Nice Matters

When I moved to Florida, it struck me that people seemed to be nicer here than in other places I lived. I thought maybe it was a Southern thing. People were more polite, friendlier, and pleasant.  The general attitude just seemed to be warmer than in California.  I have friends in California that are very, very close to my heart.  These people have shown me critical kindness, sincere love, and absolute warmth.  This is my experience of individuals and I would never say that specific individuals on one coast or another are nicer.  The acceptable standard operating procedure for relating to others in Florida, though, seems to be a smidge higher on the niceness scale. 

When I’ve stated this theory to friends, they tend to disagree.  They tell me that they think what I’ve observed about the niceness of people in Florida just has to do with living in a small town.  My town in Florida has a population of about 23,000 people.  While that is much smaller than the population of the sprawling metropolis in which I resided in the Golden State, it hardly strikes me as a tiny town.  Besides, I’ve visited small towns before.  I do think the people tend to be friendlier and more connected to each other, but I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that they were particularly kind to your average, garden variety interloper. 

I think I’ve figured out what it is.  I think it is community.

I’m not sure I’ve actually lived in community as an adult before moving to Florida.  I always lived in apartment or condo complexes when I lived in California.  Neighbors typically didn’t even know each other’s names.  Amazingly, you could live adjacent to someone, separated only be a wall, and never even speak to that person.  I didn’t have children, so I never developed a network of neighbors, school volunteers, or other parent-related groups.  I worshiped as a Roman Catholic, in huge congregations.  These congregations seemed to connect on Sunday mornings and then disengage back into the mainstream with no residual tie to each other.  The sign of peace usually meant nodding to your immediate pew neighbor and avoiding touch. The isolated structure of my environment did nothing to overcome my basic shyness.  It is a bit tortuous for me to interact with people I don’t know when they make the first move.  There is no way on God’s green earth that I would be the one breaking down the social barriers to create community.

If I did have a community, it was my workplace.  I made most of my friends at work and they were very important to me.  I have been retired almost five years and I am still close to many of these community members.  In some ways, my workplace did seem like community.  The people with whom I inhabited my career are like family.  I knew their struggles and their triumphs.  I knew who was good at what and what challenges I could expect when interacting with each person.  There was a sort of forgiveness of foibles that happens with people you know and love.

On the other hand, considering your workplace to be your community might not be the healthiest perspective.  I was lucky in my colleagues, but it would be naïve to think that everyone in the workplace community is free of personal agendas and defenses.  After all, there is much more at stake in the workplace community than in a neighborhood.  Getting along may not always serve a colleague’s purposes.  As I said, I was blessed with absolutely wonderful, supportive colleagues and superiors, but it can be dicey to perceive a coworker through the same lens as a neighbor.  Also, if one looks at the workplace as the community, it is sometimes harder to disengage from the work situation.  Burnout can be more of a factor.  If workplace is “community,” is it also “home?” If so, how do you “go home and leave the troubles of the day behind you?”

In Florida, I live in a subdivision, a distinct neighborhood.  I do know my close neighbors and I also know a fairly large circle of other folks who live in the community.  The subdivision has activities and I participate in some of them some of the time.  People seem to enjoy crocheting a cozy afghan of connections with those who share their neighborhood.  The afghan consists of different kinds of stitches, some looser than others, and some just barely hanging by a shredded piece of yarn, but those connections are there.  It doesn’t feel like too much, even to someone like me who is perhaps too easily spooked by too much interaction with too many people.  In addition to the warmth, there is respect so the afghan stitches don’t tend to knot and constrain.  The pattern is really rather beautiful.

My church in Florida is similar.  People talk about “church homes” and “church families,” but I don’t think I ever really understood.  Now I get it.  My church isn’t tiny, but it certainly seems small and manageable after a lifetime of going to services with 800 other people who changed week to week.  The other day, I was thanking a church friend for helping me with something.  I gave him a small gift and he seemed truly astonished that I would think his help was any big deal.  He said, “It was nothing.  You are my sister and I will always help you in any way I can.”  That moment was truly one of the most significant experiences of my spiritual life.  The passing of the peace in my current church is a “get out of your pew and greet everyone you come across” kind of affair.  After a couple of years of attending the Episcopal church, I know many of the other parishioners.  I can identify unfamiliar faces and “peace” the people who may be new to the congregation. I see the facets of community I saw in the workplace- everyone has different blessings and everyone has different broken, rough places in their personalities and competencies.  I love all of them with the gratitude, forgiveness and tolerance that comes from being family. 

