You be the judge

On December 1 of 2016, I joined in with a que of people getting their foreheads stamped ‘Bad Mood’ as I shuffled into the city courthouse assembly hall praying to be exempt while serving Jury Duty. Random people slowly would get up, purposely look at all of us pathetic non-exemptees still seated, and smirk while they got their special wet wipe to clean the “bad mood” stamp off their foreheads. They received their check-mark that they fulfilled their duty, and left to go on with their day.

I did not get off so easy. I was voir dired  and accepted for a civil case which would begin Dec. 7 and anticipated until Dec. 15!

HA!

I celebrate and put on the production called Christmas with 16 people anticipated to come stay at my house for the holidays. Is that not a good enough exemption?

They did not even take that bait. 

The day of the trial we were walked through special locked doors by the judge’s  clerk who would be our “lock and key” for the time we were there. We were taken up to the seventh floor and then locked into a room with a table, chairs, a view of buildings and two bathrooms. The jury sat in silence staring at phones. We were not allowed to speak about anything to each other, so at first we did not. I, of course, pulled out treats to share because I am a mother and that is what we do when there is a gathering…(I promise I did not pull out my  signature sugar cookies decorated with sprinkles at this time just “safe” clementines that could go through the metal detectors with out freaking everyone out.)

The trial began. Eight of us listened carefully the first day to the Plaintiff Attorney present the reasoning behind the case. We examined the plaintiff closely and watched her every move. The defendant attorney the same. All the people she brought were closely seated and perfectly dressed.

As we watched we did what normal human people do.

We began to judge and critique. We looked at hair styles. We looked at clothes. We watched how people would talk with their hands, or look down, or speak softly or assertive. We began to dislike some of the witnesses while like others. We began to question and wonder and ask ourselves why. All done privately within our own minds.

We would walk back and forth from the court room to the jury room to the court room to the jury room without speaking a word to each other about anything involving the case.

And then deliberations began and two jurors were dismissed. The six of us could finally break the silence.

We tentatively voiced our opinions. Some said yes for the plaintiff some said no. Women against men; at first. We talked and evaluated and tried to recall all the information given for support and for defense. We disagreed often. We agreed sometimes. We allowed everyone to speak. Always gave respect even if opinions did not match. This went on and on and on for days.

Then, a very unique thing began to happen between us. We began to feel weighted down by this taken-for-granted job called “jury.”  We began to understand the severity of this huge responsibility that we did not plan for.This was not a social event sharing cupcakes; which we did. We were making a decision about peoples lives. All this was up to what we said! What we decided would directly affect an outcome that would be costly and challenging and personal.

WE WERE THE JUDGES. (*gulp)

And all of a sudden we stopped talking so much. We were pensive and careful. Our casual judgments and critiques became more thoughtful. We got along better. We were sensitive when emotional outbursts arose. We respected opinions even if we were not all in sync. We really really examined as best as we could. And then we tried to make the right choice which we would all agree. This is not easy. But we still all felt terribly anxious. After the verdict was given, the judge came in to speak with us in the jury room and allowed us to ask questions. He acknowledged and understood personally the magnitude of the position we held and how we were feeling.

The outcome is not important. What is clear to me is being a judge is sensitive business.  We often judge quickly without thinking carefully. At least I do.

I learned a lot with jury duty and I have to say I came away with new eyes.  I have a whole new respect for the judicial system in this country. It is a huge responsibility to judge another human being.

I feel none of us is truly qualified.

Out with the old…

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Yesterday I walked out of this cancer center for the last time. It will be emptied out and boarded up in two weeks. There is a brand new top-of-the line modern  cancer facility sparkling clean and ready on the other side of the hospital which has been in the works for years. “Good riddance.” my husband commented last night when I told him about the change. “That place was a dive.”

Yep, it really was.

But I still felt sad.

This was the place I came that dark day when I met my oncologist for the first time.

That automatic sliding door I walked through, I don’t even know how many times. I stretch my arm out and point to the door like I had magic powers and the door would open.

It opened every single time.

I lived through a plethora of emotions and ailments walking through the walls of this old place;

anger, terror, sorrow, fatigue, exhaustion, elation,…aches and pains, bandages, nausea, hair loss, strange illnesses, low white blood counts, radiated, and so many I can’t even list…

I sat behind the curved windows in those green chemo chairs wishing and pleading this was a nightmare that I would someday wake from.

