We The Jury ~ And Then There Were Six Part III

July 19, 2015 4 comments

ajuror

Opening Statements on Tuesday took the entire day. The Plaintiffs’ attorney spoke first on behalf of his clients, a man and his wife. The couple had five children and had been married for nearly 40-years. Basically, the attorney outlined their case, telling us a tragic story about how a seemingly healthy, happy, successful man in his late 50s went to the hospital on a cold winter’s day in January six years ago with chest pain. The man was given an electrocardiogram (EKG) an essential, initial evaluation of a patient suspected to have heart problems. It’s a non-invasive procedure whereby 12 small, sticky electrodes are placed on various parts of your chest. The electrodes monitor the electrical activity of your heart and transfer the information to an EKG machine which prints the heart’s activity out in wavy lines on special graph paper. After having the EKG, it was determined that the man should be transferred to a local hospital that had a Catheritization-Laboratory (Cath-Lab). This is a special room that has diagnostic equipment that allows a doctor to view and treat arteries of the heart.

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In the Cath-Lab, a stent (small expandable metal tube) was placed in the man’s left anterior descending artery otherwise known as the widow maker. A stent holds the artery open while allowing blood to flow freely. Unfortunately, the stenting process resulted in a jailed artery. This happens when plaque is inadvertently moved by the stent or metal from the newly placed stent blocks a side artery or branch during the procedure. The heart surgeon attempted to re-open the side branch unsuccessfully and to avoid further risk to the patient, made the decision to close off or jail the side artery. The Plaintiff was sent to the Cardio-Thoracic Step Down Unit (a recovery floor that is one step below an intensive care unit and one step above a general surgery unit). Here, the attorney alleged, due to negligent care, the man suffered a third heart attack, resulting in subsequent operations and procedures including having to wear a heart vest (much like a wearable defibrillator), having a Dor procedure, having a battery operated left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted under his skin and ultimately a heart transplant followed by several open heart surgeries because due to infection. Needless to say the man’s ability to work and function as a husband and father was changed for the rest of his life.

So began the trial and a journey among strangers that would ask us to settle what we would deem a perfect storm. What happens when a group of people spend the majority of their waking hours together, often confined to a room for long periods of time, every day for what would turn out to be several weeks in a row, each being exposed to the same experience yet undoubtedly processing it differently? You get to know people in a way that you don’t get to know even your co-workers whom you might see daily when you are in a situation like this. All of the superficial, ritual fluff that comes with the process of getting to know someone is immediately shed exposing the core of them, their struggles and strengths, their values and beliefs rather quickly. There’s no time or space for anything less.

Life is a series of stories and each of us has our own to tell.

Juror #1, Gloria
First on the daily sign in sheet, first on line to enter the courtroom, Gloria sat in the first row, first seat closest to the witness stand in the jury box. A retired caretaker in a rehabilitation center, she’s a woman in her 60s, of medium height with short, silvery hair parted to the side and curled around the edges. She’s a smoker with a slightly weathered exterior. Gloria was a solid woman; very smart and of humble beginnings who had mothered four children who were now grown. She had a terrible condition that often caused her to cough uncontrollably at random times during court, causing the Judge to sometimes pause the proceedings and offer her water, to which she said, “only made it worse.” After about two weeks into the trial, a witness, who was a nurse, tried to offer her assistance from the witness stand. The judge gently admonished the witness. No communication of any kind is allowed with the jury, at any time. Gloria was relieved as a juror shortly after that. I was never sure if it was because of her condition, the interaction with the witness or both but she told us she was glad to leave, saying she didn’t think she would have been able to make a decision in the end. I was sad to see her go.

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Photo Credit: Juror #2, John, who took this picture while flying his helicopter over the courthouse one weekend during the trial.

Juror #2, John
John is 60. Second in line, second seat in the jury box. A white-haired retired detective who also flew helicopters for the police department and coast guard in earlier days. Nowadays, he flies for a private company that services very wealthy people and celebrities including Bon Jovi, Jerry Seinfeld and President Clinton. After the first day or two, John suggested we go around the jury room and tell everyone a little bit about ourselves. It was the starting point of getting to know one another in a meaningful way. His presence had a stabilizing effect on the dynamic of our group. John’s story like so many others includes a tragic, heartbreaking event. We learned that he lost his 17-year old son in a fatal car crash. Ironically, as I learned about John’s son, my own 16-year old son was taking his road test for his driver’s license. I couldn’t bear to think about John’s loss and I truly marveled at his pleasant demeanor and even-temperament. John came to the jury room with a new joke every day.

A cat and mouse went to heaven. When up there, the mouse met up with St. Peter who asked the cat what he thought of heaven. “I like it lot,” he said. “Although, it’s just very big and hard to get around sometimes. If I had a pair of roller skates, that would helpful.” St. Peter quickly granted his request, and off the mouse went. A few days later St. Peter bumped into the cat. “How are you finding heaven?” he asked the cat. “Well, at first I thought it was, eh, okay,” the cat said, “but when I realized you had a Meals on Wheels program, I thought it was great!”

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Juror #3, Dolores
I can’t explain why but from day 1, I felt very connected and drawn to Dolores. She is a very attractive African American woman in her late 70s. Her facial features are pointed, small and clearly defined. She wore just enough rouge to highlight her petite cheekbones and smooth, glowing brown skin. A tall, thin woman, her hair is the color of a cultured pearl, arranged in soft, short, dangling cornrow braids that cover her whole head although don’t fall too far below her ears. It was so beautiful. I wanted to ask her if she did her hair herself but Delores is a private, proud person and I didn’t want to be intrusive. She kept many of her opinions to herself expect when it came to voicing her opinions on politics. She has strong views, as most of us do. The mother of three children, two boys and a girl, one of her sons was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was in his twenties. Dolores’ husband suffered a stroke and she was his caretaker for 28 years before he passed. She worked for Planned Parenthood for over 30 years and was now retired. There is a quiet, self –assured-ness about Dolores that exudes wisdom. I saw a rock-solid, inner strength in her and an inner peace that I aspire to have one day.

I was Juror #4
Fourth in line, fourth seat in the first row of the jury box. Although I was not seated in the middle of the jury box, I was seated in the middle of “the well”, the space between the Judge’s bench and the attorneys’ tables. The podium used by the Defense attorneys stood right in front of me. The court reporter sat slightly to my right in front of the Judge’s bench. I could read on her laptop screen what she typed on her stenotype machine. I had a perfect view of the courtroom. I felt honored to be a part of this process and recognized that so many other things, so much bigger than what I could see around me at the time, were happening.

Juror#5, Christina
Christina was the fifth and last person seated in the first row of the jury box. She is twenty-one and goes to college in Tennessee. She studies Intercultural Studies and Business for Non-Profits. Home for the summer, she’s the oldest of three siblings and the youngest among the jurors. She was also, the most quiet. Although when she spoke, she was articulate and thoughtful with her words. It was clear she had been paying attention to every word that was said around her. Like myself, she brought a book every day. Occasionally we would read during down time. She started and finished The Hobbit during our time in the jury room. I started and finished Legend, the first in a series of three books written by Marie Lu and recommended by my daughter. Christina radiates the promise of youth. Her presence was like a breath of fresh air. She’s genuine, sweet and honest and I have a feeling she will do great things in life.

