Come again another day. I mean I know you will, because it’s Georgia for fuck’s sake and apparently Georgia needs rain in order to survive. Why else would it rain EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. in the wintertime? What’s that? Gulf Stream weather patterns? No, I don’t believe you. I’m claiming ignorance on that one. Sticking on a red hat and saying, “But I’m cold, so Global Warming is just a liberal hoax.” Side note: Did you see that it was 70 degrees in Antartica the other day and the penguin babies had to roll around in mud to keep themselves cool?” No? Look.
Okay, I don’t feel so bad about the rain now, this baby penguin has it much worse.
Soooo, there’s a gorgeous Hindu temple in the middle of Georgia and we found it. No, seriously. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’ve lost my damn mind. But I swear, there’s a gorgeous Hindu temple in the middle of Georgia, right past a Home Depot. And we found it. Stay with me here, it’s a long sordid story full of grandmas, and shopping, and a trip to Cook-Out, but it ends with a gorgeous Hindu temple in the middle of Georgia, so it’s totes worth it.
It was last summer and my mom was in town visiting. She decided she wanted to go to Kohls to look around because #KohlsCash and #SeniorCitizens go together like Taylor Swift and shorty shorts. Some things are just meant to be, that’s all. So we headed to the nearest Kohls, which is like 20 minutes away. Along the way I caught a glimpse of something poking over some trees, just outside our city limits. Over yonder, as they say in Georgia, just past the Home Depot.
I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, just that it was something possibly grand, exquisite even, and that I would need to do some digging. But then my mom was all, “Is anybody hungry?” which is her way of telling us that she is hungry and we need to stop for food. Like now. (Side note: She also says things like, “Is anyone cold?” and “Does anyone have to pee so bad they think they might pee in their pants?” You know, things like that.) Anywho, Jerimiah pulled into a Cook-Out because honestly it was the first one we saw here in Georgia and having just moved from North Carolina it, well, it felt like home. If you don’t know about Cook-Out now you do. #Amazing
As we ate lunch at Cook-Out I Googled: “Big white temple looking thing in Lilburn, Georgia” and lo and behold the Google Goddess answered.
There is indeed a giant, gorgeous Hindu temple in the middle of Georgia. It’s in Lilburn, Georgia to be precise, but since Atlanta has the largest Metro area ever, it’s considered the Atlanta temple.
The temple itself was built strictly by volunteers on top of what used to be a skating rink. Volunteering is a cornerstone of the Hindu religion and it is known as Seva, or selfless volunteering. It took 1.3 million volunteers working two million (wo)man hours to complete the temple in a little over 17 months. It is made of three types of stone, Turkish Limestone, Italian marble, and Indian pink sandstone. That’s it. Just those three stones. According to their website more than 34,000 individual pieces were carved by hand in India, shipped to the USA and assembled in Lilburn like a giant 3-D puzzle in accordance with the ancient Hindu architecture scripture. I can feel you guys still think I’m a liar, liar pants on fire, so here’s a picture of Jackson standing in front of it in a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, which is fitting because this place is BIG! Like Disney BIG!
The Temple, or Mandir, is a place of worship for people who practice Hinduism. This particular Mandir is for people who practice Swaminarayan Hinduism and, although there are two million Mandirs globally, and 450 in the United States (with the most in Texas) the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Lilburn is the largest Mandir outside of India. Whew knew?!
Okay, so there we were back at Cook-Out and we were debating to stop by the Mandir after our trip to Kohls. I’m pretty sure my Mom had no idea what we were talking about and I was not pronouncing Swaminarayan correctly, but we decided since it was on the way home, why not? I think my Mom was still a little nervous, being a Baptist and all, but she went along with it. I bought her ice cream. Then helped her use her Kohls Cash, so it seemed fair for her not to complain.
