Pictures and a Story on The Way to Jury Duty in L.A.
by Jane Tawel
June 8, 2022
I walked this route from Union Station, Downtown Los Angeles each morning to the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. One morning I saw a thin, rather frantic young woman who had parked her shopping cart of belongings against the railings that are the only things protecting walkers from falling into the mass of cars on the freeway. She had a small bucket of red paint and she was painting something on the sidewalk. The next morning I found she had painted a love letter to some one named Amgtriky. I wondered what she had written but then covered over with a big red square. “I Love you Amgtriky you are my world.” I hope Amgtriky got the message and hope the frantic young woman gets the love she craves enough to risk arrest for defacing public property. Aren’t we all, in one way or another, trying to get our message out to the ones we call “our world”? Aren’t we all just living with our big red letters sloppily painted wherever we go in our hope that someone will answer back that we too are someone’s world?
Taking the metro about an hour each morning and evening was an experience in itself. Union Station is a truly beautiful architectural gem, both inside and out.
One morning I was going to stop at the restroom in Union Station before making my fifteen minute walk to the courthouse. The restroom was unavailable and there were about five or six cops and a couple station security guards swarming around the entrance to the women’s room. I never knew why but I found the paradox of what is shown in this picture quite a succinct comment on modern life. Outside the restroom is a “Lactation Pod” next to someone’s entire earthly belongings, carried around on a makeshift cart because they have no home. I wondered since the lactation pod didn’t seem to be all that practical or often used, if maybe we could give all the lactation pods to all the people who don’t have a home? We could call them “Humanity Matters Pods”.
At lunch I would, for a brief hour, escape the horrible weight of being a judge of someone else’s life and a carrier of a lot of people’s pain, and I would eat my little cheese sandwich and apple in this park that sits in the middle of all the justice halls that a big city like Los Angeles needs. This playground was unavailable and yellow-taped off. I don’t know why but there weren’t many children around at that time of day anyway. I found myself singing to myself Cat Steven’s metaphoric and prescient tune, “Where Do the Children Play”.
During my lunch hour, the thing that always restored my joy was a group of men who played a pick-up soccer game in the park. They were also enjoying freedom from whatever jobs or lack of jobs they might have had to go back to. I imagined some of them may have been the police or public defenders or D.A.s who had a bit of anonymity and a bit of fun in otherwise hard, stressful days. I had a lot of respect for not just the people who make our American legal system still what has to be one of the best things about America and our wanna-be democracy, but for all the people I met in Los Angeles. I got lost my first day and I was a bit over-the-top freaked out about it and yet so many people would stop on the street and help me reorient or calm down or figure out where I needed to go (I got lost quite a few times). Strangers can be so very kind, even in a big city like L.A. and it made me hopeful to know that as Anne Frank said, “people are really good at heart” — or they want to be, if we maybe just let ourselves ask for help. It gave me such hope for the human race, that even though I didn’t get to see children playing in the park because the playground was shut down, I got to see grown men playing in the park each day, and as long as grown adults can still play, maybe we can all somehow stop all this ridiculous violence and sorrow.
Every evening, on the way to the metro at Union Station, I walked past homeless encampments. Every unhoused person I talked to was very nice, although there were a couple of them now and then who had just “lost it” and I guess I would be crazy loco if no one loved me enough, here in the richest nation on earth, to at least give me a roof over my head and maybe some meds I might need and some daily bread, I mean, food. I often saw the saints of the world out on the streets, like the mobile shower people who park their vans near the encampments so the homeless can take a shower and feel at least a little more human. Each day the metro took me past the Homeboys Industry Home and I saw a lot of care given to homeless folks by strangers and city cops and security guards. I think it’s time we took all the guns and bombs and weapons in the world (or at least in our nation) and turned them into homes.
