Good Citizen

When the jury duty summons comes.

Our mail almost always arrives after dark, and today is no exception.

My spouse walks into the room where I’m grading papers, holding an envelope and wearing a wry smile.

“It’s a good thing you’re sitting down.”

I put on my glasses to get a better view.

It’s not an envelope, but heavy paper folded in thirds, my name and address beneath a bold headline of just two words.

I’m not proud of my initial reaction: PURE DREAD.

At the same time, I’m pretty thrilled at the prospect of serving on a jury, particularly in civil court. I’ve just completed a semester of teaching selections from Seder Nezikin (Damages) to 10th-grade students in Advanced Jewish Law, and I was the one most enthusiastic about studying torts. The last time I was summoned I deferred because I was the primary caregiver of a child under 6 years of age. Now that same child drives us to school every morning…

…my excitement about serving on a jury dissolves; it’s quickly replaced by anxiety about serving in the spring. A civil trial could last several weeks. How will I generate lesson plans for substitute teachers for all the classes I’ll miss?! What if I’m sequestered during Passover?!

I take the summons to examine it more closely, and for a moment I lose my composure completely: FEBRUARY 15TH. The day after I return from the Rabbis Without Borders retreat, the day after I will have been absent from school for a full week.

My spouse is no longer smiling. He’s slowly shaking his head, and I know he’s about to say I have no choice. I nod my head in resignation and scan the rest of the page.

The summons directs me to fill out the juror’s questionnaire at the county court’s website, which takes approximately 10 minutes. I also enroll, at the court’s suggestion, in text message reminders. Finally, I log into the school’s email, inform the principal and her assistant that I’ve been summoned and submit a request for a day of paid leave. By this point in the process, I’m no longer cursing under my breath. Instead, I marvel at how technology has streamlined a once cumbersome system.

While entering the information from the summons, I noticed I’m in Group 8 of the jury pool. There’s a good chance I won’t be assigned to a jury. It’s reasonable to expect that when I call in the night before I’ll be excused without ever stepping foot in the courthouse. My initial dread and intermediate anxiety fade to disappointment at this realization.

This entire emotional journey was inspired by a piece of paper bearing two words that could also be read as CIVIC DUTY or COMMUNAL RESPONSIBILITY.

With my summons in hand, I think of two additional words and take them to heart, resolving to remain until February 15th, READY and WILLING.

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