Long ago, in a state far away, I served as a juror on a murder trial. Being a juror is a fascinating process. We began with a large jury pool, at least one hundred people. A computer randomly numbered us. If your number was between 1-14, your chances of being selected for the jury were high. We were told that the attorneys really strive to choose from that initial set of fourteen because it truly makes for a random set of people to serve as peers for the accused. Of the first fourteen, I believe we wound up with seven staying on as jurors all the way to the end. I was one of them. The other seven who eventually sat in the jury box with me came from the first group of about forty people, I believe.
It was a relatively high-profile case. The day I reported, after everyone had checked in, the person who had checked us in asked, “Does anyone have a newspaper with them?” If they did, they surrendered it to the court employee. That’s when I knew that this wasn’t some run-of-the-mill shoplifting case.
Over the next few days, we filled out questionnaires, did a LOT of sitting and waiting, and some of us were questioned further, based on our answers to the questionnaire. I was one of those people. I was called in, SWORE TO TELL THE TRUTH!!!, and answered questions posed to me by the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney, and the judge. It was nerve-wracking to be in the witness box, and I wasn’t even in trouble. It gave me perspective for later in the trial when others testified and they seemed nervous while on the witness stand. It wasn’t that they were lying. It’s just a scary place to be!
Eventually, the trial began. I felt very unsettled during the course of the trial. I saw the make and model of the accused’s car everywhere I went. I didn’t want to leave my home.
The absolute worst part of it, though, was that I couldn’t discuss it with anyone. Not my fellow jurors, not my family, not my closest friends, no one. So, I did what every normal human with a weight problem does when faced with an anxiety-provoking situation they can’t tell anyone about. I ate.
On the day we saw gruesome, graphic photos from the murder scene, and heard testimony from key witnesses, I met a friend at Red Lobster for lunch. I couldn’t discuss the morning’s events, so we spoke of inconsequential things. But I ate seven (7!) Cheddar Bay Biscuits. They were warm, and comforting. They weren’t out to harm anyone. The biscuits understood.
After all testimony was heard, and all evidence was submitted, the judge gave us our instructions and released us to FINALLY discuss the case. We all agreed to leave for the day and begin deliberations the next morning. The next morning, within a few hours, we unanimously agreed on our verdict and rendered justice.
There were fourteen of us, twelve with two alternates, and then after we made it all the way through the trial without anyone having to be excused, two jurors’ names were drawn and those two didn’t have to proceed further. But for the weeks of the trial, the fourteen of us cast about wildly for things that were safe to discuss. We were a community of fourteen who could not discuss the reason we were a community.
Think about that for a moment. What if you couldn’t ask your neighbors why they had moved to your neighborhood? What if you couldn’t tell your children why they were a part of your family? What if you couldn’t discuss with your co-worker any aspect of the job?
Inappropriate jokes were told. Old movies and TV shows were discussed. We talked about what we did for a living, and our families. One man told us about his first marriage and his voice held so much bitterness toward his ex-wife! Wow! So we got to know one another, but there was always an underlying current of tension.
“I hope I don’t slip and say the wrong thing!” , “I hope I don’t mention anything about the BIG ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM!”
My point? Be grateful for what you can say when you can say it. Take pains to ensure you’re in a country, a relationship, a family, a friendship, where nothing is off limits. Only then can you truly feel safe.
And you will not have to eat seven (7!) Cheddar Bay Biscuits at lunch!
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