This journey has taught me something about retirement.  If you, like me, had a workplace that was your community- maybe your only community- you may find it helpful to actively search for a way of connecting in a communal kind of way in your post-career life.  It is great to feel connected with the cozy “niceness” that is community. It is pretty freeing to feel that connection in a way that is not conditional upon the vagaries of the workplace.  I think finding that community may have been the best part of moving to Florida for me.  For me, nice matters.  It matters a lot.

Have you experienced “community” differently since you retired?  In what way?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com 

Have a NICE day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Civic Duty

Recently, I was called for jury duty.  When I received the summons, I groaned. I am no stranger to jury duty.   I survived many years of adulthood without being called.  Once I received my first “invitation” in California, however, I became a jury duty magnet.  For about six years, I routinely found summonses in my mailbox the very instant I was eligible to be called after a prior service. 

When I went to jury duty in California, I found the entire process to be as irritating as cheap shoes.  At first, I found it interesting.  The experience lost its luster as I watched the legal system work. Maybe “dabble” would be a better word because nothing ever seemed to actually work.  There were hordes of potential jurors crumpled into a giant jury assembly room. The crowd was typically SRO by the time a clerk officially opened the proceedings by introducing a video explaining the nobility of jury service. The video starred Fess Parker.  I’m not sure I was alive when that video was made.

Trials in California were often protracted, complicated affairs.  Jury selection alone often took an entire week.  Thousands of potential jurors hung out in hallways while mysterious goings-on inside the courtrooms sucked time out of the day, moment by agonizing moment.  I’ve heard the saying that “they also serve who stand and wait.” That saying must have been about jury duty.  Fess Parker would be proud of me, given the amount of time I have spent waiting in jury duty.

You may think I exaggerate when I say “thousands of potential jurors” and maybe I do.  However, it was not at all unusual for a judge to call over 100 potential jurors for a single trial.  The process of whittling down this cast of hundreds to twelve jurors and two alternates was painstaking…. and painsgiving. Judges would usually start the jury selection process by hearing the requests of anyone asking to be excused.  People tried everything they could think of to get excused.  They’d unearth long forgotten relatives with some tenuous connection to law enforcement.  Maybe they didn’t actually have a family member who was a convicted felon, but they had one who played one on tv.  Prospective jurors prepared lists of exotic ailments that rendered them incapable of service.  Everyone had philosophical, moral, emotional, or religious issues that prevented them from being a fair and impartial jury member. 

After years of hearing every possible reason a potential juror could give for asking to be excused, the judges were kind of jaded.  There were times when this hard-heartedness about jury excuses bordered on the ridiculous.  There was one poor woman who explained that she was scheduled to fly to another state to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding.  The judge denied her request because there were other bridesmaids.  Audible gasps echoed throughout the courtroom. The other hopefuls waiting in the long line to request an excuse realized they didn’t have a prayer, unless they developed a sudden need for a kidney transplant.  The attorneys on both sides of the aisle quickly submitted a joint motion to the court that the juror be excused.  They based this motion on their very justifiable belief that there was no way this lady would be thinking about anything during the entire trial except how pissed off she was at the judge.  I think we were all relieved when the judge finally agreed. 

While that story had a happy ended, the point is that the level of interest in serving jury duty is so subterranean that the judges can’t even allow themselves to be reasonable in considering requests for excuse. 

All of this debating and juror-whittling takes quite some time.  It gave me a good opportunity to observe my fellow captives…. uh, I mean “potential jurors.”  To be honest, a lot of these folks seemed kind of sketchy.  Listening to the responses during voir dire did nothing to increase my confidence in them.  I was more freaked out by many of the potential jurors than I was by the defendants- the actual alleged bad guys.  I often marveled at the thought that, if I should ever be on trial, this pool of folks would be considered a “jury of my peers.”  The idea was pretty humbling…. and disturbing.  Clearly, jury duty is a deterrent to crime. 

Even though my new colleagues often seemed dodgier than the defendants, the defendants were pretty scary, too.  In all my experiences with California jury duty, I never saw an arm or a neck on a defendant.  Every one of them wore a long-sleeved, high-collared shirt. Apparently, the most common legal advice given by public defenders in Southern California is that the defendant should attempt to cover his or her gang tattoos.  This proves difficult when a defendant has them on his or her face, but those long-sleeved, high-collared shirts do cover a multitude of sins. 

