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.