We filed into the courtroom and sat before the judge. I was part of the pool of prospective jurors for a trial – my latest stint of jury duty.
The bailiff seated 12 of us in the jury box to begin the selection process. I and the others sat in the benches, waiting to see if we were needed.
The judge told us that we were chosen for a murder trial. There would be graphic autopsy photos and video of a nasty fight that led to the shooting. If any of us felt we weren’t up for that, we would be excused and assigned to a different trial.
Hearing his words made me swallow hard. One prospective juror asked to be excused. The rest of us felt like leaving, too, but decided to stay. Someone had to do this duty.
I ended up as the first alternate juror. The trial lasted more than a week. The 14 of us – 12 jurors and two alternates – listened to hours of testimony and saw evidence from DNA and gunshot residue testing.
We wrestled with how we held a person’s fate in our hands. It was intense and emotional. Also, inspiring.
We were as diverse a group and you’ll find when we reported for duty in mid-January, a group of strangers with a wide range in age, race, ethnic background and religion.
As different as could be
We live in different neighborhoods. We’ve had very different life experiences. There were single people and married people on the jury, parents and grandparents. There were people who love Cincinnati-style chili and those who despise it.
How do I know all this? We told each other.
Jurors aren’t allowed to discuss a case until deliberations begin, so the one topic we all had in common was off-limits for the week of testimony. Instead, we talked about each other during the many pauses in the trial.
We learned about each other’s medical conditions. We knew who had a sick kid. We shared our life stories. When we reconvened each morning, we’d ask how that sick child did overnight. Or how the commute went. Whether there was any news about that job prospect.
People brought muffins to share for breakfast. They offered a ride home to those who had arrived by bus on a cold day. They encouraged each other with a smile or a small joke during a break from the trial’s grim images.
We became like family. There was so much kindness in that jury room.
It made me think of one of my favorite passages from Paul, the one that’s used at a lot of weddings. He writes that love matters more than anything, and he describes its defining traits in beautiful and poetic language.
He says first that love is patient, which makes sense – there can be no love without patience. We must be patient with others and with ourselves as we grow and learn.
Then he says love is kind. Kindness is love embodied — in a word, a touch, an act, a moment of attention. Where kindness is present, so is love. If kindness is absent, there is no love, either.
It’s tempting to look at our society, read the headlines, hear the harsh words and conclude that kindness is a thing of the past. So many other things dominate the headlines – conflict, division, greed, self-interest.
It’s in our divine DNA
Before we reach any such conclusion, we should stop, look and listen to the many everyday expressions of kindness all around us. It’s everywhere — even if it’s not the top story on the news – and it’s central to who we are.
It’s in our divine DNA. It’s the glue that holds us together, the healing touch for whatever ails or divides us.
For two weeks, I saw many small moments of kindness pull together a group of strangers. I was reminded that despite our surface differences, we’re all the same — people who just need a smile, a word of encouragement, a little love as they get through the day.
Our society and our world are in turbulent times – aren’t they always? Kindness is the way out of the darkness. It can bring us together and heal us, if we let it.
In a world where we can be anything, let’s remember to be kind.