Every trial I ever encountered was messy.  They all involved violent crime.  They often involved crimes against both persons and property.  There was often conflicting and self-serving testimony. Typically, there were multiple charges that would each need individual verdicts.  As jurors, we were given numbers and always referred to by those numbers in the courthouse to protect our privacy and, potentially, our personal safety.  

Given what I’ve just told you, you probably understand why I groaned upon receiving the jury summons here in Florida. 

When I arrived at the courthouse for my Florida jury duty, I was pleasantly surprised.  The jury assembly room was comfortable and spacious. There was ample room for the 75 or so people who showed up to serve.  No hordes of any kind.  The people all seemed pretty normal and law-abiding.  There was no Fess Parker video. When a batch of us were called (by our actual names!) to go to the courtroom, about 50 of us filed into place. 

As it turned out, those of us who marched into the courtroom were a pool for three different unrelated trials!  In California, the voir dire process for even a single trial would have made mincemeat out of such a puny number of jurors.  In the Florida court process, the idea was to actually select three juries with a reasonable amount of efficiency.  Getting everyone together at one time- judge, all of the defendants, all of the attorneys, and the potential jurors- avoided a lot of duplication of effort. 

Another interesting aspect of the jury duty experience is that none of the three trials involved violence.  Two involved driving under the influence, with no alleged harm to person or property.  The defendant in the final trial was accused of contracting without a license.  I was kind of stupefied.  I’d bet money that none of these cases would ever see the inside of a Southern California courtroom.  If anyone cared enough to prosecute them, they would certainly be settled long before there was any need to select a jury. 

Another interesting phenomenon was that the attorneys asked everyone what his or her reaction was to being called for jury duty.  Over half my colleagues were not only okay with it, but were excited about serving.  I thought I had fallen down a rabbit loophole in the legal system.  Once the court had taken our jury duty emotional temperature, the attorneys moved on to more formal and individualized questioning.   Ultimately, no one who expressed any reservations or disappointment about jury duty ended up on a trial. 

During the discussion for both the DUI cases, people seemed fairly low key.  One gentleman, sadly, had lost his wife to a drunk driving accident.  While he was not selected for either DUI trial, there was no drama or emotion around the discussion.  He answered the questions about his experience, but felt he could be impartial.  In California, I doubt he would have had a chance to even warm his seat before being sent packing.  Here, they kept him in the pool for questioning for the entire day.

When we started the process for the contracting without a license case, all hell broke loose.  All the people who sat, reasonable and rational and unemotional, through the entire discussion of the DUI trials suddenly became impassioned and eloquent.  I had a hard time understanding why no one seemed particularly emotional or stirred up by driving under the influence of alcohol, but almost everyone seemed to explode over the idea that anyone could be evil enough to install windows without governmental approval.  People were actually excused because they felt they could not be impartial about the issue. 

Ultimately, I did not get selected for any of the three juries. I wasn’t exactly brokenhearted.  Still, I have to say that my tolerance for jury duty increased during my day of service.  I’m never going to be one of the people who raise their hands to say “pick me, pick me!” when the attorneys question them about their level of enthusiasm over receiving a jury summons.  On the other hand, I am no longer tempted to schedule unnecessary surgery simply to get excused.

I’m such a good citizen. 

Anybody else have a jury duty story you care to share?  Or what about just a story about some relatively minor thing that seemed very different after you made a huge change in your life like moving or retiring?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a judicious day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

From Sea To Shining Sea

I have been fortunate throughout my life to visit many historic places in the United States. From an early age, my parents took me to see sites they thought were important for Americans to see.  I’ve continued these pilgrimages throughout my life. 