I never did wake up.

It was real.

I met people who had real courage.

Some lived long.

Some lived short.

But we lived facing cancer.

Yesterday I began reminiscing to an infusion nurse as I completed my appointment. We both began to get teary eyed.

I pointed one last time at the automatic door to magically open for me. It made that whoosh sound and a blast of New England winter air filled my lungs. I stood there looking at my cancer center.

The one which held my story.

I hated it.

I loved it.

When my car was retrieved from valet I got in, turned the corner and sped away. I pretty much cried on my way home every single time I left that building.

Today I cried one last time because it grew to be my familiar cancer home with my cancer family there.

They will still be there when I come back.

But not where my story began…

Change is good.

 

 

Story #21: Mystery Box

The box’s postage was stamped and canceled but we could not see where it had been sent. There was no return address and it was addressed to Travis, our middle son. It was far before things were bought on the Internet. We set it under our Christmas tree, thinking it was from a grandparent and the sender would be revealed when we opened it. We lived far from family because we had just moved cross country.

On Christmas morning we gave Travis the honor of helping cut open “his box.” When he opened it there were many smaller wrapped gifts inside which all had a tag written, ‘To Travis.’ All the gifts were exactly what a seven year old boy would want. We let him open every single one. I looked at my husband at each gift and he looked at me as if the other one did this without the other knowing. We would shrug with every single gift and look under and around and over each paper, each bow, each tag to see if the mystery giver was revealed.

To this very day we never found out who the mystery giver was. We believe that it was from the Big Man from the North Pole. We don’t really know why our little boy was singled out that year. Perhaps he needed some special treatment we were not privy to. Perhaps he wished for his very own package, one quiet night sharing a bedroom with three other brothers because being in the middle of a family of five siblings is not easy. Whoever it was it did the trick.

He has never forgotten.

Christmas magic is real.

Thank you Santa for allowing the ‘middle man’ be the special boy that Christmas.

Story #20: Christmas in the woods

I had been pregnant sick for many months and my husband and I decided to get away from being so home bound so we decided to spend Christmas in a cabin in the mountains. We decided that we would not lag tons of presents and decorations because I still was not feeling well and could not exert a lot of energy. So we decided we would create a homemade Christmas once we got there. There were not a lot of people around so the Christmas pace slowed nearly to a standstill which felt strange. With only the forest and snow around there was not much commercialism. My husband took our two children in the woods behind the house and cut down a small pine tree and brought it inside to decorate. They loved the adventure of finding it in the snow. We used tin foil, paper chains, and popcorn to decorate. We ended up buying a small strand of lights at the grocery store so it would light up when the other lights were off. It was snowy and cold but we built fires and played games all snug inside the cabin. Santa found us in the woods that year. The children were worried. But he managed still to do it. There was nothing fancy about it. But that little Christmas is so fond to me.

Nearly 20 years later we chose to do a 2nd Christmas in the mountains. Our family had grown substantially being teens and above. When we got there we bought a little tree at a nearby tree lot but once again created homemade decorations out of foil, popcorn and paper chains. Our children were game when I got out string and glue to help make the cabin festive. Once again there was a calm pace at the cabin during the quiet wintertime. Santa once again found us in the woods. He manages to do so.

I love Christmas at home. But when I begin to feel that anxious panic during the holidays stuck in traffic, forgetting or worrying that I won’t be able to find the right gifts, preparing lots of food,  getting the wrapping done in time, or trying my best to uphold the Christmas atmosphere… I like to calm myself by thinking about Christmas in the middle of the mountains all wintry quiet celebrating Jesus’ birth with those I love most.

Story #18: The Christmas Guitar

The young musician showed me several guitars he would like if someone would give him one for Christmas. It was my very first official Guitar Center purchase alone. At first we looked up at all the pretty guitars hanging in rows on a wall. He then would select one down, hold it tenderly as if it were a baby, then play for me. His passion for music and this medium was flowing out through his fingers. I stayed in the store for many hours trying to pick the right one.