Jurors #1 through #5 sat in the first of two rows. Jurors #6 through #10 sat in a raised row behind the first row.

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Juror #6, Debbie
Debbie was the sixth person in line and the first person to sit in the second row of the jury box behind Gloria. She does not like to be called Deborah and I felt bad, having made the mistake a few times before I was able to catch myself. In grammar school, catholic school, the nuns called her De-bor-ah and she hated that. Debbie wore a string of pearls with each outfit, everyday. She emits professionalism. Until of course she laughs, which she does a lot, then, she’s just a regular gal like the rest of us. An IBM Executive, IT Project Manager, Debbie oversees 29 people in her division. None of who live in the United States. In fact, she’d just received her new crew the Friday we were called to jury duty. She tried to make a case when she was chosen as a juror to be excused but the lawyers would not want to let her go. Debbie was usually the first to arrive every morning. She, like the rest of us often felt frustrated by the amount of idle time we had to pass. She had lots of ideas about efficiency. It’s no wonder she has the job she does, we half expected her to send the Judge a report at the end of the trial on what she should or could do to improve juror conditions and move a case along faster. Debbie is going to win the lottery. She told us so. In fact, she told us every day, three times a day. It’s part of her mantra to make it happen and one day, it will happen. Divorced with two grown children, it was Debbie that I felt I had the most in common with. I could relate to where some of her struggles have brought her too. She’s a competent, capable woman, deeply influenced by strong moral beliefs and I have much respect for her. Debbie has a big, beautiful heart and I’m honored to call her my friend.

As a means of helping us pass time in the jury room, Debbie brought in Table Topics, a game that uses a series of cards to ask engaging questions that inspire conversation. She would pick a card, read the question and we would go around the room and answer or not answer it, if we didn’t want to.

Some of the questions and answers that linger in my memory:

Who has inspired or acted as a mentor to you?
Juror #3 Dolores: Maya Angelou and Mahatma Gandhi.

What is your astrological sign?
Juror #2, John: Aquarius
Juror #5, Christina: Capricorn
Juror #6, Debbie: Virgo
Juror #9, Joe: Taurus

What is a goal you have?
Juror #5, Christina: to write a book.

What is the most important quality you look for in a friend?
The majority of us had the same answer, integrity and honesty.

Describe a life experience that has helped make you a stronger person.
This is the question that exposed of core of many of us.

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Juror #7, Michelle
Michelle was seventh in line and sat in the second seat in the second row of the jury box. From day one, we each claimed a seat around the conference table in the jury room and kept it, except for Michelle. Michelle chose not to sit at the table. Usually she sat closest to the door in one of the chairs that lined the wall but she never sat at the table with us during the trial. She also stood a lot in the room during breaks. Many of us did. After sitting for hours at a time in the courtroom, standing was a welcome relief. A single woman in her mid-forties, Michelle is tall and athletic, caring and sensitive. She teaches Social Studies and English to 6th graders in a nearby public school. During the summer months she works in a pro shop at a golf course. It’s evident that she loves her jobs and her Irish heritage. When she speaks about her mom who (just like my mom) is an immigrant from Ireland, she can’t help but talk in a perfect Irish brogue. It’s endearing, as is Michelle.

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Michelle has dual citizenship in the US and Ireland. She’s guided by her deeply rooted, Irish-Catholic beliefs and is a Pioneer, an Irish person who made a promise at her confirmation not to take a drink. Ever. At 44, she has never had alcohol. I never knew what a Pioneer was until Michelle told me. After the trial, when I asked my mom about it she said, “Oh yeah, your grandmother was a Pioneer as well”. This was news to me. My mom was actually in possession of my grandmother’s Pioneer Pin and gave it to me after I asked her about it. When I was seven I went to Ireland with my mom and younger brother. That was the only time I’d ever met my grandmother. She gave me a Claddagh ring, a traditional Irish ring representing love, loyalty and friendship. The ring was eventually stolen, so to have her Pioneer Pin now was extremely sentimental and meaningful to me, and I have Michelle to thank for that.

Juror #8, Cameron
Cameron was the eighth person in line. She sat behind me in the jury box. I liked Cameron a lot. She’s a soft-spoken, level headed, kind, woman; a college counselor at a local private high school. Cameron is a thinker. A week into the trial, she received word that her father-in-law who was in Hospice care was near the end and requested to be excused. Her request was granted.

Within the first two weeks our Jury of 10 had become a Jury of 8. Now only two of us would be alternates.

Juror #9, Joe
Joe is the fourth person to sit in the second row. He’s a middle-aged, bald man in his early 50s who works at Home Depot. Every day he wore either a navy blue Ralph Lauren baseball cap with yellow stitching or a black Tommy Hilfiger cap. You’re not allowed to wear a cap in the courtroom so he’d leave his in the jury room. He also had an earring hole in his left ear but never wore an earring. Joe’s a friendly guy. He’s not married and has no kids but lives with his partner. He likes to cook. He usually came in with a cup of coffee in the morning and like many of us, brought one back after the lunch hour. Joe played solitaire with Julie (Juror #10) every day. On the last day of the trial when Closing Statements were made, he finally won. Joe’s a deep thinker. You could tell he gave careful consideration to his answers when we played Table Topics. He took being a juror seriously. We all did. In fact, we all talked about the responsibility that came with being a juror and how important that was.

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Juror #10, Julie
Julie is a woman also in her 50s. Her brownish hair has an eggplant colored hue to it. She works at JC Penney and has two grown children who live in another state that she doesn’t get to see much. She’s also a smoker. I would see her and Juror #1, Gloria (before she left) sitting outside having a smoke at lunch when I’d go across the street to get a cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts. It’s been close to 14 years since I’ve had a cigarette and sometimes I enjoy a second hand waft. Sometimes during a break, Julie would head downstairs for a quick smoke. Because the door was locked from the outside, anyone entering the jury room other than the court officer who had a key, would have to knock. Michelle who was usually closest to the door would answer but not before jokingly asking for the “password” which was Helicopter and a nod to John’s profession.
adimeJulie has common sense and some street smarts behind her. There is something quite compelling about her. She described a difficult childhood to us and I wondered how her life may have differed if she had more opportunity growing up. Julie works at JC Penney and brought us all coupons one day. She also shared an interesting story with us about James Cash Penney, the founder of JC Penney, who hated Franklin D Roosevelt and his policies so much that he refused to carry dimes in the cash registers in the stores because they are imprinted with Roosevelt’s picture. The only dimes in the cash register at a JC Penney (to this day) are those circulated by customers. The stores never order them from the bank.

These were the ten of us, who became eight within the first two weeks. Two of us were alternates yet we had no idea who. As the days and weeks began to pass this would loom above each us. Who would ultimately stay and deliberate? Who would not? How and when would we know? While the process of selection fascinated me, who we were individually was equally if not more intriguing.

It didn’t take long for me to realize there was nothing arbitrary about who had been chosen for this specific case. As different as we learned we were, together we were a balance and there was (thankfully) a very strong, common trait that we all shared, one that presented itself loudly and clearly:

Each of us had a deep desire to do the right thing.

Note: If you would like to read And Then There Were Six Part I, you can find it here.

Part II, The Jury Assembled can be read here.