When we got to the Mandir we weren’t sure where to go, or how to act, or what have you. I mean, we are not Hindu. We didn’t want to pretend to be. And I can honestly say that none of us have ever been to a sacred temple of any kind. Not our style (previously). So we drove very slowly in, thinking we might get asked to leave, but no, they waved at us, showed us where to park, and were all around very friendly. Though I think my Mom and Jackson were still a bit confused by the whole thing. Me? I was just in awe. This is the picture I took when we got out of the car.
A storm was rolling in and I think my Mom was both worried about her hair getting wet and about all the people who did not look like her. This was a lot for a 75-year-old from Kansas, but she didn’t say much. She just looked around, slowly climbed the steps, and stood in awe. I even caught her snapping a few pics, which may seem weird to some, but it is encouraged here. They worked hard on this building and they want you to take pictures. Of the outside, not the inside. Since it is a traditional Mandir the inside is a place of quiet and calm. A place reserved for meditation, prayer, and solitude. But in order to get inside you have to your legs covered, of which none of us did! But don’t worry, they are prepared for crazy, white people.
When we reached the top of the steps a man greeted us and asked if we wanted to go inside. We said, “Of course,” though again, I was the only one super sure about it, and he told us we’d have to cover our legs. He gave us all a long black piece of cloth, and we wrapped it around our legs like a skirt, then we were allowed to enter.
Inside was like something I had never seen before. There were beautiful carvings everywhere, and the room used for prayer and meditation was covered in marble and glass (all the floors are marble and you have to take off your shoes at the entrance too).
It was very quiet in there, as most of the visitors were praying. But upstairs there was a room not unlike the main floor of a cathedral. In fact, I was suddenly transported back to that time we spent an hour or so exploring St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. There were people worshipping in the middle of a large room, sit on the marble floor, and others walking all around the edges to visit statues of various deities in the Hindu faith, much like at St. Patrick’s and St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square in New Orleans. It was just that instead of the bust of Joan of Arc, there was a statue of Brahmaswarup Yogiji Maharaj. Same. Same.
I was totally drawn into the quiet of the place, like most churches I have been in. I like quiet, have I mentioned that? I’m a fan of quiet. Though I did feel rushed by my Mom who asked, “Does anyone have to pee?” and my son who was asking in very loud tones, “Why are they walking in circles around that statue?” (See postscript). I did not have an answer for him, but I did sense it was time for us to leave the inside. So we did. But I tell you what, I have plans to go back. Alone. And if you’re ever in Atlanta, maybe I suggest you check it out too? It really is a lovely place. The last picture is from the back of the Mandir. I made Jerimiah stop as we were driving out to take it. I mean, come on!
We were all impressed by the structure, and I think we all learned something that do too, though it may have been different things, we all learned something.
When we got home I posted some of the pics on FB and told people to get there if they are in the area. My Mom asked me to tag her in the pictures, so I did, and one of her “church friends” commented immediately that she “felt sorry that we were in an area that had a large Hindu population” and continued to display her accepting, Christian nature, by adding how disgraceful it is to worship more than one God and asking when Trump was going to send them all packing. Then she blessed us, I’m pretty sure, and my Mom said, “Oh, she’s crazy. Delete that comment.” And so I did.
PS… I have an answer for Jackson regarding his astute observation, “Why are they walking in circles?” It’s called circumambulating. Because Hindu temples are built where positive energy flows, the main idol is placed in the center of that gravitational force on a copper plate so it can beam the waves of positivity. People who practice Hindu believe that our energy is drained throughout the day (I hear that!) and when they visit the temple they are restored, particularly if they go to the main idol. Thus a person regularly visiting a temple and walking clockwise around the main idol receives the beamed magnetic waves and his body absorbs it.
In honor of Presidents’ Day, I’m going to take you on a long, sordid stroll down memory lane. When Jackson was four months old President Obama was sworn into office. We felt a great sense of relief that a man like Obama would represent our country, and we just knew he would be the sort of example we wanted for our child. Years later he was still the president when Jackson wrote the White House for advice on how to become the President of the United States one day. But first it started with a tornado, and a trip to the Mayor’s office.
