While Hanging Out for Jury Duty

Last Monday morning, I drove down to Boston to report for federal jury duty (which I eventually managed to get out of in an honest way).  Arriving early, I walked around outside and took photos with my phone, including a few pictures of the imposing yet interesting brick edifice of the federal courthouse.

Anyway, after waiting for over an hour with at least a hundred other people to go into a courtroom and be selected or weeded out for a jury, I joined my small assigned group of fifteen or so. We walked together across the pristine, high-ceilinged hall, enormous windows to our left that looked out into grass-covered grounds and a sun-dappled ocean. With a combination of enthusiasm and gentle sarcasm, I said to my fellow prospective jurors, who ranged in age from early 20s to about mid 60s, “Wow! It’s a field trip!” A few people, including a young woman next to me, smiled and tittered. Everyone else remained stone-faced.

We proceeded to the elevator, like cooperative children on a school outing (or sheep in a pasture), and went up to the next floor where the courtroom was. While we waited some more, immediately outside of the courtroom, I said some other flip remark, again eliciting a few smiles and a brief laugh. Everyone stood silently, in their own world, so it seemed.

Like each person there for jury duty, I too had been uprooted from my daily life, in my case, a job I’m devoted to and a nice rhythm of living within a community long-searched for. Hence, like everyone else, I was not exactly happy to be there. Sadly, humor and a willingness to make the best of the situation via exercising just a bit of camaraderie felt lacking in the group. Everyone was dour-faced, and all of this outside the actual courtroom. I felt both glad to pierce the hard silence with some levity yet mildly disappointed and alone. Alone among many, so familiar, both for me and everyone there. Perhaps folks felt lost and awkward without their cell phones in hand. By the front entrance, we’d had to turn them over to security for safe-keeping.

Jury duty is a most serious matter and the Boston federal courthouse underscores this point everywhere you look. Quotes about justice, engraved along the walls, glared at me from room to hallway. I get it, and I have served on two juries over the past several years. But, I was damned if humor and the striving for human connection, no matter how brief among total strangers– my fellow human beings– were going to be shut down in me, especially when the moment called for these very attributes to come forth and lend some balance and perspective to it all.

4 thoughts on “While Hanging Out for Jury Duty

  1. Wow, the Federal Courthouse! I was there once and it freaked me out just walking through the metal detector, heart pumping a mile a minute, feeling like they could arrest me and I would have no control over it. I agree with the need to connect with our fellow human beings in cases like this. Using a sense of humor helps lessen the seriousness of the situation. I find since the advent of the cell phone, casual conversations with strangers seem like in intrusion. Nevertheless, I still make an attempt. I find this same situation when I take the occasional bus ride. The barriers people put up around themselves to shut out those around them are like a fortress. It often feels like I’ve intruded on their space and some people are not shy about giving you that peeved look. Your comment about feeling like children on a school outing brought back the memory of standing in the perfect line watching the head in front of me each day while we were escorted by our teacher to the cafeteria or out the door to catch our bus home. I believe they call it socialization. What an oxymoron! That’s where your comment about sheep hit home. Your sincerity in fulfilling this responsibility as a citizen of the US reminded me of how lax I and I am sure other people take this much-needed service to our country. The adventures you write about give me a glimpse into a world I would never have the opportunity to step into. It is refreshing, to say the least. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. Your own reflections are both informative and heartening for me. Because we both share these experiences of people’s personal “fortresses” of protection around themselves reminds me of how I am not alone in this intermittent experience of aloneness and loneliness within a crowd in public.

      I also appreciate your thoughts on the phenomena of socialization.

      It’s an existential tension, conformity to ensure the smooth workings of society as a whole yet maintaining some strong sense of individuality. The latter, I find, renders me able to draw inspiration from within myself to risk initiating a few fun relational moments with others, which feels particularly daring to exercise amongst strangers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am always heartened that there are people like you whose expressions and/or comments break off at least some little bits of the big ol’ walls everyone seems to live inside. What is it with silent, stonefaced people? Did they just never get beyond the childhood “don’t talk to strangers” gig? I mean, seriously? They kinda suck the joy out of every encounter. Sigh. I’m glad you had a goodish “field trip” and got some laughs in spite of it all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. I share the same wonderings as you.

      I did enjoy taking several photos of the area around the courthouse, including the harbor. If I’d been allowed to have my cell phone inside, I would have taken some photos of the windows overlooking the ocean outside (so beautiful)– that and one or two quotes about justice, written on the walls. The thoughts of Oliver Wendell Holmes were by far the most numerous. I’m sure dear Justice Holmes (gods rest his wise soul) would be turning over in his grave if he knew about the countless times justice has not been served over the decades since his death. But, that is an off topic digression.


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