Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Everyone Please Rise
Jury duty. What an ordeal. But I’m glad I was called, because it gave me the chance to observe myself and others in a situation no one but the judge and a handful of the prospective jurors seemed to enjoy. In the end, there were three reasons, I think, that I was finally excused. First, my black attire and shaggy appearance was a distraction. Second, writer and poet that I am, I was distracted. I was distracted by the courtroom itself — the paneling, the lighting, the plastic water pitchers, Oregon’s state insignia, the box of tissue near the judge, and everything else that made up the atmosphere — colors, scents, sounds, my heartbeat. I was drawn to the gray and white clouds visible through the high, north-facing windows. Everyone, it seemed, was held fast by anchors, and I wanted to fly. Third, I didn’t appreciate the judge’s jokes. Many people laughed, but I never did. And I know he noticed, because he was a man who paid attention, and also because I wanted him too.
My biggest problem, though, was not the judge, or the courtroom, or my beard. As the judge and opposing attorneys asked questions of the prospective jurors — I was ushered in third and seated in the jurors’ box itself — I found it harder and harder to concentrate on the issues at hand. My way of thinking and looking at things is so different than that which was being applied. A juror would raise his or her hand and give an opinion on subjects spanning government, race relations, law enforcement, even popular television shows. By the time the person had finished speaking, I had little or no idea what had been said. And then, as the attorneys and judge would scan our faces, I could feel mine being scrutinized and misunderstood — for there was no way I could tell them how difficult it is for me to set aside my need for privacy and solitude; there was no way I could tell them that what I’m working on night and day at home is all-consuming, and that the very nature of the work itself is, with all due respect for their own talents, beyond the ready realm of their experience; there was no way I could tell them, because there simply was no framework in which such things might be addressed, that in the time it was taking them to mentally discard and manipulate the answers according to their need and benefit, I had visited my father’s grave and attended two of my best friends’ funerals; I had relived the birth of my first child, and heard the voice of my three-year-old grandson calling me by my nickname, Papa.
Several times, the plaintiff and I made eye-contact. Would I be able to help him? Could I be used? What on earth was going on in the head of so preposterous-looking a juror? His attorney spoke to me. I remember his pale-white skin, the veins in his nose, but only one or two words of what we said. Where did the others go? Out the windows, I guess. To the clouds.
The case, the judge happily warned at the outset, would take five days to complete. That I do remember. That, the clock ticking, and the feeling of my life as it drained out through my fingertips. Oh, yes. They knew. Send that man home who neither shakes his head or nods in our presence. Send him home, so that justice may properly be served.
“Everyone Please Rise” is my newest Notebook entry. Old notes are archived here.