It may already be December, but once again, I received the most valuable lesson of last month’s intention a little late. For the month of November I was practicing Ishvara Pranidhana by writing down one thing for which I am grateful each day and blessing every meal (for the most part). Even with these seemingly simple yet important tasks, I still felt disconnected from the true meaning of Ishvara Pranidhana, like I was not really embracing the essence of this last niyama yet attempting to practice it. I just needed a little push in the right direction; well, last Tuesday I got a BIG push.
I was summoned for jury duty for the first time the day before leaving for grad school. But, that being a highly stressful and emotional time for me, I deferred for six months, the maximum amount of time, leading me to impending duty early December. I did as instructed and called the night before to see if my service was required, sure I wouldn’t have to go. Nope – be there 8:00am. I reported as required, still certain I would spend most of the day reading in a quiet room, maybe get some choreography mapped out on paper, have some false alarms, but have a mostly uneventful day. Nope – first thing, 30 jurors called in for selection (not me). Dodged that bullet… phew! Five minutes later, 40 jurors called in, which covered most of the lot left in the holding room, including me. We were led to the hallway by a grumpy yet personable deputy, who did not hesitate to tell us that we were going into a courtroom to undergo jury selection on a very serious case. It could take a week; it could take two. I was flooded by equal parts excitement and fear, as I imagine were my fellow jury poolmates. Isn’t jury duty just a day of sitting around, watching bad movies in a cold room? Apparently not.
We were led into the courtroom and filed into the benches like reluctant teenagers going to church. There was a real live judge with a real black robe, two dapper prosecutors, one defense attorney, and one defendant. The judge told us that this was a murder case, a first degree murder case, at that. A very serious matter indeed, that may take up to two weeks to resolve. We were asked if anyone had any medical or logistical conditions that would prohibit us from serving for an extended amount of time. A middle-aged man had a vacation booked for next week; he was excused. A handsome guy, who was deaf, had final college exams next week; he was not excused. I wrecked my brain for a viable excuse, but not having any impending getaways or medical procedures to fall back on, I drew a blank. A man whose face I could not see started calling people into the juror box in a very loud and direct voice, over-enunciating each name; it was like the judicial Hunger Games. My heart started to pound so loud I almost missed my name being called, but somehow I made the cut: Juror #4. I stepped into the box and once all twelve of us were seated the
selection interrogation process started.
I won’t go into detail on every question they threw at us, honestly because it is a bit of a blur. I mostly remember sitting in that (I swear to god) 45 degree room and sweating through my clothes, so nervous about yet so unaware of what exactly was going on. I also remember wishing for the first time that I had ever been arrested or had a police officer for close family member. But alas, my squeaky clean record and general distance from all things law enforcement kept me in the game. I even pleaded “I have a theater (because who cares about dance?) production this Friday!”, thinking this might be my saving grace. Nope. When asked what would happen if I was late to the show or not at rehearsal beforehand, I, not knowing how else to put it or emphasize the importance, replied, “The show would not be good.” Next.
I also will not go into the details of the actual crime on trial because, as they thoroughly let us know, jurors are not supposed to discuss the case with anyone, in or out of court. I will say that the matter was not pleasant, the prosecution did paint a rather vivid picture for us, and said there would be more vivid photos and recounts of the incident over days to come. Not the way anyone wants to spend the majority of their waking hours for a few weeks, right? But here’s the kicker… this shit happened two blocks from my home, at a place I visit relatively often. When asked if any of us were familiar with this locale, my hand shot up like a kid with all the answers. Still stunned by this development, I was sure it would be my ticket home. Nope. The prosecutor just asked me to not go there while the trial was going on; I complied. A few more rounds of questions passed and one juror was released, claiming she had a friend who had been the victim of a violent crime and she felt she could not be impartial in this case… lucky bitch. We broke for lunch and I dashed to my car to A) warm my frozen hands, B) call my husband to tell him about my, in actuality, highly eventful morning (oops!), and C) run home to feed my dog.