The Jury, Assembled ~ And Then There Were Six Part II

July 4, 2015 7 comments

ajefferson2

 

Monday, May 18
There’s a special holding room in the Commissioner of Juror’s building for returning, potential jurors. Upon arrival Monday morning at 9:00am, the Commissioner asked us to sign in.  Close to 10:00am, a court officer escorted us out the back of one building and into the back of the other, where once again, we placed our belongings in bins and walked through the body scanner. Just like Friday, I took the stairs up to the 4th floor with a few others while the rest opted for the only elevator in the building.

The attorneys were waiting and wasting no time in the courtroom. The eight that were left in the jury box on Friday resumed their seats, while the rest of us headed back to the gallery. The next part happened so quickly; it’s a bit of blur in my memory. I don’t think we were seated for more than a few minutes when the door behind the bench closest to the jury box opened and the Judge’s assistant entered holding a piece of paper. She came into the courtroom periodically on Friday, I suspected to see how things were going. After a very brief consultation with the lawyers, she turned to the jury box and asked the eight from the box to rise and follow her and a court officer out of the courtroom.

It was stunning.

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Just like that, we went from 20 potential jurors to 12 gaping and confused gallery sitters, in a New York Minute.

What just happened? I thought to myself. Where did they go?

In short order we learned that 3 of the 8 people in the box were in another room being sworn in as jurors and the other 5 were being released. That’s why we were kept waiting in the holding room for almost an hour that morning. They were choosing the three jurors, but which ones did they keep?

We didn’t find out because they were allowed to leave for the day.

We barely digested what had just happened when the male lawyer from the Plaintiffs’ team, whom I’ve ( fondly, with no disrespect intended) nicknamed, Jiminy Cricket, went to work, turned the crank and started picking names from the clear tube on the council’s table. When the name is pulled one of the attorney’s slides it onto a wooden board about 9” x 12”, through slats which are used to hold the name cards. I’m pretty sure it indicates who is sitting where in the jury box. The questionnaires are pulled from a pile and a copy is given to each side for review. My name was the 4th or 5th of a new set of 8 that were called. I took a seat in the box accordingly. Four people remained in the gallery.

I was impressed at the effort that was made by all of the attorneys to address each of us by name. They referred to our questionnaires and asked us specific questions.

asoftballFirst, the softballs were tossed.

 

From the Questionnaire ~ Question #17 reads:
What are your hobbies or recreational activities?

My Written Answer: I enjoy reading, writing and movies.

Jiminy Cricket, the Plaintiffs Attorney, to me:
It says here you like movies. What is your favorite movie?

Me, In My Head:
Oh, God! This is his question? Did he really just ask me that? I have no idea what my favorite movie is! I can’t even think right now. (Cue internal panic.)

Me, (Responding Calmly) Out Loud:
I really don’t have one favorite. I like lots of different kinds of movies. I’m a big J.K. Rowling fan, so I enjoyed the Harry Potter movies.

He smiled at me knowingly, which made me think that he really didn’t know who Harry Potter was.

Then the hardballs were thrown.

 

Defense Lawyer For the Doctors (Good Cop/Dad of 3) to me:
Tell me a little bit about the school you work in.

Me: It’s a small, private, progressive school in Wappingers.

Defense Lawyer For the Doctors (Good Cop/Dad of 3) to me:
There’s an admissions process and you make a lot of decisions in your job, fair statement? I nodded in agreement.

Side note: I later learned, that a nod in court is unacceptable.
You must answer every question out loud so the court reporter can record your words. Although, the court reporter is not in attendance during jury selection and jurors are not allowed to speak during the trial. Phew!

Defense Lawyer For the Doctors (Good Cop/Dad of 3) to me:
Sometimes, you have to tell people they can’t come to your school, correct?

Me: Yes. Not often but sometimes.

Defense Lawyer For the Doctors (Good Cop) to me:
It has to be a good fit, right?

Me: Yes. Exactly.

Questions were asked to all of the potential jurors and interspersed was much pontificating by all sides. For example, it was made clear to us that if we were picked we would hear “expert testimony”.  Then another side made it clear that the “credibility” of “expert witnesses” would be something we would have to consider. We were told that we would likely hear a heartbreaking story that we would be asked to make a judgment on and award sums of money. Then we were told that sometimes, bad things happen to good people and it’s no one’s fault.

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Finally, a fastball came.

The Viper (Defense Lawyer for the Hospital) approached the podium in front of the jury box.

Viper: Well. Let’s just  get this out of the way. Some of you checked boxes on the questionnaire that we need to speak to you about.

Viper to me: Ms. Teich, can we speak with you privately?

Well, I knew this was coming; although, kudos to the Viper for cutting to the chase.

Into the hall we went. Four smiling attorneys huddled around me. The Viper noted that I’d checked off that I’d been the victim of a crime in question #14. He asked me if I could tell them about that.

Keep it simple and succinct, I thought to myself.

Sure. I said. A couple of years ago our home was repeatedly broken into over a period of about 8 months. Ultimately my husband and I setup a motion sensor camera in our living room and my husband called 911 when images of a burglar in our house were sent to his phone through email. The guy was caught coming out of our house by a State Trooper who responded to the call and it was our neighbor.

The woman attorney for the Plaintiffs put her hand to her mouth as I spoke and when I finished she said,

Oh, that is terrible.

Yes. It was terrible; although I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything.

However, in addition to competence, maybe it was also a sense of compassion that I saw in this woman on Friday. Hers was genuine and it wouldn’t be the first time, I’d see it either.

There was a very brief pause.

Here it is I thought, the end of my line.

You are after all automatically released of jury duty if you’ve been the victim of a crime, right?

Nope.

Thank you, they said. You can return to the jury box.

Question #14 also asked whether you’ve been….
· accused of a crime
· convicted of a crime
· a witness to a crime

….and if you’ve testified in court or sued someone.

More private meetings; 4 more people in the box were let go. The 4 remaining in the gallery were called in. A few more questions were asked. We were told that this would be the only time the jurors would be able to speak or interact with the lawyers. Once the trial began, we would not be able to talk to them or anyone connected to the case; not even each other, until it was time to deliberate. We were reminded that the case would take a while, possibly three weeks.

One man who had been quite vocal (although not obnoxious) during the process put his hand up and stepped outside with the attorneys. After several minutes, the lawyers came back into the courtroom without him.

“Well,” said Jiminy Cricket, “It looks like we have our jury.”

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It was official. I was a juror.

And so were the other 6 people that were in the jury box with me. Something didn’t add up. Together we were seven and we’d been told that three were picked that morning. That makes 10 of us.

A civil case requires 6 jurors and 2 alternates to hear the case.

We’ve selected 4 alternates instead of 2 because of the length of this trial one of the attorneys told us.

The Jury was assembled. My recall here is a little fuzzy. I’m not sure if it was the Assistant or the Judge herself but one of them, and I’m leaning toward it being the judge, came through the door behind the bench next to the jury box and asked us to stand. We did. She administered the Juror’s Oath. We held up our right hand and pledged to act fairly and impartially and follow the law that would be explained to us.

We were instructed not to speak about the case to anyone and to come directly to the Courthouse and report to the Jury Room across the hall from the courtroom the next morning at 9:00am for Opening Statements. Opening Statements marks the start of a trial. It gives each side an opportunity to let the jury know what to expect during the trial. It’s designed to serve as a guide. It sets the stage, introduces the players and speaks to evidence that are intended to be presented. Typically, the Plaintiff goes first in a civil trial.

