AT THE DEEP END OF THE JURY POOL

I’ve been called to jury duty often. Jury duty is the price you pay for voting because potential jurors are chosen from voter registrations lists. I’m sure they call us in alphabetical order.

Our last name begins with “A.” Garry and I were called up two or three times a year for more than a decade until one day I called and said “Hey, enough!” After that, they slowed down to every other year. I’m pretty sure there’s an outstanding jury summons for me somewhere that I never answered. I was in the hospital trying not to die. Oops. It’s just possible I’m a wanted criminal. I assume they’ll get back to me on that.

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They called Garry, but never let him serve. Reporters are like cops. They’ve seen too much. Garry knew the judges, the D.A., the lawyers. And the criminals.

They knew Garry, too and they knew he knew stuff they preferred he not know. So, no matter how many times they called him, he was in and out in an hour. Maximum two.

I was a better pick. No connection to law enforcement. No lawyers, law suits, or weird political opinions.  That I was a free lancer who was going to lose my shirt if I couldn’t work did not matter to anyone except me. I went in, sat around. No trial needed me, so I went home. Done, until next time.

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Until one day, I got assigned to a trial. I had instant images of a long criminal trial. Being sequestered for weeks in some fleabag motel. Losing my clients. Losing my house. I was a less than enthusiastic juror, but when duty calls, you might as well go quietly. Unless you want to wind up on the other side of the courtroom. Besides, they have officers with guns stationed at the exits.

It was a minor civil case. One woman hit another at an intersection. Woman A claimed Woman B was jumping the light. Woman B said she had mistakenly thought it was a cross street.

There was no evidence. She said, she said. I thought both of them were lying. It was a matter of who you believed less. Eleven of my fellow jurors were ready to acquit. I thought we should at least talk about it. But, they wanted to go home and pointed out everyone knows the intersection isn’t a through street (I didn’t).

I caved. Because there was nothing except a small amount of money at stake. Peer pressure — eleven people who want to go home which you are preventing — gets intense and ugly quickly.

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That was more than 20 years. Tonight, we watched “Twelve Angry Men.” That’s the movie (1957) in which Henry Fonda forces eleven of his peers to reconsider the evidence and fully grasp the concept of reasonable doubt. It’s a great movie which has aged well. Pretty much the way I remember the experience, except we had air-conditioning, sort of.

It did leave me wondering and not for the first time. How many verdicts are based on jurors who just want to go home? How many people are convicted — or acquitted — because the jury was bored to tears and couldn’t stand one more minute of evidence? How many jurors are bullied into a verdict with which they disagree because they are threatened — emotionally or physically?

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There are no statistics on this and by definition, there won’t ever be any. No one, given the criminal liability and potential physical danger, is going to admit to it. But it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Next time a jury comes in with some absurd (to you) verdict, consider the possibility that at least some of them didn’t freely agree.

I’m sure it happens. It happened to me.

IF YOU’LL BELIEVE IN ME

I have an equal number of religious and non-religious (and non- traditional) friends. That probably means I’m doing something right. If you get right down to it, I believe in you. And me. I believe in human intelligence. I believe we each have the right to exercise our intelligence as we see fit.

I am not an atheist, but I’m not religious, either. You can not prove there is no god. Nor can you can prove there is a god. I will defend to the death your right to believe whatever. It is your right to believe, disbelieve, question, argue. It’s my right too.

I draw the line at anyone telling me what I should believe.

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I dislike dogma. Religion by itself is not a problem. It’s the systems, the rules, the dogma that messes up the world. Dogma categorizes everything, puts it all in boxes.

I don’t want to be in a box.

Since no one can prove the existence or non-existence of god, we’d be better off if everyone would stop trying to prove it. If you believe, good for you. Just let everyone believe what he or she wishes. Maybe if we let others do their thing, they will be let us be crazy in our own way.

It has to start somewhere.

I deeply believe in everyone’s right to do their own thing. It’s the last vestige of my optimism, my hope for humanity. The last non-cynical piece of me.

It’s fun to debate big ideas, complicated concepts, but when the last cookies have been eaten, the last wine drunk, it’s time to pack up the arguments and go home, each to our own beliefs.

IMMORTALITY AND THE DAILY PROMPT

And here is my original entry on this prompt. Which, as it turns out, is still pretty funny and as obnoxious as the first time I wrote it.

I am not sure I ever thought I was immortal — probably because I didn’t think about it at all. Until sometime in college, I did not ponder the nature of life and death.