  • I’ve seen the site where Pocahontas married John Rolfe.  While the stories about her saving John Smith’s life during the development of the Jamestown colony may be apocryphal, it is clear that she did contribute to the success of the Jamestown colony.  She provided food, comfort, and safety for the colonists.  She also was a sort of “public relations” icon for support of the American colonies in Britain. 
  • I’ve worshiped in the church where Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and other members of our founding families attended services.
  • I’ve gazed at the doors of Independence Hall and remembered the brave men who signed the Declaration of Independence. 
  • I’ve surveyed the field where a representative of General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown.
  • I’ve thrown a rock into the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers at Harper’s Ferry where Lewis and Clark first began their Western exploration.  This was to be the first step in many that would lead to great progress in the expansion of our nation.
  • I’ve seen the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, which inspired our country’s national anthem.
  • I’ve been to Sutter’s Mill and thought about how the 1849 California gold rush helped forge civilization out of frontier outposts.
  • I’ve walked the battlefields of Antietam and Gettysburg, imagining the tactics and actions that helped preserve our union and end slavery.
  • I’ve toured the Iolani Palace in Hawaii and remembered that our nation has many backgrounds.
  • I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty and imagined how the immigrants who came to our country must have felt when they landed on our shores.
  • I’ve stood next to the grave of Woodrow Wilson in the National Cathedral, paying tribute to an intelligent man of principle who held peace as his ideal. 
  • I’ve seen golden Oscars, ruby slippers, exquisite handmade movie costumes, and scripts from early movie productions.  I’ve even read a telegram to Rin Tin Tin in which the studio cancelled his contract because the moving picture industry was converting to talkies and “dogs can’t talk.”
  • I’ve viewed the rusty remnants of the USS Arizona beneath the waters of Pearl Harbor. I’ve stood on the USS Missouri where Japan surrendered to the United States, ending World War II. 
  • I’ve seen the Greensboro North Carolina lunch counter where four courageous African American students sat on February 1, 1960, to protest the “whites only” service policy. 
  • I’ve felt a moon rock.
  • I’ve walked the Halls of Congress, toured the White House, and admired the dignity of the Supreme Court building. 

In addition to these momentous sites, I have also visited many locations of “everyday history.”  The fabric of our history is not just made up of keystone moments and famous people.  Everyone who came before us is also part of that history, no matter how seemingly pedestrian his or her life. These lives also inspire me as an American.

  • I’ve seen Native American petroglyphs on the rock walls of river gorges.
  • I’ve walked the streets of St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States.
  • I’ve struggled to chime the bell in a New Hampshire Congregational Church tower.  This church is the progeny of the early Puritan churches that formed the first cornerstone of the New England colonies. 
  • I’ve visited a Daoist temple in Northern California that was built for the influx of Chinese immigrants who came to the United States in the late nineteenth century to work in the goldfields and on the railroad construction. 
  • I’ve been to living history museums in New England, Virginia, Texas, Florida, and California where I observed demonstrations of arts and industries that were key components to life in days gone by. 

As we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America on the Fourth of July, I am grateful and proud to be part of this country. I believe my travels across the nation and my visits to important historical sites increase my appreciation of my country. I am proud of the wonderful accomplishments and advancements that have taken place in my country’s history. I don’t think it is a blind or jingoistic pride. We do live in a wonderful country and we are a wonderful people. 

However, for every achievement or momentous moment I’ve mentioned above, I know there is a darker side.  For instance, the founders of the nation who wrote the Declaration of Independence were all white men and declared “all men are created equal.”  The westward expansion of the United States led to the oppression and slaughter of native peoples.  The memories of military victory in World War II also generate memories of a time when we, as Americans, confined other Americans to internment camps. The people who drive our governmental systems do not always do so efficiently, fairly, and altruistically. 

I am still proud to be an American, despite all that.  To me, one of the specific reasons I am so proud to be an American is that I know about these darker sides of our history.  In many nations, history that doesn’t conform to the government’s vision of itself would be hidden and rewritten.  I would be ignorant of the less admirable parts of history in such a culture. I certainly would not be able to write about them.  I believe the American people, culture, and systems of government are uniquely suited to identifying problems and working towards progress.  We are willing to face our flaws, recognizing them and working together to improve.

Change and growth is very difficult. Sometimes we disagree about what the changes should look like. Sometimes, we stumble. Sometimes, we take sidesteps.  Sometimes, we even make missteps.  It often takes generations to accomplish positive change, but we keep moving forwards.  I can look at the political, social, and cultural landscape of the country, even over my own lifetime, and see how we keep developing.  It can sometimes seem like we are moving backwards, but the key to really appreciating all we are and all we have accomplished is to look at net progress from a distance of time.  I believe it is the responsibility of all of us to fuel the engine of that progress and keep it speeding, straight and true, over the tracks of history. We are all part of our history.

History is not only what was.  One day, history will be what is now. 

Have you ever visited someplace that increased your appreciation of your heritage? Tell us about it! Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. Have a spectacular Fourth Of July!

Have a patriotic day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