When Jackson was in preschool he asked his first political questions. They came from a mind geared toward safety, like most things that consumed him at that time (and still do). We lived in Branson, Missouri at the time and at the start of 2012 a tornado hit “The Strip” in Branson, causing destruction to several attractions and theaters. It even destroyed Jerimiah’s office. We lived about five miles off “The Strip” and ended up sleeping through the whole thing, but abruptly at 6:00 am Jerimiah’s boss called to tell him not to come to work that day since their building was on the verge of collapse. Of course he did go to work, to help with the clean-up, and we went with him. This one event had a lasting impact on pre-k Jackson, who just a year before, had watched on the television as his PawPaw’s house was destroyed in the Joplin, Missouri Tornado of 2011. In short, he had some concerns.
All of this stewed in his mind for about a year before one day he walked downstairs and told me that he needed to talk to the Mayor of Branson about tornado safety. Of course I did what any mom would do to appease my four-year-old, I tweeted the Mayor. I told her about my son’s worry over the city’s storm readiness and asked if she would meet with him to discuss our severe weather plan. It was a shot in the dark, but it worked. She tweeted back moments later to say let’s meet up. For real. And two weeks later we were special guests in the Mayor’s office on a casual Friday. Here are the pics from the day we met Branson’s mayor Raeanne Presley.
This visit planted a seed in him, and he decided right then and there he would one day run for public office. We figured he would run for local office, as did the Mayor, so when she asked if he would like to be a mayor one day we were all surprised when he said, “Nah,” in his very adorable preschool voice. “I think I’ll be the president.”
The president, he explained, had much bigger problems to solve than severe weather readiness, on a much larger platform. And he knew he was better prepared for that road ahead. That’s when Jackson really dug his feet in, and for the next four years or so when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up it was either a police officer or the president. Nothing in between.
Fast forward to first grade. We’re sitting at our table in North Carolina one balmy November day eating chili. Jackson asked me if I thought President Obama liked chili. Because Jackson liked chili and he really wanted to be like President Obama. (Side note: Remember when we had a president our kids could look up to? Those were the days…) Anywho, I said I didn’t know, but suggested Jackson write him a letter and ask. (I really just wanted him to work on his handwriting and this seemed like a great excuse. I never thought anything would come of it.)
So we sat at the kitchen table, eating our chili, and I helped him sound out the words he was writing. He asked about chili, about the president’s dogs, about his kids, and advice on becoming a president like him. Then we stamped it, stuck it in the mailbox, and forgot all about it. Until months later when this arrived.
Jackson was less excited than I thought he would be, but later I realized it was because he always assumed the president would write back. I, on the other hand, figured it got lost in White House mail and that was that. So he was very casual as he opened the envelope, while Jerimiah and I stood behind him in excitement and anticipation. This was inside:
Now the letter is standard boiler plate, a-kid-sent-a-letter-stuff, but wow was he happy to hold it in his hands. He felt very proud and very important, which he has always felt, but I mean come on, a letter from the sitting president and President Obama no the less, our favorite, most awesome president ever! This was amazing. We celebrated. He shared with his class. People said to frame it. It was a big deal in our house.
The letter lit a fire under him like we’d never seen and he was suddenly very interested in the election process and the campaigning, and how it all worked. That was until 2016, when his world, and all of ours really, came crashing down.
As the results came in that night, and as we navigated the painful and pitiful months that followed, Jackson could be found crying at night because his friend Angel from Mexico might get “sent back.” Back to where, we didn’t know, since Angel was born in North Carolina, but his parents were not. It was sad and it was disheartening. Particularly when Jackson declared he no longer wanted to be the president. Suddenly the president he idolized was gone and in came this monster of a man who scared him. Gave him nightmares. Gave us all nightmares.
