Good news/bad news: reporting for jury duty

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I was so ready. I had reading material (one print book, one Kindle) my laptop (so I could do some writing) and a knitting project (one unimpressive-looking scarf because I am not a good knitter since I can’t follow a pattern and can only knit flat things).

I was so ready for jury duty.

When I told people I had been called for jury duty they made sad faces and sympathetic sounds. But I was excited about it. I wanted to serve justice. To participate in my community. To listen to the evidence and contribute to a compassionate but fair outcome.

Yes, it is entirely possible that I have watched too many courtroom dramas.

Regardless, I went down to the courthouse and sat around a large conference table with twenty of my fellow jurors. The room was quiet at first, people were nervous and awkward, but slowly we started chatting. I talked to a woman who was the assistant principal of a school. Someone else was a nurse. Someone else had been called to a jury four times in the past ten years.

After about an hour, we were summoned to the courtroom. It was beautiful, in a cold and stuffy way. There were columns, large paintings of old white men, and the thermostat was set to about 60 degrees. The bailiff announced that there were twenty-two jurors present because apparently counting us was part of his job. The judge introduced herself, thanked us for coming and said that we are an important part of the system. And then she said:

“I have good news and bad news, and it’s all the same news.”

She said that this was a criminal trial but the defendant didn’t show up. And depending on how we felt about serving today, we might take the news either way. But regardless, we were free to go. We all looked at each other, surprised by the anti-climactic turn the day had taken. We gathered our books and knitting and laptops. And we left.

Yoga philosophy talks about Tat and Sat. What is true and what is real.

What was Tat and Sat was that the defendant didn’t show up and there would be no trial today. But everyone translated that truth differently:

  • One juror: thrilled that she got her day all to herself
  • Another juror: sad that now he had to go to work
  • The defendant: probably happy he was not in court, but likely not a great choice in the long-run
  • Me: disappointed that I could not be part of the jury and also kind of sad that I wouldn’t have all that “boring” time in which to finish the amazing book I’m reading

It just reminded me that we tend to think of things being inherently good or bad. We weave a complicated story about the implications of every little thing. We cling so tightly to our own perspective,  it seems like it’s factual and unalterable. But while we might not be able to change the circumstances of much of life, we can decide to take a different perspective.

I’ve seen people change their perspectives about things that seem so clear – a cancer diagnosis shifts from a nightmare to an awakening. Losing a job becomes an opportunity for a reinvention. A failure teaches far more than any success ever could.

I left the courthouse and walked through my beautiful downtown of Charlottesville on a stunning fall day. We’ve been through some tough times in my town. But we’re coming through it, determined to be better because of it. I drank my tea and felt newly-fallen leaves crunch under my feet and I felt immense gratitude for all of it. The complicated mess of life with its unexpected turns. It’s all about the ability to exercise equanimity in the face of endless uncertainty.

And together we can help each other through the good news, the bad news, all the news.

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15 thoughts on “Good news/bad news: reporting for jury duty

  1. Excellent story Lisa. Your posts are always so interesting and uplifting. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Always a pleasure to read your posts and hear about your life experiences,

  2. I have been summoned to serve a number of times and like you, I don’t think of it as a bad thing. I know that in order for a system to work people must be willing to serve, the listen, and to do their best to make the right decision.

    So, after being called numerous times and doing no more than sitting in the initial waiting room I finally went to a courtroom and made it on to an actual jury … as an alternate. I could only shake my head and laugh. What’s worse was that there were two of us serving as alternates and when one regular jury member got sick, the judge drew numbers or something … and the other person moved up. I was still an alternate. After three days of testimony the case was submitted to the jury and I was allowed to go back to work. Personally, I didn’t believe that a crime had actually occurred so not having any say in the outcome was not a happy thing, but as an alternate I didn’t get to voice that or have any influence on the final decision.

    Having invested three days, though, I was interested in the outcome so I talked to the clerk and she assured me that she would call me when a verdict was reached. Two days went by and I began to doubt her, but on the third day she called. The jury had spent two full days deliberating. The defendant was acquitted on two counts and they split on the other two. At that point I was glad I had been an alternate. While I believe in justice, I had already decided that this case had been a waste of everyone’s time. Others clearly disagreed however, and months later the case was retried on the last two counts. This time the defendant found not guilty.

    I imagine that the whole process could have soured a person’s opinion of our justice system, but for me, I felt that in the end, justice was served more or less. So I was happy to have ‘done my duty’ and am ready to do it again. Oddly enough, though, I have only been called to the jury pool once in the 15 years since then.

  3. Very beautiful piece as always Lisa, though I will take one small exception; you say a cancer diagnosis is “uplifting.” My grandmother and mother have both died of cancer (my mother just last year, which I’m still grieving). I don’t think a cancer diagnosis is uplifting like a Hallmark movie; compared to a movie it’s a horror film.

    • First, I’m very sorry for your loss. But I didn’t say a cancer diagnosis was categorically uplifting. I said that I had seen someone with cancer turn it into something that was something that was an awakening – something other than the expected horror. It’s not based on a movie, it’s something that I’ve personally seen.

  4. I catch myself all the time getting pulled into the “this is good,” “this is bad,” “I want this,” “I don’t want that.” It’s a great reminder that it’s all news.

  5. Your story perfectly catches how I would feel myself, going to that courtroom and leaving it earlier than anticipated. Your writing reminds me that I really want to read your new book!

  6. Lisa, I am in your yoga for anxiety class. I heard this story Monday and reflected on my own recent jury experience. Same judge, same frozen courtroom. I was not selected and I was disappointed. I looked forward to serving.
    Life is all about what’s happening right now. Events are interpreted through our own filters. It’s what we do with that interpretation that can make or break our world. My prayer is that we each begin to try to look through another person’s filter before we act or react. What a difference that could make 😊

  7. Your fine eye and ear for detail, and your thoughtful reflection on that detail, make your writing delightful to read. I’ve had one day of jury duty in probably a decade and couldn’t have made it sound and feel anywhere near as engaging. This is a little gem of a piece. Lovely!

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