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Kathryn E. Livingston Headshot

Free to Be... a Juror?

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Recently, I was called to jury duty. Not unusual; you've probably been there, too. But as I was sitting with the other grim-faced potential jurors on the rigid benches of a court room on an unseasonably warm (60 degree) December day in Jersey, I got to thinking about why this was such a trial.

Because, let's face it, although it is our civic duty and responsibility, who really wants to serve? (Other than folks who have nothing else to do, or hate their day jobs.) Oh, and maybe a few people who are really, passionately patriotic and are all caught up on their laundry.

The rest of us (and from the sighs and clock-watching that went on, I'd say the vast majority) just do not want to be there. The folks running the juror schedule that day opened with a video informing us that they knew this was an "inconvenience." Jury duty interrupts your routine (especially when there is Christmas shopping to be done!). It intrudes on life. It's just plain annoying, but it has to be done.

And, that's not all. Because if you are chosen to serve on a trial, it's not likely to be just one day. It can be a week, a month... or longer. But the worst part of it, I thought, as I was suffering through a tedious movie shown on a TV (for some reason they apparently thought they needed to entertain us while we awaited our fate) was the lack of freedom. Here I was... possibly (if I were assigned to a criminal case, anyway) about to decide if someone else were to lose his or her wings while totally deprived of my own. I could not just get up and walk out. I could not quit. I could not stand upon a bench and start singing or dancing. I couldn't do my yoga asansas. I felt... imprisoned... if just for a day. In fact, the only folks allowed to skip out were the smokers, who had to put their name down on a list whenever they stepped out for a toke (it did not escape my notice that our warden was a smoker herself).

Isn't it ironic? Here we are deciding on another's freedom when our own freedom has been denied. We aren't given the right to flip jury duty off. We aren't given the choice to turn it down. We simply must show up. (I admit I may be spoiled because I'm a freelance writer who basically has to show up nowhere...)

Halfway through the day, however, it dawned on me that jury duty is a lot like parenting. Once you have a child you have to show up. At 2 a.m. feedings. At off-key juvenile band concerts. At PTA meetings. At cub scout events. Granted, this is your kid and you should want to be there. But do you really want to be on a softball field when it's 102 degrees or pouring down rain? Do you really want to spend your Friday night at a cupcake sale?

So, gradually, on that despised day of jury duty I began to realize that this is all about "being there," too. It may not be something we want to do. But it teaches us about serving (and as a mom I've served aplenty), patience and letting go. One must, above all, let go at jury duty. Forget the dishes. Forget the shopping. Forget your work. Forget everything. Just be there.

In fact, around 2:30 p.m. on my day of jury servitude (having been rejected early on from one jury due to my inordinate bias in favor of disabled people), it occurred to me that this would be the perfect opportunity to practice my yogic long, deep breathing. I could not (or would not for fear of reprisal) stand on my head. But during the grueling afternoon movie (I won't name names, but will say a buck and grizzly were shot and a woman gave birth in screaming pain, alone in a cabin), I managed to complete many, many rounds of pranayama.

My advice: if you're called to jury duty, breathe through it, be grateful for your own freedom, and honor the gravity of possibly taking another's away.