Going downtown by myself every day and serving on a jury, felt like a very brave thing for little old, stuck in the mud me to do because I am pretty well sunk-in to my careful little, often anxious but small risk suburban life. I ended up feeling both much older and quite a bit younger and also hopeful that my life wasn’t really all that set yet, and I could still live a more helpful, kind, — adventurous — and useful,caring life. I realized it is now time to find a practical way to give more to people who need another pair of hands to help them out. I have been volunteering from a distance, literally during the Covid pandemic years, but always a bit distanced metaphorically in how I choose to care for the stranger, the orphan, the homeless, the prisoner,or the hurting. But during my two weeks of Jury Duty I had been forced to be “present”. Each morning when the court clerk would call my number and I answered “present”, was like a vision of a future where the Great Judge of All calls the roll call. I want to start waking up each day, and be able to say, “I’m present. I’m ready. What is it that The Universal Good would have me, little old me, do for someone else today?” Because you know what — most of the good that gets done in this world is being done by “little old me’s”. And seeing all the “little old me’s” of Los Angeles made me realize that if anyone is looking for Christ, or looking for Jesus to return, I can tell them where to find him — he is in the City of Los Angeles, in the homeless camps and prisons and court houses and parks and sidewalks. All we have to do is look for Christ and we will find that Christ is here because Christ is waiting to be us.
And I realized, although I didn’t want to do it, that Jury Duty had been a sobering, emotionally and spiritually exhausting gift from God. After seeing the world that lets a young man join a gang because he doesn’t have any real family to help him grow up strong and valued and loved, or a world where someone gets shot by a gun while going to the grocery because we have become so greedy and stupid that we worship guns instead of life, or a world that walks past people without homes while other people fly into space on their chump-change, or a world that has been so very, very gracious to me, such a lucky world for me to be born and raised and survive in, while other people get the short end of the whole deal, after seeing a world where bad decisions became a life of no return, and good decisions can get you in trouble or killed, and where everyone is seeking the same things but some people just have the odds stacked against them and no one is around to help them find their way–help them find The Way; in world where every one is throwing their red paint around hoping that someone believes in them and loves them enough to say, “You are my world” — in this time and place that I happen to find myself in, I realized I need some skin in the game. Because this game? This game of life can’t be played from the sidelines.
Every day I got to come home to a home and a family that loves me and feels loved and where I have more than enough food and clothes and places to keep my stuff. I got to come home to a garden, and not just any garden, but a garden my daughter had made for me to enjoy. I got to come home to roses and I could avoid the thorns or get a band aide if I pricked my finger on a thorn. I thought about the defendant in the trial who would have many years where he would never see a garden, let alone tend one. I thought about the families of the victims who would never have their son or daughter make them something beautiful, like my daughter made my garden for me. I thought about the homeless folks who didn’t have any where but a cold or hot sidewalk to lay their heads at night. I thought about the judges and detectives and cops and prosecutors and defense attorneys and courthouse guards who every day go back into the world hoping for justice and also, I hope, praying not to get so jaded or worn down that they give up caring. And after my journey in the City of Los Angeles, I am still asking to know a better answer to the question, “How Shall I Then Live?”
A Somewhat Incoherent and Rushed Amount of Thoughts on a Trip to a Stunningly Beautiful Part of the World
By Jane Tawel
May 3, 2022
Here are some random thoughts on a recent trip I was privileged to take with my husband to Bryce and Zion National Parks in Utah, U.S.A. This was our second trip there and if you have never gotten to go, well, find a way. Go. Now if possible. Our trip was a celebration of my husband’s birthday, but it also turned out to be a retreat for our marriage and relationship, and a spiritual adventure for our souls.
If you have never quite been able to believe in a Creator-Being, some call “God”, then you just might after visiting Bryce Canyon. And if you need to find solace, inspiration, and joy in putting one foot in front of the other, both literally and figuratively, then head to this area of amazing and incredible natural and glorious wonder. And if you want to learn about both the incredible creative Spirit that shapes towering red glowing rock formations and vast purple and yellow canyons, but that also shapes each human heart and lives within each human open to Spirit and Truth, a Quixotic and Incomprehensibly Wise Creative-Father that also shapes men and women into creative sources as well, then go to Bryce and Zion. You can just “be” there, which is the best, but you can also hear and read about the miracles of creation, both divine and human, that make this place a continual, evolving, and ancient as earth and native peoples – a story of glory and grace, determination and awesomeness, and practicality and natural magic.
After a week of hikes and picnics, rest and play, Raoul and I drove the long day’s drive home and talked about our “take-aways”. Here are some of mine, in no particular order.
Sometimes you have to rest from trying to learn, in order to learn. Sometimes you have to play to let the hard work of relationship grow into something fruitful. And sometimes, you have to stop thinking, in order to understand – to understand others, to understand the Mystery many of us seek and call God, and to definitely, at times, understand oneself.
