Miss Pelican's Perch

Looking at my World from a Different Place


Some Thoughts on Justice and Compassion

pencilI just returned from jury service. I was selected for a trial that lasted about three weeks. It is not important for you to know the details of the case; in fact, I find it has been exceedingly difficult for me to share the details of the case even with my friends. Let’s just say it was it was a felony and my experience of sitting through the evidence and rendering a verdict was intense.

When I finally did tell one friend about the experience, she congratulated me: “Good job!”  If I did such a good job, why to I feel so sad?

Yes, the jury did do a good job. We took the law that the judge gave to us, broke the definitions of the crimes down into their components, and then applied to those components only the facts that were given to us in the evidence phase of the proceedings.

Yes, we did our jobs, but had you been with us in the deliberation room, you would not have seen any high-fives or shoulder pats after we finalized our decision. It was somber and sad and there were tears.

I cannot speak for my fellow jurors, but the suffering of all concerned with the case fell heavily on me. The defendant ruined his life with his actions. The friends and family of all the parties have suffered and will continue to suffer for a long while.

Our culture, at least my little corner of it, has taught me that we should be compassionate and understanding. My faith tradition informs me “judge not lest ye be judged”. We live in a culture of “do-overs” and “time-outs”. So it is no wonder this experience of passing judgment on another seems so counter to my nature. I got through the deliberations and the aftermath by reminding myself: “you have followed the law, you have considered the evidence.”

That being said, the sound of the sheriff clicking the cuffs on the defendant and the look on his face at the reading of the verdict are seared into my memory.  The defendant and his attorney looked as if their guts had been kicked in. The energy of that fired across the courtroom and knocked me in the gut too.

So what did this experience teach me? Did this teach me to be more compassionate?  Or did the fact that I had to be totally objective and solely attentive to the law and the evidence hurt my ability to be compassionate?

The jury is still out on that one.

Miss Pelican (c) 2014



Last night I came across a video interview of writer Elizabeth Gilbert where she made this comment about her writing discipline: “It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to be done.” This reminded me of something Anne Lamott states in her book about writing, Bird-by-Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”

I get it. I need to make writing a daily, sustained practice and not concern myself with the quality. I need to make writing a discipline. I need to be this warrior-writer who gets up every morning and does a martial arts warm-up routine comprised of applying verbs and nouns to a page. Then I need to move on to the battlefield and actually finish something I start even if it is just plain terrible writing.

My life is complicated right now and this has taken its toll on a daily discipline. I tell myself that I am just too tired, or too distracted, or too unfocused. I say to myself that I have had no time for my “artist’s date”, or no time to read others’ writings for inspiration.  I make one excuse after another.

I have come to a point where I have to be honest with myself: I could make the time and be more focused if I really wanted. I don’t need outside stimulation to inspire me. The simple fact is that I don’t write because I am afraid. I am a not a warrior-writer, I am a writing-wimp.

In my opinion, to be a productive writer one needs to dig deep and reveal oneself. My writing stays on the superficial level in my fear of revealing too much about my horribly flawed self. I resonate to the works of writers like Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) and Lamott (Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith) because these works are so courageously intimate. They share their lives in a way that I cannot imagine myself ever doing. I even go as far as to tell myself that I have never done anything worth-while in my whole life ever so there really is not anything that I can share even if I wanted.

Every short story I might write is fraught with the potential of showing any readers I might attract how utterly trivial and superficial I really am as a human being. And with that fear in front of me, I turn tail and run.

Furthermore, anything I reveal about myself in my writing would make me vulnerable to those hateful elements in this world who derive psychic sustenance from preying on the vulnerabilities of others. Being a writer is putting oneself into the position of being wounded and perhaps even dying a little bit with each word struck by a pen or a keyboard. I have read that Norman Mailer once said “Every one of my books has killed me a little more.” A person who wants to be a writer needs to show the courage of warrior and accept the possibility of even becoming a martyr for her craft.

It’s time for me to reconcile myself to this fact.

lgloyd (c) 2013

The interview I reference in the first line: