Finding Civility

As anyone who has ever been summoned to jury duty knows, democracy takes patience. I am seated at King County Superior Court in Seattle, and our primary job, it would seem, is to sit and wait. Sit and wait all morning, breaking for coffee, dismissed for lunch, then coming back and waiting most of the afternoon as well. We are in the hundreds, seated in the Juror Assembly Room, simply waiting to be called for jury selection. Everyone was randomly selected, few are called, and among those that are, even fewer will actually serve on jury.

Everyone here is resourceful. We all brought books, laptops, or papers. The man next to me is grading his students’ essays. Before settling into my book I browse the magazines available and find a couple possible paint colors for the sky blue ceiling I want to do in our dining room. One is Benjamin Moore’s “Northern Air,” and the other, “Borrowed Light” by Farrow & Ball. It occurs to me that I might like the job of naming colors. Some of the magazines are rather dated. Finding a few recipes to save for next summer: an elderflower-wine cocktail, bruschetta with strawberries and tomatoes, and a peach galette I could make at this time of year with apples, I tore these two pages out without thinking, tucked them in my purse, and thought oh god, I’m busted. How could I have been so foolish, stealing pages in a building that must be loaded with security cameras? I waited for my arrest, but nothing happened.

Everyone is infinitely patient. Our chairs are comfortable and we are free to move about—there are refreshments and restrooms, and perhaps it was the security we passed through at the entrance to the building, but the jury duty experience is reminiscent of airports. That’s it, I am struck by the civility.

I especially find that from the air when I am flying. The impeccable maintenance of farm fields, the beauty of every city at night, and on a recent red-eye to Boston, I was even impressed by all the early commuters. The way the little cars with beaming headlights merged onto highways, keeping their space, maintaining the same speed. It all seemed to function like an ant colony. Sometimes we put all our emphasis on the number of people unemployed, but from this vantage point I saw only the number of people who were going to work, so peacefully and orderly, at such a dark and early hour. Unsung heroes all. Oftentimes we call attention to what is broken, but again, everything looked to be moving along so well. (I realize, of course, accidents happen, but in that time of observation I thought it remarkable how many do not).

Just as the world appeared so extraordinarily civilized at a distance, so too does it up close today in the Juror Assembly Room, King County Superior Court. I just want to note that.

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