College was a peak time for that kind of mental muck-raking. Was it the drugs? No, I’m inclined to think it was going to classes. You see, college presents no danger unless you actually attend lectures and stuff. If you just hang out on the quad, it’ll be okay. But I took courses like  “The Philosophy of Religion” and went to lectures on Phenomenology. And, I had a steady assignment of existential novels to read by Sartre, Camus, et al. Deep stuff. The kind of books I totally won’t look at any more.

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That this hyper-intellectual phase of my life coincided nicely with my first actual near-death experience was pure chance. It didn’t improve my personality, that’s for sure. There is nothing more aggravating than a teenage college student contemplating the philosophical meaning of life. And death. Had I not already been me, I would have had to expel myself as a punishment for being so annoying.

I’m pretty sure all of us thought we were very smart and had a solid grip on the life and death stuff. Even adding on my botched spine surgery — which nearly killed me for real and all — I was still an obnoxious wise-ass with an inflated sense of my intellectual prowess.

Things have really improved. Now I’m an aging senior citizen wise-ass. Oh, and I am pretty sure — not 100%, but maybe 90% — I am not immortal. Eventually, I’ll know for 100% certain.

I’ll get back to you on that.

KILLING YOU, KILLING ME

An episode of Law and Order got me thinking. “Under what circumstances might I commit murder — or kill someone — for any reason?”

We all say stuff. “I’m going to kill you,” doesn’t mean you are actually planning a murder. You are blowing off steam, saying “I’m so angry, I’ve run out of words to express it.” Garry pointed out that television and movies would be pretty dull if everyone behaved sensibly.

blood evidenceWe yell at each other. Sometimes there’s a slammed door and I occasionally rattle the pots and pans, but we don’t throw things. Don’t break things. Don’t kick the dogs or get in the car and drive like crazy people. We don’t binge drink or comfort ourselves with drugs.

We get angry with each other, though. We think about breaking a window. Throwing a piece of crockery. Then reconsider. Having that picture window replaced would cost a bundle. Never mind.

Under no circumstances do you hurt your pets.

In short, we are rational. We are never so angry we don’t consider the consequences of behavior.

I think most people have a hard-wired inhibition against killing people. If we didn’t, the world would be a much worse place than it already is. You have to train soldiers to kill. Young men won’t (normally) kill other young men unless you break down their inhibitions against killing. That’s what boot camp is about, right?

Garry said something smart, reminding me of one of many reasons we’re together. He said “That’s why it’s good we have things like Facebook. People can go there to rant, rage, carry on. No knives, guns, bats. No corpses. Angry people vent. No one really gets hurt. Like the guys on the sports radio stations who call in screaming about the Red Sox. They’re just letting off steam. It’s just as well there are safe places for them to do it.”

Maybe it’s because Garry has seen so much violence and the results of violence. It was part of his job. Not a part he liked, but something he had to deal with to be a reporter. I couldn’t have done it.

As to my original question, what would it take to make me kill another person? I don’t know. Would I kill to protect my life style or for money — even a great deal of money? I doubt it.

Would I kill to protect someone? I’d want to, but could I? I’m not sure I could kill to protect myself. Many people can’t and lose their own lives because they hesitate. Television, fiction, and mythology notwithstanding, most people’s instinct is to not kill.

Inconvenient, but it may be the saving grace of the human race.

THEN, SHE SAID “CHRIST DIED SO WE WOULD BE NICE TO EACH OTHER”

IN MEMORY OF MARILYN BAKER, MY FRIEND WHO IS GONE

I had a very dear friend who recently died. When I first wrote this, she was going through a terrible time. The thing she feared the most had come to pass. Her husband was sick, never likely to get better, and her children were pulling them out of the home they’d shared for more than 60 years.

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Her Christian faith never wavered. She remained calm, unshaken, even though her world was being disassembled. I was heartbroken. Inconsolable. I knew I’d never see her again. We both knew.

She once told me you could sum up Christianity in a sentence.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Christ died,” she answered, “so we would be nice to each other — even before morning coffee.” Then she smiled, and sipped from her cup.

Marilyn Baker

Be kind to everyone. Even when you don’t feel like it. Especially then. Because maybe you’ll never see them again.

 

WHISTLING AND FISHING IN HEAVEN

As playlists go, this is short, but it says a lot. Not everyone has heard of John Prine, but he wrote many songs other people sing, and he sang a lot of them himself on various records, most of which I owned on vinyl. He has always been a favorite of mine, somehow cheering me up when I’m blue. So, whenever WordPress prompts for a playlist, he’s my go-to guy.