Jackson saw President Obama as an example, he knew he had what it takes to lead our country if he held his head high and was a class act like President Obama. If he cared. If he was honest and nice. If he went to a good school, maybe got a law degree, worked his way up in small steps. But when he saw how President Trump was elected. How people talked about him. How he treated people from different cultures and countries. How he scared people. How he talked about women. (We always told him the truth about Trump, and didn’t shield him from the sort of man he is.) How Trump used words like “retard” a word that has the worst sort of connotation in our house considering Jackson’s baby sister never made it full-term because of a brain “retardation.” Well, Jackson was done dreaming of becoming the president.
Jackson told me one day in third grade, “maybe politics isn’t what I thought it was…” and I had to agree with him. Because at that moment, and in the years that have followed, American politics has collapsed before our very eyes. There is not truth, no integrity, no bi-partisanship. There’s just anger, and fear, and hate. And it doesn’t suit a kid like mine.
So there you have it. The story of Jackson and the tornado and the Mayor and the President. I still hold out hope (like when we visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library last year and Jackson commented on what a “nice guy” he was) that Jackson might change his mind one day. And I still have faith that his generation will turn this sinking ship around, if we fail to do so. Maybe that’s the optimist in me. Or maybe I just have all the faith in my sweet, honest, hard-working, critical-thinking kid. Either way, I know he will do great things for his family, his community, his country, and his world. Even if it isn’t in the Oval Office. Because like President Obama said in his letter, “If you remember to give back to your community and chase your dreams with passion, I have confidence you will do big things…”
A few days ago I shared the story of my mom’s friend, Ruthie. She was one heck of a lady and I’m just now beginning to understand how lessons she taught me in my childhood have impacted who I am today. But Ruthie was married for 63 years to Ronnie, and though they were as different as full-flavored Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, they worked in a way that put others in awe. The day I shared about Ruthie (it took me months to write about her) I learned that Ronnie had passed away, and like after Ruth’s passing, the memories of Ronnie came flooding back, one in particular that I needed to share today.
It’s important to know that I didn’t have a father growing up. I have a father, as most of us do, but he was not part of my life. I was the product of a decade-long affair. My father had a wife, and three kids at home, so when I came along he ran scared away from my mother, and by association me. So as a child my idea of a father was loosely based on the other men in my life. On my sisters’ husbands, my Uncle Arthur (whose passing a few years ago still stings too much to deal with) and Ronnie Logan, Ruth’s husband and one of my mom’s closest friends.
Much like Ruth, I came to know Ronnie when he was much older. Ronnie was born in 1932 and I was born in 1981, so he was already an “old man” by the time I was 10 years old. Although 49 isn’t “old” to me anymore, back then it seemed like we were worlds apart. And we would have been, had he not been such a kind, gentle, lovely soul who invested in the people in his family, and for Ronnie his “family” was large. It stretched well beyond his sisters, and wife, and children. It stretched into the community, into his church life, and into my family as well.
When I was 10 years old, my mom and I were at home one early, summer evening and we got a frantic telephone call. I’m not sure who was on the other end. It could have been Ruthie, it could have been Debbie, one of their daughters and one of my mom’s best friends. But someone from the Logan family urgently called to tell my mother that Ronnie had been shot.
Leavenworth is a small town. And Ronnie and Ruth were well-known, though possibly for different reasons. Ronnie owned a drywall business, and he and his sons worked hard everyday hanging drywall, and painting, and doing whatever else they needed to do to get by. They weren’t rich, but any stretch of the imagination, but Ronnie was well-liked and respected in the community. So it came as a shock to hear that Ronnie had been shot by someone, and in the alley behind his own home, which was on the corner of a very busy intersection near downtown Leavenworth.
My mother and I hopped into her 1972 Dodge, and raced over to the house. By the time we got there, Ronnie was already at the hospital, but a few of the Logan clan were handing out in the back yard, discussing what had happened with the police. Ronnie’s truck was still parked, half in the grass, half in the alleyway, and his door was open. I walked as close as I could to the truck, wondering, scared, what Ronnie was going through at that moment. Worried, more than anything, that I would never see him again. There was blood on the bench seat. Tempers were high with the Logans. Emotions palpable. Neighbors were standing in the alley in disbelief in what they had just witnessed. The warm, summer sun was casting streaks of orange and pink down on the house at the corner of Fourth and Pine.
