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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Five Minute Conversations - JURY DUTY

I received my notice for jury duty and reported as required in the Spring of 2009 at the Morris County Courthouse, Morristown, NJ. Never having served before, I was really surprised at what a debilitatingly boring day it actually is. You enter the jury assembly room and sit. And sit. For hours. Occasionally someone from the County will come into the room and update the group about ongoing case negotiations, but for the most part you just sit with approximately 100 strangers, from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm with an hour break for lunch. By 10:30 am, the group starts to chatter from sheer boredom. Most conversations deal with “where are you from”, “is it your first time”, or everyone’s version of “how much I hate being here”.

At about 11:00 am I decided to go outside for a break. They’ve set it up so you don’t have to go back through security; you just go outside through a door in the jury room and enter a little fenced-in COURTyard (no pun intended). Apparently in the days when the old jail was attached to the courthouse, if you went outside you were warned about catcalls and whistles from the prisoners, but now they simply ask that you not smoke too close to the building if you're a smoker. At that moment, I was the only person in the courtyard with the exception of a Morris County employee who was taking a cigarette break. We started chatting and she told me that the county employees were informed that they’d be taking a furlough day once a month, without pay, a sign of our current economy. She was especially worried because she’s 62 years old, has been divorced for 12 years and is self-supporting. She was less worried about the loss of pay for the furlough day than she was about the effect it would have on her pension and social security since both are affected by the wages earned. She was also concerned that she’d actually have three more years of employment, which she’s counting on to support herself and supplement her savings.

I returned to the jury room and she returned to work, leaving me to ponder another of the many effects of the current recession or depression. Even people who don’t outright lose their jobs have altered lifestyles. We’ve all heard of employers making across the board 20 percent pay cuts to keep staff. A friend’s daughter in Connecticut works for a newspaper and the employees are being asked to take non-paid vacation of at least a week in duration because ad revenue is diminishing. Other employers are cutting the number of days or the number of hours their employees work in a valiant effort to retain everyone. Makes you realize we all need to be kinder to everyone we meet on a daily basis because each of us is facing some change in our life, even if it’s just that the stores we regularly shop in are no longer in existence. While our situations may be difficult, someone else’s may be worse. So, be kind and smile at strangers and try not to be stressed by the little annoyances in life.

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