Forgiveness of others is hard, and forgiveness of oneself is even harder. The difficulty is why many of us never try to forgive and many of us never do it particularly well. True forgiveness means the annihilation of past judgments and the desire to avoid any future judgment.
Acceptance does not mean condoning, but it is better to remain silent about not condoning actions and let your voice speak loudly and lovingly of your acceptance of the person. It would be good to try each day to do this with myself. “Hello, dear Jane. I do not condone the fact you over-ate yesterday, nor do I condone the fact that you gossiped about that workmate or had that negative thought about that loved one. I do however, lovingly accept you – slightly chubbier, a little bit anxious and worried you – and I love that you are still seeking and going to try to do better today. I forgive you, Myself. I accept you myself. Jane ole Pal, Go out there and love!
There aren’t really any good words to describe Nature’s beauty. But I am so happy that people just have to keep trying to describe it anyway. There were a couple times I slightly embarrassed Raoul by bursting into the verses from the old hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth.” I sing this to myself some nights when I feel anxious about my kids, or the world, or myself. I sing it sometimes when I can to stop myself from cursing other reckless and naughty drivers on side streets and freeways. I sing it to myself sometimes when I feel God moved off far-away too long ago, and I keep wondering when She will return to save the planet and the people in Ukraine and all the angry people in America. But…. There was something about singing it to Raoul and me and the red rocks, and the impossibly- surviving trees hanging on cliffs, and the chipmunks that find enough food each day to scamper along the dusty trails, and the American antelopes, that aren’t antelopes at all but a unique deer-like creature that has had its own completely unique DNA since God said, “Let there be!” – and it all came into being. Which brings me to this:
It is good to be “becoming”. If even rocks are still changing under the glory weight of a God Who Is, then so can we be “becoming”. So am I still becoming. It is good to be alive and as long as there are rocks standing in Bryce Canyon and waters flowing in Zion, there is not only hope for our planet, there is hope for you and me.
Surely the Psalmist was right, when she wrote, “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place.” But it is good to tell oneself when returning to the ugliness of a city street or the boredom of a 9-5 job or the angst of a world gone headline-mad, or the fears for a child or loved one, that God also lives in us:
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. (I John 4:16-19)
I couldn’t stop looking at what the world and nature– from the large towering impossibly colored rocks to the small, delicate flowering plants –what all reveal about a Mind, a Spirit that is beyond my comprehension and yet Who somehow created a planet that is not only perfect for life, but perfect for exploration and awe-inspiring and wonder. The Psalmist also wrote these lines that kept zinging through my head while in Utah:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. …
Dear fellow travelers: Today may be a day when like I, you get up and do the same old thing and feel the same old way– if not even a little achier or crankier or scared-er. And beauty may seem long past or remembered as a dream that you can’t quite bring to mind any more. Some days, or many days or most days –hope may seem to have hit a years’ long drought in the living waters department and God, well, He might truly be hiding out in places like Bryce or Zion because He doesn’t always seem to be on our speed dial any more. I know if I were God, right about now, I’d be taking a centuries long retreat to Zion and waiting to see if old Jane or the rest of the folks on the planet decide to stop warring and waging war and causing mayhem or just creating irritation in people they say they love.
And so perhaps the best thing to do is to realize – if you are reading this – you still have the miracle of your eyes, along with the miracle of your hands and thinking brain – “Look, See, for the Lord is Good to have given you eyes that can see and hands that can work and a brain that can remember and envision something new to create today, even if it is just to create a perfect cup of tea.
Breathe deeply and mindfully, some might say that is all prayer is, and then realize today is yours to live as you choose. Choose now. Choose joy. Choose love.
Finally, no matter where you are, there is a dandelion growing in a sidewalk crack to remind you that the Earth is full of life and hope and beauty. And as long as you can see a wish-flower or hear a bird or taste a drop of honey or smell the morning air or touch your very own hand to your face, then you can trust that God is good and you are good to go.
And as long as people keep trying to create word-pictures that express the beauty of God’s creation and the beauty of God’s love, and the beauty of an hour more to live, and the beauty of our love for each other – well –then no matter where I am, or where my day will take me, or how simplistic and ineffectual my words may be, then I can have the teensiest taste of hope and glory and trust that “God is on Her throne and all will be well with Her World.”
For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
2. For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night, hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
3. For the joy of ear and eye, for the heart and mind’s delight, for the mystic harmony, linking sense to sound and sight; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
4. For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth and friends above, for all gentle thoughts and mild; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.