Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Query

This is a different post for me this week. I usually write about some of the cool places I've visited during the week or write about natural and human history entwined. But not today. I am grounded from hiking due to a little health issue, no big deal, just disappointed I can't leave the house. It is International Peace Day and a big Climate March is happening all around the world. Aside from watching Twitter and Facebook to see what everyone else is doing to participate in one or both, I settled in for weeding the garden. Some thinking time, some praying time. It's been a different week.

I was called to do jury duty this week and appeared at the courthouse to join a line of 155 people waiting with summons in hand at the candidate intake room. A staff person came out and said "This will not be the usual process. We ask for your patience. You will be be here until you are invited to leave." By noon I had filled out two interview sheets (name, date, vital info) and a 37 page questionnaire. The first question asked if I had any religious beliefs that would prevent me from deciding in a death penalty case. I was aware of the rest of the room, everyone opening their packets at their tables and getting to the first page at about the same time as me. Some people gasped. The court officer asked for silence. I felt like a fish in a big school of bigger fish in a small dying pond, trying to come to the surface to breathe air. I responded to every question truthfully and thoughtfully, though some people simply dashed off quick answers so they could get in line for the initial interview, in hopes of getting dismissed. I finished near the end of the time allowed - two hours. And turned in my packet. I was directed to a room. I was asked not to share anymore information about the case, and I won't do so here. But the interview was serious, and the team read every response I had given in my packet, even reading aloud so the others could listen. I sat and waited while they read. 

Finally the judge put down my packet and looked at the team. Then back at me. "How many grandchildren do you have?" he asked. I answered. He asked "Why, if you are really a Quaker, did you serve in law enforcement? You carried a gun? You could have killed someone with it. And yet you claim nonviolence." I answered that I believed my role was to protect and defend - that to our natural resources and the laws that protect all living things, including people - was my service." He looked down, back at the team, then back at me. "Could you serve on this case and make the decision to sentence a man to death?" I answered, truthfully, and thoughtfully - as I had in the questionnaire - that I could not.  He nodded. Then sent me out to join a group that had been asked back in a few days.  There were about twenty five people in the room. I don't know if there were other groups, or where the other 125 people went.

I was told that I will have an opportunity to petition during final selections.  But why was I placed here?  Was it because I don't watch TV and have had no media influence or familiarity with the story? Or was it my long-ish response to the question about  bearing witness to gun violence? Or just that I took the time to think about every answer I gave? In any case, I prayed while weeding the garden this morning. 

I prayed for the family of the victim. I prayed for the victim. I prayed for the killer. I prayed for the family of the killer. I prayed for the attorneys and the judge. I prayed for the jury, whomever they might be.  I prayed I would find clarity to engage the team honestly this week. I was so focused on my thoughts that I didn't even feel the thorn that ripped my finger open. I was back in the house before I realized I'd left a blood trail. There was blood on my pants, drops on my boot, across on the porch, in the kitchen. In a way, I thought as I cleaned up the trail of blood and washed the wound, we all sit on a jury, we are all the accused, we are all the victims.

Today people are marching in NYC and in cities all over the world to bring attention to the state of our our planet. We are all complicit in its dying. As a human society we've made the decision to condemn it to death through our greed, our ignorance, and our apathy. What if everyone on the planet had to think about this decision as seriously as a Quaker being asked to serve in a capital murder case? Would there even be a death sentence for the planet if we could all just think and pray deeply about our next steps? Surely the planet has done nothing but give us its incredible bounty whenever and wherever we seek it: food, air to breath, fish from the seas, water to drink, raw resources to make our things, forests to build our shelters, stone to build our roads and churches. But we've been slowly (well not so slowly now, with accelerated effects of climate change on our doorstep) marking time as we march down a road that has no return. We can only go forward. 

