Friday, March 30, 2007

The Summons

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.


Mary Poppins NOT said...

Well, it seems to me you handled the parking situation as well as you could. Polite but not a push over. That is, I believe, true meekness, and as we know, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

Kristen Laurence said...

What a great post, Suzanne! Prayers for the Mother of Twins. Perhaps she was suffering from post-partum depression? Found out her husband was cheating on her??Sad nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Hi Suzanne,
I think it is neat that you were assertive with this woman, yet you did not meet her at the level on which she was operating.

Recently I drove to Fairy Tale Town here & it was packed. I circled round & round for what seemed like an interminable length of time. Then, I found someone who was leaving & waited for them to back out.

A woman came around the corner just then & I pulled ahead a bit, indicating that I had been waiting for that space. She looked right at me. And, when the driver backed out, she finessed her way into that space.

I felt infuriated. All of a sudden, a driver right across from her backed out, giving me a place to park. I took that space, turned off the car & sat there, to calm down. I wanted to see this woman get out of her car, just wanted to see what she looked like.

Well, we both sat in our cars. She did not get out. I calmed down, drank some water & then was ready to go in to Fairy Tale Town. As I walked in that direction, she still did not move from that car, although she had the driver's door ajar.

I realized she was very likely afraid to get out, for fear that she would be the recipient of incivility from me; as she knew very well I was not only waiting for that space, but I had motioned that intention to her.

As I left the scene, I too thought about this. I came away with the thought: people like this have to live with themselves. I encountered her for a few minutes, and it was most unpleasant. She has to live with herself, 24/7. How sad. Yes, she got the space. But look what else she has, within.

I tried to think of what it would be like, had I done what she had done. It was not pleasant, imagining either being that selfish or, after the fact, feeling guilty & afraid to even get out of my car.

The knowledge that I kept my mouth shut (I would not have been as cool as you, had I spoken with her ;-) &, in so doing, she got to bear the weight of her own behavior, told me that integrity is a thing of the heart: no one else sees, but we register, inside, what kind of people we really are.

That was enough to help me let go of it and enjoy Fairy Tale Town. :)

Johane said...

Another growing experience, that gives us thought as well. Thank you Suzanne.

mel said...

Wow, what a snotty person! You handled it well though. :) And consider yourself blessed to get out of jury duty. I think you have ample reason, don't get me wrong, but around here I have yet to hear of a homeschooling mom get out of jury duty- a friend of mine even had her husband gone on a business trip for that time period and they still said she had to come.

Carrie said...

very insightful and I am impressed with your self control. I am always amazed at how easy it is for strangers to place themselves and their needs over others. After enough times of being cut in line told to move over or having my spots stolen I have to pray for the grace to see Christ in them and be so calm.

forget me not said...

The same thing happened to me just before Christmas, when I was parking to go to confession (in a small city in Italy, a church with no parking lot). I found another spot too, right away, but I was upset by how angry I felt inside.
I think you did the best thing possible. When the roman soldier slapped Jesus in the face, He did not turn the other cheek. He asked him why He did it. That is what it means to be meek.

James said...

Mrs. Temple,

I certainly appreciate your frustration over the parking situation. God teaches us big lessons in small situations, n'cest pa?

In regard to your jury summons, something that you might consider doing, which is perfectly legal and permissible, is to call and ask for your summons to be delayed until the summer. I don't know if the homeschool continues during the summer, but if not it removes the issue of the children losing out on education. This helps to effectively separate the issues and equalize things. The burden at stake then is no different than the burden faced by any mother spending the summer at home with her kids.

As to the issue of childcare, while it is a legitimate concern, you should call the court and see if they will reimburse you for the expense. I know that they reimburse mileage. It wouldn't suprise me if they reimburse childcare. Now being called to participate in voir dire, does not necessarily mean that you will serve on a jury. I delayed my jury summons to 23 December 2004. No one in the jury pool was called in for voir dire, and so we were all sent home at 2:30. You are more likely to serve your day and go home than to be called for a case, especially one lasting more than a week.

Which court were you called up for? Was it the civil court, the criminal court, or federal court? I know that the first impulse is to be annoyed, but jury duty is very important civil duty. It truly is owed to the state, in justice, in return for the benefits of citizenship.

It is very good to see this reflection. One of the perils for many traditionalist Catholics is thinking that the world should be handed to them on a silver platter because of the burdens they carry for the sake of the faith.

This was a concern that one of my friends often expressed. To give you a simple example- when I was living in St. Louis, there would always be a coffee hour at St. Francis de Sales after the Missa Solemnis. Many Catholic families who attended would not even put one dollar in the donation basket- but freely eat the donuts and coffee. My friend who organized the coffee hour remarked that its not like extrordinary giving is necessary- if people put in fifty cents for each donut they ate, it would break even. The problem is that some of these people forgot that in justice they should provide a modest recompense, even if it is only one dollar in return for the benefit of the coffee hour. Even a traditionalist Catholic can be taken in by consequetialism if he isn't careful. The means from A to B must always be a just and proper means. The above-mentioned situation particularly aggrieved me because I was a student living on loans that truly made a pauper of me.

So it meant a lot to me to see this essay. It appears that through the unjust conduct of the woman in the parking lot, you have come to a better understanding of true equality, the equality before God that St. Paul writes about. For the way of the cross is truly the way of humility.

Christ's peace be with you.

James B. from Enfield

Suzanne Temple said...

Thank you james, but you must have misunderstood what I was saying. I was excused from jury duty by the court when they received my letter. They happened to judge my circumstances as sufficient to be excused. I see from above comments that this isn't always the case, but it happened this way for me. I do believe it was the correct judgement as well. It isn't so much the cost of childcare, as the fact that I honestly do not who could watch my children during school hours. All our caregivers are in school themselves at that time. Summer may have been one solution, but I was not required to come.

The point still stands, however, that my observation of another woman using her children to get out of acting justly caused me to look at myself and my motives more closely. Having a large family and living the faith most certainly do not excuse us from acting with justice and charity toward others.

Anonymous said...

Another thought-filled post! It can be difficult at times to not be rattled and negatively affected by the actions and behavior of others. I enjoyed the words from your college spiritual interesting way of looking at reaching heaven.


Karen E. said...

A wonderful post, Suzanne!

Mia said...

Amen for that post. People have gone crazy these days. Hardly anything such as common courtesy, plain 'ole politeness.. not much of that around these days.

Good for you for letting her "notice" her behavior.. maybe not right that minute, but let's hope she thought about it later.

James B. said...

Mrs. Temple,

I hadn't realized that the court got back to you. That's key, you aren't off the hook until they reply. Make sure that you keep your discharge notice on file for three years, so that you don't have to through this again.

I do think that the difference between your situation and the parking lot involved the fact that you appealed to a just authority seeking the benefits of distributive justice was granted it by the court.

You should try to serve on a jury when you are capable of doing so- it is an important civil duty and one of the liberties our forebears wanted to secure.

I hope you have a very holy Triduum. Please keep me in your prayers and I too will pray for your family.

James B. from Enfield

Suzanne Temple said...

Thank you james, for your advice, kind words, and wishes. I will be sure to say a prayer for you.

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