Coming in through the front door Tuesday morning was a little different. Three officers “manned” the entrance to the courthouse. Similar to coming over from the Commissioner of Jurors’ building (or going through security at an airport) you place your belongings in a bin and walk through the body scanner when the officer waves you in.

I’m not an elevator person. I prefer the steps. Besides, there was a bathroom on the 2nd floor. Bathroom-ing in this building seemed to be a bit of an issue. There were only two small, (public) one-person bathrooms on the 2nd floor that we knew of. I stopped there on my way up, not knowing when I would have the chance again. The lock didn’t work properly and as I was washing my hands when a woman about 15 years my senior walked in on me. Clearly embarrassed, she quickly apologized and left. Later that morning, I recognized her to be the Plaintiff’s wife.

The door to the Jury Room was open. It was a large, oblong room. Inside was an oval-shaped conference table with 9 chairs around it. There were a few additional, comfortable-looking chairs against the wall at either end of the room. As I walked in, I noticed an old-fashioned, green chalkboard that stood in its wooden frame against the wall to my immediate right. A private bathroom was in the corner to my left.

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Nice! I thought. A perk.

The officer assigned our courtroom that day came in and introduced himself as Steve. He had filled two pitchers of ice water and set them on the table for us. Myself and another juror asked Steve if we could take notes during the trial. He said he would let the judge know we were wondering. Then he put a sign-in sheet on the table and asked us to sign in, in the box next to our names. All ten names were typed on the computer-generated form in what appeared to be random order. Or was it? They weren’t listed alphabetically by first or last name, nor were they in numerical order by our juror identification number. But there was definitely significance to their placement, a thought behind the order, because after we had all arrived, waited (again) for the court to be ready and were finally called into the courtroom, Steve instructed us to line up in the hallway in the order that our names appeared on the paper. By the time Steve had us line up, he had memorized all of our names. Even though Steve was not always assigned to our jury room from that point on not matter when or where he saw us, he addressed each of us by name.

When we were all in our places, he knocked on the courtroom door, opened it and announced, “Jury entering.”

Everybody in the courtroom stood and we filed into the jury box stopping in front of our seats, taking them only when the Judge told us we could be seated. I was juror number 4; fourth seat in the front row. There were five seats in each of the two rows. I sat in-between the oldest and youngest members of the jury, a college girl named Christina was Juror #5 on my left and an elderly woman named Dolores was Juror #3 seated on my right. Both of whom would become a source of inspiration to me through their decorum and demeanor throughout the trial and both of whom I became quite fond of over the next several weeks.

The judge greeted us and immediately addressed our question. She said while some judges allow notes to be taken during the trial, she did not. She felt it could become distracting and we might miss important details about the case if we were focused on writing.

No notes.

Then she advised us that we would not be told who the 4 alternates were until it was time to deliberate. She said we were all needed and it was important that each of us paid close attention.

And with that, the trial began with Opening Statements…

 

 

Note: This is Part II of a multi-part posting describing the process of becoming a juror on a civil trial and the extraordinary experience that ensued.  If you would like to read Part I, you can find it here.

And Then There Were Six….

June 28, 2015 10 comments

amlk

The pool was full. Crowded as a matter of fact. With about 170 people to choose from, what were the chances they would pick me?

Recently I was “called” to Jury Duty. I’ve never “served” before.

In part, the Jury Summons read:
Tell your employer you are summoned to serve as a juror. Call after 5pm each evening before your appearance date to learn whether or not you are to report to the Central Jury Room.

Things to know:

  • Jurors are paid $40 per day. Travel, parking and lunch, are not included.
  • There are no exemptions everyone who is eligible must serve.
  • You have a legal obligation to serve.
  • Failure to respond to the summons is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment of up to 30 days or both.

Jurors are on-call for jury selection for one week.

I forgot to call the first night. It was Sunday, May 10th, Mother’s Day and I’d just spent a truly glorious day with my two kids picnicking and hiking at a favorite spot. I completely panicked Monday morning when I got to work and remembered to call. Luckily, the recorded message from the night before indicated that there was no jury duty that day.

In fact, each evening following, the recording repeated the same message: “no jury duty” the next day.

By the time Thursday rolled around, I assumed I had dodged-a-bullet of sorts. While it’s true I’ve always wanted to serve on a jury, this summons came at the worst possible time for me. I’m an Admissions Coordinator at a private school and with barely 4 weeks left before the end of the school year, I was wrapping up tours, and contracts and solidifying enrollment for the following year. There were day-to-day dealings that needed attention and end-of-the-year activities I needed to attend and document. And that didn’t include the fact that my own two kids had end-of-the-year events at their school as well, that required my attention or attendance, including a sports banquet and a “moving up ceremony”. To say I was busy would be an understatement.

Needless to say, I was genuinely surprised when Thursday night’s message indicated that juror numbers 2001 through 2185, were to report to the Commissioner of Jurors at 9:00am the next morning. I was juror number 2164.

Friday, May 15
The line began to form outside the Jury Building shortly before the doors opened promptly at 9:00am. In an orderly fashion, we filed into a large room filled with seats. Somewhere I had read that Wi-Fi was available in the Jury Building so I brought a book and my laptop. Fridays are my busiest days at work. I also, had it in my head that I’d just be sitting around for hours before going home and I might as well get a jump on my work if I could. After taking a seat I glanced around the room. There were about 80 of us. Sometime within the two-weeks between when we all received our summons and being seated in this room, the pool had shrunk by more than half.

On the original Summons, there’s a statement that reads:
“You may ask for a one-time postponement of up to 6 months.”

If you cannot serve, contact the Commissioner of Jurors before your date of service.

A second postponement may be requested if:

  • you have a family or medical emergency
  • serving on a jury for 5 or more days will pose severe financial hardship to you
  • you are a student currently enrolled in classes
  • you are 78 years of age or older

I took my “postponement” several years ago when my kids were little and I was their “primary care taker”. Perhaps the missing potential jurors had exercised their request for a one-time postponement or were exempt for some of the reasons listed above. Maybe they just didn’t show up. What happens if you just don’t show up? I learned later that the Commissioner of Jurors will send the Sheriff out to escort you in. At least, that’s what she said when someone asked.

The Commissioner of Jurors was a professionally dressed, pleasant, no-nonsense, middle-aged woman with short blondish-grayish hair who spoke with authority. She clearly explained to us what to expect. We were being called for a civil trial that might “take a while”, she said. The words barely left her lips when one by one, row-by-row, hands immediately sprung up and excuses as to why people couldn’t or didn’t want to be a juror began to fly through air. Some of them sounded quite legitimate, some, not so much.

  • I have no childcare.
  • I’m a college student and taking summer classes that begin next week.
  • I can’t hear very well.
  • I have a wedding to go to.
  • My daughter is graduating in another state.
  • I have no transportation to get here.
  • I own my own business and no one can take my place. etc., etc.

Swiftly and decisively the Commissioner addressed each person and their excuse. Within 10-minutes we lost about 30 more potential jurors. It was obvious she’d been down this road before. She was pro. I was impressed and told her so when the opportunity presented itself. The rest of us were asked to fill out some standard paper work and a Juror Questionnaire in carbon copy. The questionnaire was designed specifically for the type of case we were here for.  We each kept a copy and the others went to the Judge, the Plaintiffs attorney and the Defense attorney to be used during Jury Selection.