 I had been watching my son for awhile. He experiences music. Many people practice and learn songs and get very good but there are a few others that feel music in an intimate way and it truly is another language for their souls. I knew this son had to have this gift and that it was up to me to notify Santa Claus which one he should have. I had my own little stash of money that I had saved for the purchase. I purchased one that sounded rich and clear. I was so excited.  It was one of those gifts that I could barely stand the wait and wanted to tell him so badly. I hid it for Santa. Christmas morning came. He didn’t say much when he took it out of the case. But he touched that guitar exactly like the musician who showed  it to me at the store. And I knew exactly what he felt about it.

Young musicians at Guitar Center are now my good friends. All of my children have discovered over the years that music is one of their love languages.  Guitars, drums, violins, key boards, pianos and even voices are a rich part of our life. As an artist mother my heart swells to see how the arts have become a part of my children by their own choices. Purchasing that guitar was one of the best gifts I ever have ever given. 

Story 17: HO HO HO…NOT!

The car air was now a stale mix of daddy and child toots, Mc Donald’s stale French fries from lunch, and a slight aroma of vomit as we neared our sixth hour of driving Highway 5 from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. We were having Christmas at Grandma’s but the excitement had dimmed around Harris Ranch Area when we had to distract one of our young passengers who up-chucks when he smells cow manure. By the way the distraction rarely works! And once he does it becomes a chain reaction.

We were on our fourth Disney video and nearing the turn off to Highway 680 when our car jerked weird, pulled to the left and began to swivel and shake pretty hard. My husband didn’t curse out loud but I heard him whisper something and luckily we were in the right lane for a pretty easy pull over. He got out and held on tight as the fury of 70 miles per hour traffic tried to grab and take him along to their own destinations. He walked back to see the flat tire now resting on the rim.

It was dark. The San Francisco fog had already moved in for the night. It was years before people used cell phones. And we were fifteen minutes from our destination with five children very done with driving. There were secret Santa gifts, Christmas presents, diapers, suit cases, food stuffed in every corner and now we were stopped dead and knew we would have to unload.  We both gave each other that “you’ve got to be kidding” look then got out and began to unload the back of the van to find the spare.

I did the unpardonable sin by asking “Have you ever changed a flat tire before?” But that thought poofed when drivers began to honk seeing wrapped Christmas presents strewn in the dead grass next to the Highway spotlighted with their mocking head lights. It was so infuriating! We were good at not raising our fingers or screaming out at each honk that held each time as the car swept by…’Hhhhhuuuunnnnkkkk!’  

But we’d hit our limit. It was best to leave my husband alone with the jack, and pour substitute of a tire that was supposed to carry us the rest of the way. “Should we pray on it?” I asked him, before I got back in the car. At least there was a tire there, right?

The children wanted out. I tried to offer more fishy crackers and fruit roll ups which had worked as fun treats on hour two but were not doing the trick. Legs were hitting the seats, tears, whining, and that was just from me…

The tire got changed and the back of the van was no longer perfect puzzle packed like we praise when my husband completes the task in the beginning. We all held presents on our laps for the last lap. I wish I could say the story ended with some Christmas angel coming to our rescue, scooping us up and flying us to our destination or bringing hot chocolate and singing but people just honked and laughed in their own warm cars as they sped past.

We haven’t really laughed about this experience yet and it has been years.

Not all Christmas stories are happy-ever-afters. In fact some feel so sickening sweet we get tired of hearing as if we ate a full chocolate cake and now feel sick.

But I believe we blame Christmas sometimes, when we aren’t enjoying it.

 It seems the world is having so much fun all around us and we are not included or we feel so miserable we don’t want to be included.

But Christmas is not the problem it is really the solution to what we need in those not so funny times. You see Christmas spirit is really a commodity that our spirits and souls desperately need and I believe it is THE emotional fill up of our souls that we ration all year until it comes again.

We need it.

Because what I have realized is that all people everywhere are similar.

And the real Christmas spirit is only based on one word; LOVE.

We all need it.

We all want it.

And we all feel good when we are around it.

And that is what Christmas is trying to do.

God gave His son out of LOVE and I think we want God to stretch his arms around us individually and around all human kind and love us in this moment.

And Christmas is trying its best to do just that…

So Fill up!

WE NEED A LITTLE CHRISTMAS

Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now

For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
Candles in the window
Carols at the spinet

Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
It hasn’t snowed a single flurry
But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry

So climb down the chimney
Turn on the brightest string of light I’ve ever seen
Slice up the fruitcake
It’s time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough

For I’ve grown a little leaner
Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder
Grown a little older

And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder
I need a little Christmas now