I literally cannot get home without driving past said “scene of the crime”, and as I approached it I could feel my curiosity and anxiety rising. Realizing that the next two weeks might be filled with images and testimonies reliving a pretty awful thing that happened pretty close to my house made my pulse race and breath shorten. I also realized that I had just revealed to the defendant (who may or may not have a teardrop tattoo on his face) that I live two blocks away, along with my face, name, and occupation. Suddenly that didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore, and my state of mind started to approach full-blown-panic-attack. I went home, took care of business, as did my dog, and made my way back to the courthouse, still in disbelief of the surreal reality I was experiencing.
After lunch it was the defense attorney’s turn to vet the jurors, and let’s just say, this guy was scrambling. (No, actually I cannot entertain other possible causes of death when a person has suffered, say, two gunshots in the chest. Duh.) He asked if we had started to take sides or create an opinion about the potential guilt of the defendant, and I spoke up. Of course I had began to form a picture of what happened… you just told us. Certainly I had started to create a visual of the events that night… you didn’t give us a choice. Now you want us to be impartial and erase this “non-evidence” from our minds? Sorry dude, that’s not how brains work, at least not mine. I spoke about my near panic attack over the lunch break, and emphasized (again, doh!) how close I live to the scene and what sort of mental and emotional stress being enveloped in this process for any number of days might bring me. I explained in all honesty that I would remain impartial and keep an open mind, but I didn’t know how clear my mind could be given my physical proximity to the situation. The defense attorney thanked me for being candid and moved on. Next.
After a few more rounds of questioning, at ten minutes before the close of court that day, three jurors, including myself, were excused. Somehow, I was FREE! I patted the woman beside me on the shoulder, as we had all formed a quick commiserative bond that day, and jetted out of that courthouse like a guilty man running from the cops (OH!) As scary and impossible as the day had seemed, my release felt equally surreal and liberatory. I ran to my car silently yelling THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU in my head.
So what the hell does all this have to do with “surrendering to god”? I caught a lucky break and should probably feel guilty for leaving my newfound acquaintances there to suffer, right? Right. But MAYBE there is something to be said for the fact that every chance I got throughout the day, I furiously repeated my personal mantra to myself over and over, as if in (gasp!) prayer. Maybe I said some words in my head that posed a humble request, preceded and followed by the word please. Who was I asking? I don’t know. At that point anything or anyone that would listen. I figured, it couldn’t hurt, it might not help, but maybe it will. Did it? I don’t know. I do know that Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors, says that the three essential prayers are HELP, THANKS and WOW. Even if you or I don’t like to use the words “prayer” or “god” or think that we don’t practice or believe in them, those three words are good ones to remember. Ask for help when you need it, say thanks when you get it, and acknowledge when life is good. And, for now at least, my life is good.
I am fully aware of the complete assholiness (see what I did there) and insensitive self-centered perspective of my entire story. I was praying for ME?!? What about the guy who is likely about to spend the rest of his life in prison? What about the guy who lost his life in a gas station parking lot (oops!) and his surviving family? Yes, I feel bad for them, but there’s not a whole lot I can do. I fully believe that stronger than the power of prayer is the power of Karma. You reap what you sow, dude. Do good and good shit happens. Fuck up and be ready to take the hit. Sure, there are injustices and inexplicable circumstances (kids’ cancer, natural disasters, terrorism attacks) and I don’t have answers to those tough matters. The best I can do is be the best person I can be, asking for help when I need it, saying thanks when it comes, and appreciating life when it’s good. When all else fails, maybe throw your proverbial hands up and yell “Jesus/Allah, /Brahman/Flying Spaghetti Monster, take the wheel!” Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is give up control and insert some trust. Surrender to ________. Fill in that blank or don’t, just don’t be too surprised by what happens either way. But more importantly, be good y’all.