Question #14

Have you or someone close to you ever:
(among other things….)

Been the victim of a crime

Okay. I thought to myself, here’s why they’re going to let me go, for sure.

The Commissioner of Jurors then asked us to stand. She and a Court Officer escorted us to the Court House where Jury Selection would begin. Watches and bracelets were placed in small bins along with our bags and pocket items and then sent through an x-ray machine as we each walked through a body scanner to enter the building.

We were headed to the 4th floor. There’s only one small elevator in the Court Building. I, like many others, chose to take the stairs. One smiling woman and three gentlemen in suits greeted us into a courtroom directing us to take a seat in the gallery. The gallery is where “spectators” sit. This was a classic courtroom, much like the ones you see on T.V. shows. The gallery was filled with rows of beautiful, wooden pew-style benches. A bar or railing separated the gallery from the attorney’s tables, and in the front of the room stood the Bench, which is the raised desk the judge sits at, with doors on either side. Facing the gallery, the jury box was to the left of the judge’s bench. There was a separate entrance to the jury box where members of the jury sat that was also enclosed by a rail. The witness box (or stand) was a raised seat between the bench and the jury box.

court

The last time I’d been in a courtroom, the Judge had invited me into the “well” (the open space between the bench and the council tables) to read a letter I had been encouraged to write by a parole officer named Diane. As I faced the bench, Diane stood by my right side holding my arm ever so gently, in an effort to help me steady my shaking hand as I read an Impact Statement to the Court. That was about five years ago and the reason I thought I would be eliminated at some point from the pool.

As I sat in the gallery of this courtroom, I was immediately drawn to the stacks, of white cardboard boxes (the kind you might use to hold file folders in) that were placed along the inside of the railing behind the Plaintiff’s table. There had to be at least twenty of them. I couldn’t help but wonder what was in them. There was also a stack of about ten 3’ x 5’ white poster-boards leaning against a table inside the well, in front of the bench. They too captured my interest. The next thing I noticed was that there were three attorney tables. If there’s a Plaintiff and a Defendant, to whom did the third table belong to? It wasn’t long before we learned that the Plaintiffs had filed suit against “two doctors” and an “institution and its staff of nurses”. The doctors had one attorney and the institution and its nurses had a separate attorney. Two Defendants.

We were asked to come into the jury box via random selection. Juror “numbers” were randomly picked out of a clear tube with hand crank, similar to a bingo cage where the hand-crank is used to mix up the balls before they’re lifted through a latched opening and “called out” when the cylinder comes to a rest. The remaining juror numbers were typed on small pieces of paper and tumbled inside the tube before selected. The tube sat on the middle council table. If your number was called, you were asked to leave the gallery and come and sit in the jury box where the three sets of lawyers would take turns asking a variety of questions.

A civil trial requires 6 jurors and 2 alternates to be picked to “hear” the case.

The lawyers tried not to reveal too much detail about the actual case, only giving us information that was necessary and could aid in their selection process. When your number was picked, your questionnaire was pulled and a copy was given to each “side”. After the first eight potential jurors were called, some cursory, general questions were posed to the “box” and the “gallery” and again, one by one, hands shot into the air. This time, a line formed at the entrance to the courtroom and private discussions were held with all four attorneys in the hall. Some folks returned to the gallery but many, we never saw again.

  • Do you or does anyone in your immediate family work in the medical field?
  • Have you or anyone in your immediate family ever had a heart attack?
  • Have you or anyone in your immediate family ever been to Vassar Hospital?

One super-obnoxious man who felt the need to make his feelings known to us all, all-day-long, couldn’t help but make a remark after the third question was asked:

We live here. We’ve all been to Vassar!

And indeed, it is a local hospital, pretty much everyone had. So we all joined the line that began to snake around the gallery and each of us had our private huddle in the hallway. When it was my turn, the attorneys wanted to when and why I’d been to Vassar.

“I have two sports-playing, teenagers.” I said, “Aside from giving birth there, let’s just say we’ve frequented the ER more than once over the years, as recently as this past November when my son broke his collar bone in two places playing soccer and last month, when my daughter sprained her wrist at the bowling alley.”

The Plaintiffs lawyer then asked:

“Would you be inclined to favor Vassar in any way as a result of your visits there?”

“No, I said. Not necessarily.”

They all smiled and sent me back to the gallery.

This is how it went for the majority of the day. Words like policies, procedures, protocol and expert testimony were used in the questioning. Sometimes statements would be made and a brief discussion between a lawyer and the jurors in the box would ensue.

As the hours passed, the grunts and grumblings grew louder. It was frustrating and disheartening to me, not to mention distracting. I kept thinking, if I ever needed a jury, I wouldn’t want people who didn’t care or didn’t want to be there, making a judgment on my behalf. I was really trying to pay attention to the questions the attorneys were asking or discussing. I was trying to understand how this process was working or if it was working. Despite the “bad timing” — for all of us, I’m sure — I’m the cornball, who believes we’re all privileged at birth by the freedoms we have in this country and that serving on a jury is important and an honor, in addition to being our civil duty. I was taking the process very seriously (and thankfully, I wasn’t the only one.)

This is the crux of our judicial system. Isn’t it?

I wanted to believe that it was.

aneinstein

Despite the huffing and puffing about how long this was taking, the attorneys plowed through the day taking their turns asking questions, making statements, having brief discussions. I began to formulate a sense of who they were in my own mind.

asmilingcat

The only woman attorney was one of two lawyers for the Plaintiffs. The pair came from a firm in Maryland. The woman was about 5’4, in her late 50s and had straight, brown, shoulder-length hair parted at the side. She wore black heels and a belted dress that fanned out at the bottom like an umbrella. It was chilly in the courtroom. She wore a sweater. She also wore a “permanent” smile on her face. It reminded me of the “Cheshire Cat”, not in a bad way, just as a matter of fact. She graduated with J.D. Honors Citation from George Washington University Law School, 1985 after getting her Bachelors of Arts at the University of Maryland. Maybe it was that she appeared competent or that she was the only woman attorney or both, but there was something very interesting about her, to me.

acheshire

Like the Cheshire Cat ever smiling, she silently observed everything and EVERYONE. She did not ask any questions of the potential jurors though, that was left to her partner. The older man was seemingly pleasant. He had a slight build and was not much taller than she was. He had a small, oval face and his receding hairline was met with long thinning strands of silver that swept across the middle of his head.  A 1971 graduate of the University of Maryland School of law, this man was well seasoned, well learned and well dressed. His smile exuded confidence and he was clearly comfortable in his own skin. There was an “old school” wisdom or charm about him and when he walked around the courtroom, there was a spring to his step, literally. When I looked at him Jiminy Cricket came to mind.

ajiminy

The two lawyers for the two defendants gave off a kind of “good cop – bad cop” vibe to me from the way they interacted with each other. The “good cop”, was a local attorney who represented the two doctors. He was a man in his mid-to-late 40s, of medium build, brown hair, a dad of three. He seemed like  a “nice” guy. Friendly. His “thing” I noticed, was to ask , “fair question or fair statement?” when “interviewing jurors in the box. It was as if he was establishing a level playing field or seeking your approval. He was smart. Likeable and I liked him. He was a graduate of Cornell University and went on to Washington University School of Law where he graduated in 1996 as a member of the Order of Barristers.