I was just a kid, so I can’t be too sure about the logistics of what had happened, though more was said in front of me than probably should have been said. I remember it was a neighbor who’d shot him. I remember the neighbor was drunked-up, and mad at no one in particular, just drunk and angry and waving a gun around. I remember there was a dog, maybe Ronnie was attacked by the dog first, maybe there was yelling, though it’s hard for me to imagine Ronnie yelling at anyone. I don’t remember the logistics, just the fear. If this could happen to Ronnie, this could happen to anyone in our community.
Ronnie ended up being fine. He was shot in the leg or arm, or some part of him that required very little medical attention, and he was in and then back out of the hospital. The neighbor was released from jail. I don’t know if Ronnie pressed charges, but I know the neighbor moved shortly after. One night, a few weeks later I was sitting on the front porch, listening to Ronnie discuss the incident with a friend, when he said something I never thought I’d hear someone who had just been shot say. He said, “Of course I forgive him.” My mouth went agape. How could you forgive someone who had shot you? I thought maybe I misheard. I went inside and told my mom. She smiled and said, “Well of course Ronnie forgives him. Ruthie, well, that’s another story. Go on outside and play now, no more eavesdropping.” And so I did.
Now here I am, 28 years later, still wondering about the capacity of forgiveness. Wondering how Ronnie was able to do it, and so quickly. Still in awe of the capacity of his humility and his heart. His generosity and his humbleness. Wishing I had inherited that from a man that wasn’t my father, but was the closest thing I ever had to one.
We hear a lot these days about people who have worked hard and made their way in this world, reaching back and helping others along. It’s a noble thing, and there is no nobler a man I can think of from my childhood, than Ronnie Logan. Ronnie was reaching back years ago, pulling up the downtrodden, helping in some small way, whether with a ride to wherever they were going, or a couple bucks for gas. What little Ronnie had, he came by honestly, and he was happy to share. Just as he was happy to share the word of God, always willing to pray for or with you, but always allowing you to come to your own conclusions in the end.
Ronnie’s steadfast, generous nature gave him another gift we should let his life teach us, the gift of forgiveness. He forgave the people who had wronged him in his life. He forgave the people who didn’t take his advice, the people he had to pick up, time and time again. And most importantly he forgave himself for mistakes that he made, and he learned to make amends. A feat I wish we all had the power to do.
Thank you, Ronnie for teaching me all that you did. I hope that wherever you are now, that you are happy, healthy, and playing the guitar for all those people you’ve helped, loved, and forgiven. Play on!
Today was another oppressive day of rain in Atlanta. I had some errands to run, and some dry cleaning and donations to drop off, so I piled up the car with all my errands and headed to grab Jackson. Jackson is released a little earlier than the other kids because he’s a “walker,” meaning we walk home most days, though as of late I can’t recall the last time we were able to walk home a full week. It’s a nice treat to get my kid before the chaos of carline, which we were used to at previous schools. On days when the weather is bad, I park in the school lot and walk up to the “walker” door to grab him. I’m usually the last parent there, because he’s usually the last kid to leave. He makes sure all the others get safely to their parents before he departs. Part of his “Safety Patrol” pledge.
Today I parked close to the school because of the rain. I decided to sneak up in front of the school so I could stay under the school’s awning for as long as I could before I headed to the walker door. As I hopped up onto the dry sidewalk in front of the school I noticed three young boys standing around the flag pole at the entrance, and recognized Jackson immediately. His favorite Under Armor coat on over a hoodie whose hood was shielding his head from the rain, and his black Nike glasses being pelted with the big, round droplets. I was surprised because he doesn’t have “Flag Duty” right now, so I was just about to call over to him and ask what he was doing when I noticed they were having some trouble.
