out. I didn't want to use Dave's death to be boiled down to an excuse to get out of jury duty, even if it was legit. A group of us were then let go for the night, but a portion of the 72 remained to speak to the judge and attorneys one by one.
I left the courthouse and re-entered my actual life. I headed to Grief Workshop, which did NOT impress me at all. One of the speakers said, "You will wear your friends out. It's a fact." That's great. And so encouraging to hear. Then our small group met, which was semi-fine, but over and over again, I kept thinking, "Oh, I can't wait to tell Dave . . . ." How ridiculous is that? I'm in Grief Workshop, repeatedly wanting to tell Dave what everyone is saying and what I am thinking. So frustrating! I went home and cried. I, also, realized that I was super delusional thinking that I could remotely pull off being a juror in a murder trial. That was the denial phase of grief speaking.
It was about 9:45 the next morning by the time the one by ones were finished getting interviewed. Most of them were sent packing. When we entered the courtroom, there was a much smaller number of people and in my most judgmental view, I thought that only about half of the remaining crowd would be fit to sit on a jury for a murder trial. The judge asked one last time if there were any others with a hardship that may prevent them from providing this man with a fair trial. A few people spoke and each plea for a dismissal was shot down. My heart was seriously pounding. I literally could not figure out if mine would qualify. I was starting to realize that my worst fear was that that everyone, judge included, would not see my hardship as that hard. With my heart pounding wildly, I raised my hand and choked out the words, "My husband recently died." Where did these tears come from? I was trying so hard to remain composed in front of all these strangers. The judge just barely could make out what I was saying, and he said, "Did I just hear you right? Did you just say that your husband recently died?" I said "yes." He asked if I thought that this would impair my abilities as a juror and in a lot more words than necessary, I said "yes," again. I don't know what made it feel so unbearably vulnerable, but I felt like I was sitting naked in front of all these people. Nobody else was crying - only me. Then, in a very sweet way, the judge said, "This is big." Then I started crying a little harder. What a relief to hear him say that. "This is big." Then he thanked me for giving it a try, which to me, was like acknowledging that I wasn't just trying to use this as an excuse to not serve in this capacity. And then he finished with, "For what it is worth, you will be OK." Then I got up, and left, and went back to my real life.