adad

The “bad cop” was not really a “bad cop” at all. It’s just the way the two attorneys seemed to feed off of each other, after each other that highlighted the differences in their personalities. By all accounts, the “hospital’s” lawyer was sharp, smooth. The word, “slick” comes to mind, but again, not in a bad way. More like, in a “polished” or experienced way. A handsome man in his late 50s, his crystal blue eyes sparkled right into the gallery. He was a former DA and veteran trial lawyer. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School after completing a rigorous pre-med undergrad program giving him a unique understanding of medical cases. He came from a firm about an hour south of us. He didn’t smile nearly as much as the other lawyers and when he did I noticed a slight gap between his top two middle teeth. He approached the podium in front of the jury box with thoughtfulness. You could almost “see” his mind working. He would say something and then intentionally hesitate before speaking again, planting a seed. He gave you “food for thought.” He’d build his questions slowly and then strike quickly, deliberately, like a viper. Try as I did to change the thought, I just couldn’t and from day one, I called him “The Viper.” There was no question he was there to defend and he’s a man you would want to be defending you. His message was very clear: WAIT until you hear ALL of the evidence, until the Defense has a chance to present their case before making a judgment.

I could do that.

anotherviper

The selection process was at times a little confusing. Even though the attorneys had the questionnaires of the eight people in the jury box, when they asked questions, they would often also, face the gallery. Hands would shoot up into the air, a line would form by the door and private meetings would take place in the hall. More potential jurors were “let go”. After the lunch break, the pool had dwindled to about 35. By day’s end, there were 12 of us left in the gallery with 8 still in the box.  I’d just about convinced myself that perhaps I had dodged the bullet when the attorneys nestled together near the counsels’ tables. I thought well, that was it and the 8 in the box were the ones. But after their brief, quiet discussion amongst themselves, at 4:45pm that Friday afternoon, all 20 of us were asked to return on Monday morning at 9:00am.

Admittedly, I was shocked.

Still, the whole process intrigued me. Somehow by this point, all the grunters and groaners were gone. All day long, I was interested, fascinated even, at the method of elimination and how it played out but at no point during that day, not for one second, did it ever cross my mind that what was about to unfold would become all-consuming and at times emotionally and mentally overwhelming, not to mention, a life changing event.

Note: While this is more than a blog post, it’s not quite a book however, it is a story that I feel the need to tell and although it’s not so much about the details of the trial, it is about the incredible process of our judicial system, from jury selection to verdict. So if you’re interested, stay tuned….

In Any Form

January 4, 2015 12 comments

kindness

Get up!

Get off that floor.

Can’t you see it’s filthy?

Startled by this stern command, I raised my head from where it had been resting — cradled in the palm of my hands — to see who would have the nerve to disturb my sorrow so abruptly. He was a big, brown man, dressed in green and a thousand thoughts ran through my head in the span of ten seconds or the time it took for us to “see” one another and him to push the empty gurney passed us, through the automatic doors beyond us.

Although his statement was directed toward us, he wasn’t talking directly to me. That was clear. I was in a chair. He directed his remarks toward my daughter who sat on the floor next to me. We were sitting outside of a “room” in the ER of a local hospital. A dusty, powder-blue curtain acted as a door and was pulled “closed” for privacy. Privacy from sight perhaps but certainly not from sound. I could hear the effort that was being to keep the groans faint. That’s how I knew he was in so much pain. He was trying to hide it. I’d never been in this section of the ER before. It’s where you’re brought to when an ambulance brings you in, where my 15-year NTeich2old son laid behind the curtain.

Several days earlier he’d broken his collar bone during a soccer game when an opposing player, a bigger, heavier boy known for his mean spiritedness collapsed on top of him, breaking that fine line on his left side that connects your neck to your shoulder, in two places. Both boys had been jumping in the air to head the ball. My son needed immediate surgery, pins and a metal rod were permanently inserted into his shoulder reattaching the fractured bone. We were extremely fortunate to be put in contact with the head surgeon at NYU Hospital for Joint Disease in New York City who performed the surgery himself.

A few days after his surgery the boys from my son’s soccer team posted this picture on their team Facebook page after a big win that he obviously missed and couldn’t be a part of.

GET WELL SOON NOAH

GET WELL SOON NOAH

My son was deeply touched. I, was completely overwhelmed by the gesture. Honestly. I’m humbled to be witness to such an incredibly thoughtful act of kindness displayed by teenage boys.

The whole experience had been emotional, fraught with gut-wrenching, roller-coaster moments and as if that weren’t enough excitement for one week, here we found ourselves in a hospital again.

He’d been recuperating nicely up until this night, when he suffered a setback, out of his control and was in severe pain, so much so, that on advice of the surgeon, we called an ambulance to bring him to a local hospital.

Now we sat, my daughter and I, outside the room with the flimsy, ugly, powder-blue curtain acting as a door, between us and my son and his dad, waiting. We waited and waited and waited some more for the doctor-on-call to make his way to my son’s bed.

My heart was breaking as any mother’s would for every minute that passed, for every minute he suffered in pain. Trying to respect his wishes to ‘wait outside the room, please mom’, fighting back fear and tears, anxious for help, my nerves and patience were fried. Where was that damn doctor anyway? It’s easy to lose perspective. I did.

Now this? Really? Some big, barking man, clearly on-a-mission that had nothing to do with helping my son, has the audacity to growl at us, chiding my daughter as he strides by pushing an empty bed! That’s all I needed, maybe even what I was praying for these past few hours as I cupped my head full of worry into my hands; a justification, an opportunity I immediately realized, to lash out at someone, a place to displace the anger and hurt and most of all the helplessness that was filling up inside me bursting to get out.

Thank you and God help you man, I thought.

You just barked at the wrong person at the right time. You are the conduit for me to strike through. I was ready and eager as I looked up about to unleash. I locked my bleary eyes onto his and before I could blast away he bellowed,

It’s not clean enough to sit on!

In that moment, when our eyes met, intention made itself known.

Clarity came.hope

Instantly.

Thankfully.

In the eyes of knowing, silence prevailed. This man’s growling abruptness was in reality, an act of kindness and genuine caring.

His scrubs indicated he was probably a doctor, maybe a surgeon and although he clearly lacked in bedside manner, his eyes spoke volumes. They told me his “scolding” was an expression of real concern that my daughter was sitting on this not-so-clean hospital floor. It was just the type of jarring I needed in that moment in time to pull me out of myself and become present, for myself, for my daughter who also waited in worry and for my son of course, who needed me to be there for him and not become lost in my sorrow. Gratitude grabbed hold of me. Fast.

God helped me. Thank you.

This man snapped me back, which allowed me to be where I needed to be. It also allowed me  to hear the quiet words of an older woman who’d been pacing in and out of a room, two curtains to our right. I’d mostly seen the bottom half of her legs walking in and out when I held my head side-ways but I caught a glimpse of her when I’d occasionally looked up to see if the doctor was anywhere in sight. She was older than me but younger than my mom, probably in her early 60s. Other than knowing she was there, I didn’t give her or who she was with or why much thought until it was too late. She was leaving with another woman, older than her. A nurse wheeled the older woman ahead while the younger, pacing woman trailed behind. As she passed me she said softly,

I hope it all works out for you.

