Friday, March 30, 2007
I was recently called to jury duty. "What? I can't do this!" I exclaimed when I opened the letter. "How do I get out of this? Who do I call?" I looked over the list of exceptions and did not find there that homeschooling mothers of five boys are excused from their civic duties. I was horrified. I called the toll free number in the enclosed letter and explained my situation to the helpful assistant on the other end of the line. She gave me instructions to write a letter including the names and ages of all the children. I wrote it immediately and mailed it out that day.
The following weekend I decided to take a long trip to a favorite health food store. When I arrived, the parking lot was packed. After circling for nearly forty minutes, I finally saw a woman heading for her car and I followed her. She got in and started the car, but didn't seem to be in much of a hurry. I waited patiently with my blinker signaling that I would take her spot when she chose to move.
Just then, another car pulled up on the other side. The driver of this car put her blinker on as well, indicating that she had every intention of taking my spot. I waved at her and pointed out that I was waiting for this particular spot. She turned off her signal, but did not move. As the first woman backed out, the other quickly and shamelessly snuck in. I was taken aback and so was the first woman. She unrolled her window, "I backed out for you," she said, "Go tell her that!"
I did. Now, I don't like confrontation and I don't normally do this sort of thing, but sometimes rude people need to be told they are being rude. So, I walked calmly over to the parked car and tapped on the window. The driver unrolled it and stabbed me with a glare through heavily underlined eyes.
"Excuse me," I began, emotions completely in check (The only sign that the situation was at all stressful was a tingling, warmish sensation spreading down the back of my neck.) "But you saw that I was here before you and I had really been waiting for some time before you came." Her answer?
"I have twins and I have to carry them so I need this spot."
What? I have twins so I can do as I please? I have twins so I don't need to be considerate? Some example she'll be! I might have had more sympathy if she hadn't had a man with her to help carry one of the babies.
"I know what that's like," I responded in as sympathetic a tone as I could muster,"I have five young children."
"But not with you," she snapped back, "You're all alone, now. Go find a new spot."
I lingered longer, standing within view, as the Mother of Twins and the sheepish man at her side unbuckled the children and carried them into the store. I had hoped to make her uncomfortable in the very least, but I'm not sure I accomplished even that. I couldn't believe it. But there it was... and I couldn't do anything more about it. It wasn't illegal. She hadn't broken any laws but those unenforceable laws of common decency and consideration.
I did eventually find another parking spot and I enjoyed my shopping trip despite this incident. On the drive home, I thought about how that woman had used her children to demand special treatment. I was so horrified by the ugliness of her behavior that I searched my own conscience looking for anything similar, anxious to root it out and cast it away-- like an insect that had crawled into my clothing-- should I find anything remotely like it.
My first thought was my response to my summons to jury duty. Had I used my children to demand special treatment? I had been determined to get out of it, but this seemed justified. I thought it all out objectively: My husband could not take time off work for my summons. I would have had to find a sitter during school hours, which didn't seem very likely, AND there was also the added complication that it would have interfered with my children's school day. Certainly, all this seems like excessive burden and reason enough to be excused. Finally, that is how the court judged it also.
I laughed at myself. How funny that the selfish action of another had me looking over my own soul with horror-- picking at non-existant faults when I have plenty that do exist. But the faults and vices of others jar us and have a way of shaking us up. It isn't such a bad thing, I suppose, if it calls us to attention and makes us look more closely at ourselves.
My spiritual director in college always said that it's perfectly fine to "back up" into heaven. By this he meant that we may not see virtue so clearly or desire it the way we should, but if we are horrified by sin enough and back away from it...and back away again... eventually we will turn around to find that we've backed our way into heaven.