There are two flags on the pole at Jackson’s school. On top is the US Flag, which is customary to have at all public schools, and just under that one flies a smaller white flag recognizing Jackson’s school as being part of the International Baccalaureate program (they are also a STEM Certified school from AvancED). An IB school, according to an article at Great Schools, was created in Switzerland in 1968 for students in international schools. Great Schools says that IB is now offered in 5,175 schools across 157 countries — with about 1,800 public and private schools in the U.S. IB has gained popularity for setting high standards and emphasizing creative and critical thinking. IB students are responsible for their own learning, choosing topics and devising their own projects, while teachers act more as supervisors or mentors than sources of facts. IB emphasizes research and encourages students to learn from their peers, with students actively critiquing one another’s work. Beyond preparing students for critical thinking and college-level work, the full IB program calls for students to express themselves through writing, requires community service, and aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.
Essentially these kids are learning to set themselves, and each other, up for success at problem solving, among of a myriad of other important lessons about life, culture, and critical thinking. The problem solving though, is a big topic for fifth graders. Problem solving on the fly, as well as researching and planning solutions to larger, global problems like world hunger, city infrastructure, and urban decay. I tell you all this so you understand what I saw yesterday in the rain. Two boys attempting to take down two soaking wet, tangled flags, relying on each other and their ability to problem solve, work through creative solutions, and recognizing when it was time to ask for help.
It wasn’t raining that morning, they would come to understand, when the morning safety patrol put the flags up. But it had started raining right after, which means it rained steadily on the flags all day. As the day waned on, the IB flag tangled itself into a knot at the clip that attaches to the cable that hoists the flags up and down. Which means, try as they might, they were only able to bring the flags halfway down, then they would stop.
One glance up at the flags told me that they were tangled, but I couldn’t see how from my vantage point. Later, I learned that within a few minutes of discovering a problem, one of the boys had bowed out, opting instead to stand under the awning in the rain and yell possible solutions to his friend. That’s when Jackson happened by the front door, was spotted, and his friend called to him. Essentially his buddy needed a little help and knew just who to ask. Great start to the problem-solving, knowing who can help.
As the rain beat down on Jackson and his friend, they tried, and tried, and tried to get the flag down. They shook the metal cable that hoisted the flags up and down, the tried to move the white flag around the flag pole to see if they could stand in a different spot to get it off, that’s when they saw the tangle and realized what had happened. All the while I silently watched under the dry awning, as did the Assistant Principal, who was between shuffling kids back and forth from the door and the line of busses. Neither her nor I ever stepped in to offer advice or assistance. Why would we? They didn’t ask, and they are fifth graders. IB model tells us both not to help quite yet. So instead we stand, me under the awning and her under an umbrella nearer to them, and we watch.
Several minutes go by. They have been able to get the flags down to their lowest point now by shaking the cables, which have dislodged a portion of the knot on the white flag. They hoist the two flags back up again, then quickly back down, assuming at this point that they have solved the problem. The get them almost within reach (so they can just unclip the flag) when boom! The cable is caught again.
The boys are apoplectic. Jackson slams his hands down to his sides, and his friend in a show of frustration throws his hands up in the air. They look at each other, then back toward the draining sky. They are cold, they are wet, they are out of ideas. That’s when they make eye contact with the Assistant Principal. She saunters over with her umbrella, pretending to have no idea what is happening. She says, “What’s up, guys?”
Jackson’s friend tells her that the white flag is tangled. Jackson adds, quickly, the various measures they have tried in solving the problem. She says something like, “That should have done it. Do you want me to try?” They shake their heads in tired agreement. She sticks the handle of her umbrella in the space between her chin and shoulder and goes to work on the cable, essentially doing the same thing the boys were doing, but with a mighty strength that only a Principal possesses. Her umbrella falls behind her. She ignores it, keeps going. Now she’s getting pelted in the face by the rain, and I think for a minute to run over and help, then I notice Jackson run behind her, grab her umbrella, and hold it over her head while she looks straight up to the sky.