I was so surprised; I barely got the words “thank you” out in time for her to know I’d heard her.

The doctor-on-call finally saw my son, treated him and released him after a few hours. His issue was fleeting in the big picture of things and although I am thankful for that, it’s the fleeting unsuspecting moments that interrupted my life in those hours of waiting that linger with me in a thought provoking way. Kindness matters. In any form.

Twice in one night I was startled by the kindness of a stranger. Two people, in two contrasting ways took notice.

Kindness can be so fleeting and even though it doesn’t always present itself in softly spoken words or a thoughtfully written sign, its effects are always the same; long lasting and profound. It makes a difference.


The Man With the Handlebar Mustache!

October 19, 2014 16 comments
Uncle Jacob 1988

©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Fall bursts with bright colors, Oktoberfests and beer, memories from my childhood and the man with the handlebar mustache.

Memories are a curious thing. They come in the form of a person’s personal perspective. Each situation, event or conversation, means something different to all those involved, and also to those not involved. We give different meanings, according to our belief systems, and how we are affected by the event. In Other words, we don’t see things as they are necessarily; we see things as we are. (http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/perspectives.htm)

The following is my perception and memories of a man who I am truly grateful to have had in my life.

The sun had set and I remember watching the glow of the red sky slowly fade to black. It had been a long day, a great day of blueberry picking but it was late now and clearly we were lost. It felt like hours since we’d left my parents. Maybe it was. Somehow, we missed where they turned. The back roads of the Catskill Mountains are endless, nameless and windy. There were no maps or street lights to guide you on these less traveled roads. I can’t recall everyone who was in that pale blue Volkswagen bus with me that evening, I think my brother was, maybe my sister too but I remember the mood perfectly: content and tired, despite being lost. I think I was seven or eight-years old. Another thing I remember for sure; I wasn’t scared. I felt safe. It was another adventure. Finally, we came upon a tavern and stopped for directions. We followed him inside the small watering hole and waited patiently, spinning ourselves on bar stools as he drank from a frosty mug, no doubt making new friends while he inquired about our whereabouts and how to get back to the Parkway.

This remains one of my earliest memories of the man with the handlebar mustache.

He wasn’t a “blood” relative but we were close like family and called him Uncle anyway. Uncle Jacob (pronounced Yahck-up) lived with his family, his wife and three sons in an affluent part of Westchester, NY, a short walk from Rye Beach and Playland Amusement Park where their famous boardwalk was featured at the end of the movie “Big”, when the “Zoltar the Magnificent” fortune teller machine returned the adult Tom Hanks to his original childhood age/state of being. As a kid I roamed that boardwalk with my siblings a million times over. My family spent lots of weekend time at the house in Rye. Uncle Jacob and my Dad were very good friends. Shortly after my Dad immigrated to this country from Germany, Uncle Jacob gave him a job as a painter’s apprentice and a place to live. That was over 50-years ago. Back then, an immigrant coming to the United Sates had to have a job and a place to live so as not to be a burden on society.

VW Bus

Trip to Niagara Falls most likely 1963 with the two families. This is actually my Dad’s VW Bus but Uncle Jacob had a very similar one. My Dad is in the driver’s seat. Tante Theresa behind him. Richard (the middle of the three sons) is in the passenger seat. ©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Uncle Jacob’s wife, Tante Theresa, was an amazing cook and made the best Sunday dinners and chocolate chip cookies you ever had. For real. The three boys were older than me and my siblings. I can’t say I had a relationship with any one of them in particular but I do believe that a life-long bond that exists among family members was created between us during those years and beyond. They knew my Dad before he got married, before we were born. They were patient with us when we came over. I remember watching them and my Dad play with this huge train or racing car track that Uncle Jacob built for them. It was on a wooden board as big as a bed, in fact it retracted onto the wall just like a Murphy Bed. It was a fun, comfortable place to be in, like home and even though the neighborhood was a quiet and reserved one, Uncle Jacob’s house was anything but quiet and reserved.

Looking back I realize Uncle Jacob was the most progressive man I’ve ever known.

Still.

To. This. Day.

Uncle Jacob

L to R: Me, Uncle Jacob & My Sister ©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Everything I experienced at that house was unique and unusual although it all seemed quite normal at the time. As a child, I loved Uncle Jacob but it’s only now as an adult that I truly appreciate the happy, wonderful, exciting things he introduced and exposed me to.

I think of him with the same kind of respect I have for Jean Piaget, John Dewey and Ralph Waldo Emerson and realize how amazingly lucky I was to have had this man’s influences infiltrate my childhood. My schooling occurred behind the stone cold walls of a small, strict catholic school but much of my learning occurred under the indirect tutelage of the man with the handlebar mustache. He was a natural teacher demonstrating a hands-on approach to living and learning. He was a modern day Dr. Doolittle only instead of having an English accent; his was German occasionally slurred by a happy consumption of wine or beer. Like the Pied Piper too, children and adults were drawn to him and his charismatic ways.

Let me explain.

In addition to being a house painter by trade, he was a musician and a singer. Actually, he was a party on two feet, a walking Oktoberfest, all-year-round. He played the accordion. Always and everywhere.

He was a butcher. One time he and my dad bought a pig and among other things, made sausage in his basement, letting me hold the clear, thin casing while he cranked out the ground up sausage meat into it. Another time they bought a calf. We ate veal every day in every way for about a year. I don’t eat veal as an adult.

And yet another time when my younger brother wandered into the basement and as he puts it,

One minute there was a chicken running around and the next minute Uncle Jacob laid it on the butcher block and chopped it’s head off.

Dinner.

He was a farmer, growing tomatoes and other vegetables, and berries along the perimeter of the square shaped fence that surrounded the patch of grass that was his back yard.

©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Me & my baby who I named Rabbit in Rye. ©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Peter Rabbit

My younger brother, Peter w/ a rabbit in Rye. ©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

He raised rabbits. I remembering playing house with them in their living room, dressing them up and rocking them in my arms like I would a baby doll.

He was a Bee Keeper and for some time, kept his bees in boxes on the roof of his quiet little house in the affluent city of Rye. One summer, when I was 10 or 11, he gave me and my friend a job building bee hive frames. He showed us how to hammer and wire them. He treated us like we were capable. At the end of the day he paid us with jars of honey. Soon after, a neighbor complained and called the police. Uncle Jacob called the newspaper and had me come back and go up on the roof where the bees were to show them how safe it was. Eventually, they made him move the bees.

We had freedom to explore in and out and around his house. There was a small concrete swimming pool that was enclosed by a gate on the property that we swam in often, amongst the huge green lily pads and giant orange gold fish that he kept in it.

He made my brother his first fishing pole out of a stick and some twine and helped him catch his first fish with it.

He was a swimmer and swam in the Long Island Sound, probably every night. He would walk to a small alcove with his flippers in hand and his best friend, Horste, by his side. Horste was his dog, I think he was a coonhound. Sometimes we would go and watch him and Horste swim together.

Uncle Jacob and my Dad would lay in the living room on a Sunday afternoon reading the German newspaper or watching soccer, my Dad on the couch and Uncle Jacob on the floor. Uncle Jacob would call us over one by one and tell us to walk on his back to massage his weary muscles.

