Fear and My Jury Duty

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This month I had planned to write about fear and then jury duty happened to me. Again.

This is not my first jury duty rodeo.

Once when I was in my 20s, I got busy with school and did not read the newspapers or talk much with anyone about current events which made me the perfect candidate to sit on a jury for a murder case. I could probably write a blog series on that experience all by itself. Maybe someday I will.

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What I’d like to start with today, though, is how much I rely on and cherish my ability to speak freely. During that (blessedly short) trial in 1995, I was repeatedly instructed not to discuss or investigate the case. I did not until after we found the defendant guilty of first degree murder. (He was something of a small time Ted Bundy. Really.)

In this most recent superior court case, I was again instructed not to discuss the procedings so many times, I thought my eardrums might burst from repetition. Now the instructions included a mind numbing number of electronic ways we should not mess up our empty minds with researching the case or communicating about it.

We also could not discuss what we heard with our fellow jurors. It was almost comical to hear difficult testimony and then go back to our small room to talk about those Seahawks.

In addition to the judge of many words who gave us the instructions multiple times, I sat in the juror number three chair with my legs crossed in front of a laminated print out detailing all the ways I should not communicate and how I could be held in contempt if I did.

I kept my mouth shut until the case resolved, and I noticed something while I stayed mum.

I find it extraordinarily hard to write when someone is constantly telling me to keep my mouth shut.

I’m not saying I think jurors should blab. I’m saying I don’t want to be in a profession (like lawyering) where I feel constrained like that. I’m saying I treasure my ability to speak and write my experiences more than a good number of other things in my life.

And I’m explaining why my blog has been gathering dust on the web.

This month was supposed to be about trying things that scare me. I think I’ve done that by:

1. Passing through security checks multiple times a day at that towering courthouse (they took my lunch fork!).

2. Facing an intense voir dire with potential vocal jurors questioning the process while a prosecutor and pro se defendant asked us awkward personal questions.

3. Once again knowing I might have to make a decision that would affect others’ lives so deeply.

I spent a good deal of time praying for all the players in the stifling drama of the courtroom while fumbling around looking for my own center.

Maybe I need more than a month to write on it or think of what to say with my new found freedom.

For now I’m turning over how much of the story is mine to tell even after I am no longer facing that laminated sign telling me how many ways to hold my peace.

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Short Sabbatical from Spoken Words

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silence

For the past few weeks, I’ve been on break from my teaching job and staying home full time with my sweet three year old. At least I maintain he’s sweet even though sometimes he’s not.

The words I have spoken look something like this:

“Do you have to go potty?”

“Flush the toilet and wash your hands.”

“Do you have to go potty?”

“Sit down to eat your food.”

“Do you have to go potty? You are doing the dance.”

“It hurts Mommy when you do that.” (hit me with a stick, arch back when I’m holding him, step on my foot, etc.)

“Do you have to go potty?”

“No, you may NOT pick the cat up by his skin.”

“It’s time to go potty. You are still doing the dance.”

I found these words draining. Painfully draining. And my inner troll has been rising up to snap at the little guy not unlike the troll under the bridge in the Billy Goat’s Gruff story he loves.

I pestered my husband to grant me a retreat. At first I thought just a morning might do. I took my notebook to the local Starbucks and listened to people talking, taking notes on what they said and journaling my heart out. I went to the park I’d seen but never visited. I walked downtown and saw the gorgeous landscaping at the new city hall that I’d never taken the time to look at before. But two hours wasn’t enough. I needed more time away from “Do you need to go potty?”

So, last weekend I took most of a day and went to our little lake camping spot out by Shelton. I didn’t talk to anyone all day, leaving my phone in the car so I wouldn’t be tempted. I took my time and moved slowly, reminding myself that I was on retreat. The peace felt like I’d entered a sacred space and sunk into a world without spoken words.

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I can see why the monks and nuns take vows of silence. The peace of not talking brings an inner connection like the vibrations settling down on the pond after you finished skipping stones across it. When I did see others at the grocery store on the way out, they smiled at me and I smiled back. This was a change from my usual focus on wrangling little fingers away from the ATM machine buttons and hand holding in the parking lot where I hoped he wouldn’t take anyone out at the knees.

I had thought earlier of going to St. Placid Priory, a place in Lacey where I could have a sister as a spiritual director. But the lake worked better for me. I worked it out with my husband on an hour’s notice and got myself to bliss without the nagging stress of “I don’t know this place or these people.”

Plus I only needed to pay for gas and food.

I figure my inner artist is also about 3 years old, and she loved playing in silence without competition from my son. I can recommend a retreat for anyone who feels the troll under the bridge threatening to take over.

When I got back from my break from words, I was able to sink into the better ones like:

“Let’s go for a walk to feed the horsie.”

“How about we go pick blackberries and eat them from the bowl before they get to the refrigerator?”

“I love you.”

And, even better, I could sink into the words I heard.

“I wuv you, too,” he said when we went back to my retreat and filled it up with sound a few days later.

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