Eventually she gets the flag untangled with her pure might, gives Jackson’s friend the cable, and we all watch as he lowers the flag. Jackson hands her back her umbrella and they say thank you. She smiles, and walks back to the busses.
I stand, sort of in awe of what I have just witnessed. The third boy is nowhere to be found, he’s abandoned his post years ago, and Jackson and his friend stand in the rain and fold each flag the correct way, then take them back inside.
Minutes later, as we are walking out to the car I ask him what happened. He relays the story about the friend who needed help with the flag, how the other boy chased him down in the hallway to help. Then he tells me about the knot. That’s when I say that I saw them eventually figure it out. He stops me and says, “No, it was Ms. Young who figured it out.”
“No,” I assure him, “it was you two who figured it out. Ms. Young just had the strength to do what needed done.” He smiled a little.
Both Jerimiah and I have been called to jury duty. Both times it was in the State of Missouri, and both times neither of us had to serve. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to. We understand the value of this particular civic duty, and would normally welcome the chance. It was just that, umm, well yeah, it was that we didn’t want to. For two very different reasons.
I was asked to serve first. On August 9th, 2011 I was served with a Federal Court summons to appear for jury duty for the State of Missouri. It was exactly five days after I found out that my daughter, the one I was carrying inside of me, had a chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 18. When I pulled the jury notice from my mailbox that evening, I had just came home from spending the afternoon crying in my doctor’s office while she explained that what I was about to go through was considered a “late-term abortion,” but insisting that she supported my decision. Until this point, it was the worst day of my life and I thought it couldn’t get any worse, then I opened the mailbox. I walked into the house, slammed my jury summons onto the counter and yelled to no one in particular, “Are you fucking kidding me?!”
It felt like the world was conspiring against me. Later that night while Jerimiah and I sat on the couch, a two-year-old Jackson taking his evening nap between us, we laughed for the first time in weeks. We laughed at how absurd it was that in this middle of this shit storm that we found ourselves in, that I was served with a jury summons. I don’t remember who started laughing first, but I know it felt really good.
The next day I called the State of Missouri and a curt woman on the phone informed me that it was a grand jury trial that I had been summoned to, and that I needed to be in Jeff City for the pre-trial hearings. That was the state capital, over two hours away. I asked the date, and the woman said the exact date I was expected to be in the hospital delivering my baby, who was the size of an avocado. I laughed. The State of Missouri did not. Rather, she told me that short of a “life or death situation” I was expected to be there. I told her that I was having a late-term abortion that day, did that count as life or death? Then the State of Missouri and I sat silently on the phone for several moments until she said, “A doctor’s note will do.”
Jerimiah’s summons came from Taney County, Missouri several months later, a coincidence we’ve always wondered about. Taney County was the place we had lived for nearly five years. The place our son was born. Where our daughter had died. The place, up until those last few months, that we thought we would always call home. He didn’t try to get out of it, couldn’t even if he wanted to. He didn’t have a “Get Out of Jury Duty Free” Card. He wasn’t an only parent. His job allowed him to be away. He wasn’t having a late-term abortion. So Jerimiah had to show up to for the jury selection, but he didn’t mind because he was actually a little intrigued by the whole process.
The day he had to show up for jury selection, we met that evening at the local McDonalds (the really clean one with the awesome playground) because Jackson had a playdate with his best buddy in the ball pit. While my friend and I discussed what our toddlers had been up to that week (they had both simultaneously, unbeknownst to each other, tried to eat dog poop the day before) we watched Jerimiah saunter into the play place, and I immediately knew something was wrong.
He sat down in the seat next to me and I asked what happened. I was afraid he’d been picked to serve and that he really didn’t want to. Too much going on at work, our new-ish desire to relocate, the very fresh loss of our daughter, there were a millions reasons why his mind or his heart probably wasn’t in a felony burglary trial or whatever it was.