Earth has been sending us plenty of signals that something is not right, for quite some time. Like a small child raised in a family of violence who knows no other way forward in life than to lash out, argue, beat his own children, and commit the most severe of all acts upon them - to maim and kill, we have been oblivious to the the planet's cries, and now its shouts, that something needs to stop. We all need to stop and look at the insane world we've inherited from our parents, from society, and consider the world we leave our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. We do violence to our home, to the mother that feeds us and cares for us, and she cries for the abuse to end. What message will we send home to her from our own prisons of selfishness? Will we ask forgiveness? Will we ask her to stop crying? Will we assure her that we'll work on making it better. It won't be easy. And we can't go back.

Photo by Coreen Evans Weilminster

When I had finished with my interview, I was shown to a smaller room where I was the last of twenty five people who had been asked to wait for further instructions. My attention was drawn to a woman sitting in the corner by a window where the shades were permanently drawn. No one could see in and no one could see out, just a sunny glow of light filtering into the room.  Her head was bowed and her lips were moving as if in prayer. Everyone was still and quiet. 

The judge came in and asked if we had any questions. The woman looked up and said "I will serve if asked, and do the best I can, but  we will have the opportunity to petition our inclusion in this case, is that correct?" He sat on the corner of a table and bowed his head. "Yes, as I said in the interview. You will have the opportunity next week to petition before final jury selection is made. We do not take this lightly. This is as serious as it gets and we want you to know we will honor your petition." He looked straight at me then back at her. "I know there are a few of you who would like that opportunity and we will honor it." 

Over the summer my granddaughter and I went storm chasing. It was her first chase and we ended up in the parking lot of a nearby grocery store along with others who had been following an enormous storm front blasting through our area. The storm was wild. It spawned a tornado five miles to the east, but here in the lashing rain and tearing winds, in the safety of the car, we laughed and cheered for bolts of lightening and the great enormous wall cloud that rose before our eyes. "Oh Grandmom! This is great! This is so great!" she exclaimed. Afterward an arc of brilliant color and light blazed across the sky. Onlookers in their cars, like us, were out snapping pictures and enjoying the gentle wash of showers that followed the storm. The storm in its fury and beauty made us pay attention, open our eyes, and consider it's potential. People rushing in and out of the grocery store stopped and gawked. Fellow storm chasers applauded the sky as if a great performance had just ended - and well it had. My granddaughter, caught up in the excitement jumped and hopped, clapped her hands with the crowd. 

I want my children, all grown up now, and my growing flock of grandchildren, to have many more experiences like this and that they remember our hikes, canoe trips, birdwatching and whale watching expeditions, star watching, mountain climbing, and storm chasing with a growing sense of commitment to protecting and sharing the natural world with their own children and grandchildren. But what will it take to make sure this can happen for them?  How often are we asked to think deeply, even pray, about our next steps as stewards, protectors, grandmothers and grandfathers, and citizens? How often are we asked to love what sometimes cannot be loved by everyone? That is the hard part. We aren't asked very often, and sometimes we miss the invitation to do so.

How can we love a storm, even after it has caused damage, sometimes so severe as to have caused us harm? Surely we love it for the message of power and fury it carries, but too, for the opportunity it give us to clean up, make things right again, and to grieve, if grieving is necessary, for things lost or destroyed. Learning the way of peace is so much harder than the way of war. Anger is easy. Seeing through the anger on our way to love is the hardest journey we will take. We have been messaged throughout our time here on Earth to choose love. The turn of seasons, the beauty of the sea, a child's laughter, the glint of sunlight in the eye of a bird, the longing for acceptance in the eyes of an outcast, even - and I am not reading into this too deeply - in the bow of a judge's head. 

In the tradition of the query, I ask myself in what ways do I petition for love, above all else? Can I petition for the life of a condemned man as I would for a condemned planet? Will those who march today for peace or  planet be able to, when presented with the most serious of decisions to make, choose love, forgiveness, and compassion over everything else? 

In Peace,

A Friend.

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