I tried to get out of it, as everyone does, for the sake of my family and Mr. Peevie’s sanity—even though I LOVE jury duty. I’m probably the only person in North America that actually enjoys serving on a jury. If anyone else is out there, please let me know. We can form a support group.
I told the judge that I have three kids at home, and who was going to take care of them if I have to be gone every day for two or three weeks? He said, "I’m sorry, ma’am, but probably half the people in the jury pool today have the same situation. Who is taking care of them now?"
"I recruited friends to take them," I said; "and the 14-year-old is home alone."
"Well," he said, not unkindly, "I understand it’s difficult and inconvenient, but you’ll have to figure out some combination of those arrangements for the duration of the trial. I’ll try to keep it as short as possible."
He excused us for lunch and I called Mr. Peevie, who freaked out.
“WHAT?!” he screamed. “Three weeks?! That’s insane! You HAVE to get out of it.” Like if I just said hey, judge, my freaked-out husband can’t handle this, so can you please excuse me from jury duty, he’d roll over and say, why of course, ma’am, God knows we don’t want any more freaked out husbands than society is already dealing with.
“Honey,” I said, “I tried. I asked the judge who was going to watch my kids, and he said I’d have to figure something out.”
“Well,” continued Captain Overreaction, “I cannot take the next three weeks off of work. I just can’t. I’m buried.”
“Hey,” I said, with a bit of an edge, “No one is asking you to take time off of work. This is actually not about you. I’ll figure it out.”
He brought his affect down a couple of notches on the Panic Meter. “Well, I suppose we can talk about it,” he said. “I did a case that was three days long, but three weeks?! That’s just crazy.”
As I walked to lunch, I passed a homeless lady with no legs, sitting in a wheelchair. "Do you want a sandwich?" I asked her. "Sure," she said. So I brought her a roast beef sandwich. Her name was Hope.
I went back to the restaurant to eat my own lunch. I opened up the laptop and started writing about jury duty, and a minute later a homeless guy sat down at my table and introduced himself. His name was Roland. He asked me to buy him a sandwich.
"I can’t," I said, "I just bought a sandwich for the lady outside in the wheelchair. But I’ll give you a couple of bucks," I said, relenting a bit. I’m not sure why. Maybe because he was sitting at my table looking me in the eye.
"Thank you," he said. "A sandwich costs $4.50. Can you spare any more?"
"No," I said. “Go somewhere cheaper,” I didn’t say.
"Have you tried a soup kitchen or a shelter or agency?" I asked.
"I got raped in a shelter," he said. TMI, Roland. "I can’t go back there. I been sleeping on the street. Got six hours of sleep in the last four days ‘cause I can’t sleep outside. I have colon cancer and stomach cancer and my mom just died."
An employee of the restaurant came over and stood next to my table and looked pointedly at Roland. “We’re just talkin',” he said. The guy looked at me. “It’s OK,” I said. “He’s not bothering me.” Yet, I didn’t say.
“The cops will put me in jail for talking to you,” Roland said. “Just for sitting here having a conversation!”
“No, Roland,” I said, “They’ll put you in jail for panhandling. There are laws against panhandling, not against sitting and having conversations.” He looked at me for a moment, and started talking again, repeating his pitch and adding in new requests to keep it fresh.
“I got six hours of sleep in the last four days. Trying to sleep outside—I can’t do it. Can you give me $14 for a hotel room?”
“No, Roland, I can’t,” I said. "Have you tried some of the social service agencies?"
"They won’t give me money for a hotel room," he said. "No, probably not," I said, "but they can help you find a job, help you find a place to stay, help you find meals."
"I was just there at Christian Industrial League," he said. "They can’t help me."
“Honestly, Roland,” I said, “If Christian Industrial League can’t help you, then I can’t really help you much more than I have.”
“ Can you give me $7.50 for the train to Waukegan?” he pursued. “There’s a shelter there that’s safe.”
"No, I can’t, Roland."
“Will you pray with me? Do you believe in the ocean of forgiveness? I did some bad things when I was younger, went to prison…God forgives me, but society doesn’t,” he said. He held his hand out across the table for me to hold it. I took it, feeling a bit foolish, a bit embarrassed, a bit trapped. But also? I believe in prayer, and if you can’t pray with homeless guy, then what good does believing in prayer do?
“I’m not sure what you mean by ‘ocean of forgiveness,’” I said, “But I do believe in prayer. Do you want me to pray for you?”
“You pray, then I’ll pray,” he said. So I prayed a short prayer, asking God’s blessing on Roland, asking God to help him find shelter, find work, and stay safe. Then Roland prayed a long prayer filled with fragments of Bible verses and pleas to the Almighty to put his hand on us and bless us. I think Jesus might understand my feeling of relief when the prayer meeting was finally over.
I turned back to my laptop, but Roland wasn’t done. “Are you sure you can’t help me out with $14 for a hotel room? he said. “I’ve only slept six hours…”
“No, Roland,” I said, “I really can’t help you any more. I’m sorry, but I can’t.” He looked me in the eyes, and I looked back. Finally, he turned away. He sat at my table for another couple of minutes, while I started to write this story; and then he walked over to another table and asked a guy for money. The guy brushed him off, as I’m sure 99 percent of people do.
And that’s just Day One!