Thats’ when he told us that he had been relieved of jury duty upon the defendant’s attorney telling the judge that Jerimiah, potential juror #8, had “made a face” when the account was read aloud. What kind of face did you make? I pressed, laughing a little, because he does show his emotions, even when he tries hard not to.
“I guess it was shock, or disgust, or…” he trailed off. He didn’t know what the face was, but at some point he was taken into the courtroom with 11 other people, placed in the jury box and told details of the case with the judge, the prosecuting attorney, and the defending attorney present. What was the case, my friend and I wanted to know. Jerimiah explained that the case was over an accusation that a 12-year-old girl made. I sucked in my breath. The girl was accusing her stepfather of repeatedly raping her over numerous years. And there it was, the face back on him. It was shock, and disgust, and well, it was anger. He had already made his mind up about the case. He was going to sentence the step-father to prison. To death, if possible.
We all sighed a long sigh. I put my hand on his arm in a comforting way, and he tried to smile, but hearing about that little girl, well that stung. It stayed with him for some time too, and obviously it has stayed with me, because here I am sharing it with you nine years later. The sadness. The cruelty. The insanity in this world. Sometimes it all feels like too much, even for the strongest of us.
Jerimiah and I were never called for jury duty in Missouri again. Likewise we were not called in North Carolina, and have yet to be called in Georgia, but I’m sure our time is coming again. And when it does we will answer our civic call. Until then, we will reflect on the other two times, and do our best to stay positive in a world that just makes it so damn hard sometimes.
It’s been one of those days. It’s raining. I’m late for everything, people have been rude. I’ve soaked in all the abuse I can take, and I’m behind in getting Jackson from school. I’m coasting through yellow lights, and taking questionable routes to make up time. I get over to the right lane too soon and bam, I’m stuck behind a bus. Now I’m still. Completely still, and surrounded by busy people trying to get where they’re going. I’m looking in front and behind for a way out, while the MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) slowly releases its brake pressure from the underside holding tank. My toes move up and down quickly in my shoes, my fingers start to tap the steering wheel, I check the clock. I’m three minutes give or take, from Jackson’s school. The bell has just rung. The traffic is building up behind me, and to the left of me. Contorted faces in the rearview mirror. Hand gestures. Exasperation. Yet the bus just continues to sit. From my vantage point I can see its door open, but no one is getting on or off. I inch up. Wonder what the hell is happening. Then I see her.
She’s probably eighty years old. She’s at least eighty years old. She’s in a long rain coat, one that’s seen better days. She’s wrestling an umbrella too big for her, and one of those wheeled carts, the kind that fold up, store neatly in a closet, or a pantry, or slide under a bed. It’s packed full of groceries in transparent plastic bags. I notice we were just at the same grocery store, but I didn’t see her. I eye the bags as she shuffles past my car. Coffee, milk, peanut butter, is that a cake mix? She’s shuffling, as fast as she can toward the bus stop. The bus driver has spotted her. I watch black shoes hop down to the curb, blue cargo pants.
The woman holds her hands out, as if to say stop, stop look at me, I’m coming as fast as I can. The driver touches her hands, puts them down in a comforting way, says something to her. I can’t hear what he says, because my windows are rolled up. In the warm, calm of my car I relax into my heated, leather seats. Subconsciously I lay a hand on my cage-free, brown eggs on the passenger seat. The driver puts one hand on her cart, the other he uses to steady her at her small, fragile elbow. My wipers swipe.
The cars behind me start to honk. Because it’s Atlanta, after all. I throw my hands up, to tell them they are out of line, but I don’t curse them. Because it’s Atlanta. The driver and the woman slowly make their way to the bus. I watch as her small blue shoes make their way up the steps. Then I see a space, watch the black shoes lean in, he’s putting her cart inside the bus. Then I see the black shoes step up the two steps. The door closes.
The bus inhales. Lifts a couple inches off the ground, and crawls forward a bit. I’ve already missed the light. We all have.