Good news/bad news: reporting for jury duty

IMG_3784 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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Mom, mom's mom and me: under one roof

Last week, I was in North Carolina sitting on a lawn chair watching a lot of Jeopardy. The living room of the tiny beach house just has a love-seat, and my mom and grandma were already forced to share that space with my dog. So, I dragged in a lawn chair and yelled out incorrect responses that I always forgot to put in the form of a question.

Three generations (well, four, if you count the dog, and you should always count the dog) were vacationing under one roof for five days. At ages 35, 57 and 85 - we all seemed to be just different versions of ourselves. It could have been the backdrop of a Tennessee Williams play.

Everyone's families are complicated and contradictory. That's just the reality of family dynamics. Families are loving and brutal. They are intimate and they are strangers. They are accepting and critical. They are all those things, intertwined with memories and expectations and the desire to make you another cup of tea.

But through all the inherent messiness, there are important moments that come from spending extended time with family. Like hearing the story of how my 20-year-old Grandma would flirt with the guys she worked with at the newspaper, so that they would give her cigarettes. She didn't smoke, but she'd tuck them away and give them to her boyfriend -- that broke boy would eventually be my grandfather.

My mother knows the first album I ever bought, even though I've forgotten. She remembers exactly when I attempted to expand beyond the Carole King and Earth, Wind and Fire that pervaded my early musical education. It's so easy for me to revert back to those days. Mom still uses phases of discontent, like "Shootski pootski" and "Ishkablibble' that catapult me back to a time when I wore a fringed jean jacket and thought those were legitimate swears.

In this company, many sentences start with "Do you remember...?" - a person, a place, a time in space that feels so removed from this. So far from this 1,000 square foot beach shack with windows that don't close properly and a finicky toilet handle. But here, over the sound of bickering seagulls, we remember our shared past.

As much as all this reminds me of my history, it also grounds me in the present. I see the grey streak I started to notice in my hair in my mid-20s, reflected back at me. That grey expands into my mom's salt and pepper hair. It expands further into my grandma's silver shine.

We are not women who dye.

All this shared DNA and shared experiences express themselves in distinctive ways. We are decidedly different women, with different outlooks and ways of understanding the world -- but when I see my mom and grandma sharing gestures, I wonder if I do them, too. It's like an archeological dig of your own existence, except instead of discovering broken bits of pottery, I'm looking at a woman making an egg salad sandwich.

My mother has put a quote (most commonly attributed to the great poet, Dr. Seuss) on the bathroom wall of the beach house.


I'm reminded where I get my sense of truth-telling from. That no-hair-dye honesty is strong in all three of us. It's both a blessing and a curse. That same honesty that brings us closer has also hurt feelings and gotten us into trouble and damaged relationships. The truth is powerful, and I want to use it carefully. Sometimes honesty needs to be sheathed in kindness to soften the blow. Sometimes we are skilled at that, sometimes we are not.

I wonder, as I make my way through the years, what family traits I will keep, what habits I will let go, and if my hair will turn out to be the perfectly shiny silver of my grandmother's.

I watched a lot of Jeopardy last week and I realized that it's the perfect analogy for life. Because life is all about asking the right questions.

The answers take care of themselves.

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