And lo and behold, there’s a new CD collection of his work available … just $10, double CD. I ordered it. Of course.

John Prine sings about life. He always had a sense of humor, too. He wrote great, witty lyrics, and singable melodies. What more do you need? Because to me, that’s music.

A sentiment … several sentiments … to which I can really relate. John Prine. Singing one of  my favorites. Musical philosophy.

The meaning of life according to John Prine. He sums it up for me. Thanks John!

Finally, a musical look at aging. Talk about summing it up. Tom Paxton was always a favorite. Which shows my age as much as my shining silver hair.

A COMING OUT STORY

A few years ago at this time a Facebook status, some stories in the news and a number of You Tube videos on “coming out” compelled me to write on a topic I might have otherwise avoided. 

As you will see below, I could not find a dramatic You Tube video at the time on the harrowing coming out story to which I referred.  I subsequently found it and posted it in a follow-up article.  I have linked it to Angel‘s name here if you would like to see it.  It is a tough 12 minutes.


Despite everything that has been in the news lately, I thought I would shy away from this topic. It is often a political hot potato fraught with emotional arguments that have little to do with rational thinking. There seemed no reason to be another voice among the already countless raised voices. Then I caught a status message on Facebook that got me to rethink my position.

A relative posted a status message that his daughter had put up. As I read through it, I was impressed with the thoughtful counter arguments regarding the opposition to gay marriage, as well intelligent remarks about being gay. I thought I need some of this when the haters start in with their venom.

As I read down the lengthy post I began to realize this was not just a rebuttal to recent actions in the news, particularly the gay marriage ban in North Carolina, but also a commentary by a relative of what it was like to grow up gay. I was totally unaware of the circumstances of her personal life or the problems that it brought her. She did not avoid the most difficult parts of the story, but put it out there bravely for us to see. I was moved by the willingness to try to help people understand by pointing to a personal story.

Unless you are a member of the 1 in 10 who grows up feeling different and alone, it is hard to understand what it is like. You may be picked on at school, bullied by classmates in ways much more hateful than mere childhood teasing. You might find the very thought of going to school as terrifying, and return home each day depressed, perhaps with thoughts of suicide. Recently a 14-year-old boy in Iowa took his own life as a result of the bullying at school and online. “Mom, you don’t know how it feels to be hated,” he had told his mother. He just could not live with it anymore.

What drives people to this kind of hatred? Recently I viewed some coming out stories on You Tube. The story of one young man absolutely stunned me. Angel did not appear to be overtly gay in his video. He told that his coming out was actually an accident.

His father saw him kissing his boyfriend. The boy was often dropped off a block or more from home so his father would not see them. When the father got home he confronted Angel and demanded to know if he was a faggot. Angel knew if he said he was gay, he would get a beating, but he got one anyway. It was a severe beating the boy could hardly survive. When the father had to go out, Angel called for help. He did not call the police, his father was a cop.

He called a hotline and then a family he thought might help. The woman told him to just get out and she would meet him at the corner. He did not make it that far. Bleeding he fell to the ground throwing up blood. He was found and eventually taken to a hospital emergency room. What father would beat his child almost to death because he dared to love someone not of his father’s choosing? Obviously, Angel recovered and was able to tell his story.

Imagine the terror many in the 10 percent may feel, if not for themselves, perhaps for their friends. Will today be the day they are bullied, beaten, or worse? Imagine not knowing who to trust, at home or at school. Imagine not knowing if life will hold anything of worth for you. “Imagine all the people living life in peace.”
Angel has forgiven his father, strange as that may seem. They have even talked since. When I saw his story, I did not have any idea about writing this, so I did not keep track of the You Tube link. I thought I would go back and find it to put at the bottom of this. I searched “A coming out story” since I thought that was the title and I got 149,000 results. For all the young gay people afraid to be who they are, you can be assured, you are not alone. I did find that most of these stories actually turn out well. Some were surprised at the acceptance they received. If you need some hope, search “it gets better.” It is the popular campaign of videos started by syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his partner, Terry Miller. Watch and you will find hope shining through the dark night.

I can not explain to you how people can use the Bible or other religious book to support a position of hate, it taught me that we should love one another as we should love ourselves. If you find it tough right now, for you or a loved one, don’t give in to the haters. It gets better.

http://www.itgetsbetter.org/
http://www.thetrevorproject.org/

Note:  Last year I wrote a short story to dramatize Angel’s video.  I sent Angel a message to ask if it was OK to proceed.  He said it was spot on and to go ahead.  You can read that story here.