As I grew older and became more preoccupied with my own life and living, going to college and working, my personal contact lessened and at some point Uncle Jacob left his house in Rye to go live where his heart was, in the back woods of the Catskill Mountains. I never got to see his place there but my mom used to refer to it as Jacob’s Chutzpah! I imagined it to be a place where animals and people could dwell in an uncomplicated way. Tante Theresa remained for the most part in the house in Rye and I was told that when Uncle Jacob would come down from the mountains to visit his grandchildren he’d bring a baby chick or a bunny rabbit in his coat pocket on the train for them to see and hold and play with.

Jacob

©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Needless to say, not everyone he came in contact with appreciated his carefree nature and unfortunately, or fortunately, a neighbor who didn’t enjoy his unconventional ways of living (or German music maybe?) had him arrested on a DUI one night after playing at a local party. He was put in a small-town, back woods jail for a few months, to teach him a lesson. Needless to say, sitting idle in a cell didn’t sit well with Uncle Jacob. He asked for a can of paint and a paint brush. By the time his sentence was served, his cell and the whole jailhouse for that matter was left with a fresh coat of paint on its walls, compliments of the man with the handlebar mustache.

Is there someone in your life that had a huge, positive impact on you as a child?

I’d love to hear about them.

Six Degrees of Sadness

September 11, 2014 9 comments

Six Degrees of Separation

They say there are six degrees of separation.

 “Everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on Earth,..” ~ Wikipedia

I believe this to be true. One way or another, we’re all connected; especially when it comes to what happened on 9/11. Looking back, I’m certain that so many of us, knew somebody or knows somebody who knew somebody.

I knew somebody.

So many years later I still can’t talk about that day without becoming overwhelmed with emotion. I know I’m not alone.

Writing about it is almost as difficult.

I tried to think of something else to write about this week but the memories of that day are at the forefront of my mind and heart right now. I wouldn’t attempt to try to write about the profound loss of our sons and daughters, fathers and husbands, mothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, colleagues and friends.

I couldn’t.

All week long there’s been articles, photos, video, reports and documentaries reliving those events. I didn’t watch them.

I still can’t.

The point of contact between the planes and all three buildings is indelibly embedded in my mind.

I don’t want to see it again — ever.

There were however, a few poignant moments when I was alone that day that will linger in my mind’s eye forever; moments that caused me to pause and take notice; moments that changed my life.

I was at home with my two children; my daughter who was 6-months and my son who was 2 ½ years-old. I had the TV on, although I don’t remember what I was watching. It was interrupted by “live coverage” of the first Tower, just after it was hit by the first plane.

It seemed unlikely, odd. I couldn’t fathom the possibility of it. I was trying to make sense of what I was hearing when something surreal and horrific happened.

I watched the second plane hit the second Tower.

I remember being very confused and thinking…

“What are they doing? How are they showing something that just happened a few minutes ago?

How could somebody get this video?”

And as quickly as the thoughts passed through my mind, it hit me.

This couldn’t be video tape from the first plane because I could still see the black smoke coming from first Tower. This was live coverage. This plane was hitting the second Tower. It was a second plane crashing into the second tower and it was happening, right now!

My eyes could see the events unfolding but my mind couldn’t comprehend their reality. I could hear the reporter in the background saying with disbelief, that this was happening right now but I didn’t understand.

There were so many surreal moments that day.

Later, as I sat on our porch smoking a cigarette trying to process what I had just seen on television, I had the realization that my life, our lives as we knew them would never be the same. An overwhelming feeling of sadness slowly began to overtake the initial feelings of horror and fear that I had. Understanding of what I saw, found its way to my brain. Now, when I recall that slow, creeping feeling of sadness, I think about how Ron Weasley described the presence of the Dementors on the Hogwarts Train;

“I felt weird, like I’d never be cheerful again”.

That’s what it was like for me.  I couldn’t imagine being cheerful again.

While I sobbed uncontrollably for what happened, for what I saw and for what I felt, the deafening sound of silence surrounded itself around me. The quiet in the skies was unsettling. The more I noticed it, the louder it became. You don’t notice or really pay attention to the activity in the skies until it ceases. It gave me a sense of isolation which created a fear in me, I’ve never experienced before. I will never forget that haunting, echoing sound of nothing when no plane was allowed to fly in our otherwise free, blue skies.

On the porch that day, while my babies napped peacefully, I smoked a cigarette and mourned for the feeling of security I didn’t realize I had until I lost it, a feeling I knew my children would never know.

For weeks afterward, the winds carried the smell of death up the Hudson River. It was a smoldering, horrific stench that sat, heavy in the air. Unlike anything I’ve ever smelled before, or since, it was a foul and constant reminder of devastation and the loss our nation suffered.

Everyone I know, knows somebody or knows somebody who knows somebody.

There are six degrees of separation, they say. Six people between you and I, as strangers before an introduction. The world we live in is a small one. One way or another, we’re all connected.

I knew Somebody.

We all knew somebody.

 

Photo Credit #1: Six Degrees of Separation

Photo Credit #2: World Trade Center

Photo Credit #3: Connected

To Take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Or Not!

August 18, 2014 2 comments
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©2014 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

All this hype about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, is it a good thing or not?

Well, if nothing else, it’s spreading ALS awareness across the country faster than the speed of light and, if nothing else, THAT’S A GOOD THING! But thankfully, that’s not the only thing it’s doing. Americans are a giving people. They always have been a giving people and as of today, Americans participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon have inspired unprecedented “giving” to the ALS cause. ALS: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease is an attack of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. Most people diagnosed with ALS usually die within three to five years from the onset of symptoms.

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©2014 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

So, what exactly is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? The challenge is this: people make a video of themselves dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads, post it on social media and then challenge three or four friends to do the same within 24-hours or donate $100 to ALS. Here’s the rub:  MOST PEOPLE DO BOTH! Or at least they donate some amount. Both of my teenagers took the challenge AND donated $25 each to the ALS Association. Think about that. Think about all these awesome teenagers who are just waiting to be “challenged” on social media by friends and, who might donate about $25 each, to boot!

Give them the opportunity to do good and they will. Add the likes of Jimmy Fallon, LeBron James, Bill Gates, Taylor Swift, NFL players from the NY Giants and over 300,000 NEW DONORS to the ice bucket mix, you end up with millions of dollars, well over $15 million dollars in fact, being donated to the ALS Association as a result of the Ice Bucket Challenge in less than two months! That’s about 14 million dollars more than was raised during the same time period last year.

That, is a good thing!

As a parent, this is the kind of social media craze I WANT my kids to take part in.

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©2014 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

In effect, the concept is brilliant. Thanks to 29-year old Pete Frates and his friend Pat Quinn, both of whom have ALS and both of whom are largely responsible for turning the trend viral and into what is now, a mega fund-raiser for this disease.

That’s a good thing.

So go ahead, take the challenge! In fact, I nominate YOU! I double, triple DARE you!

Just want to donate?  You can donate on the ALS Association website:  HERE

Completely unrelated to the “Challenge” but related in a serendipitous way to this post, I mentioned Lou Gehrig’s Disease in my last post Full Circle. Goodness is perpetuated again.

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