Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jury Duty, Part 2

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I spent the better part of three weeks on jury duty: three days of jury selection and two weeks hearing testimony and arguments, and deliberating. A father was accused of molesting his young daughters. Guilty or innocent, the situation was simply tragic in so many ways.

But in terms of my own experience, there were a few bright spots. First, I got to meet some truly interesting folks from many walks of life. A software engineer from London, the Cockney district to be precise, and he sounded by his own admission like the Geico gecko. A lady who had worked for many years on child abuse cases (and how she managed to not get kicked off the jury, I will never know). A retired fire chief who had served with friends of mine on the Menlo Park fire department. A young mom from the Phillipines. When we entered the jury room to deliberate, I was fully expecting a heated discussion and a potentially split jury. But such was not the case. I was amazed at how everyone, regardless of their passion for the subject (and there were some very passionate folks, let me tell you!) worked hard to maintain a collegial vibe in the jury room, to thoughtfully work through the issues, to receive others' opinions openly and to offer theirs succinctly.

I did not exchange any business cards and don't expect to see any of my fellow jurors again. But if I do, I will enjoy seeing them.

The other strong takeaway was that it affirmed in me a sense of doing one's civic duty that I'd never experienced before. For me, jury duty was something to get out of. It was a disruption, a distraction that took you away from your job and your family. But my boss was really supportive. He reassured me that it was the right thing to do. He said that at Hewlett-Packard, then-CEO Lew Platt really impressed on him the importance of doing one's civic duty. My boss said that so many people are convinced that their companies would fall apart without them, but that's seldom the case. "It's the right thing to do," he assured me. And he was right. In the end, it was an experience like no other. And I felt good that I hadn't trumped up some excuse or made some outlanding statement during the jury selection process just to get myself excused.

And in the end, I truly believe that justice was served. I was able to walk away from the courtroom knowing that we had rendered a just decision, one that each of us could live with and feel good about.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jury Duty

This is my first post in a long while. I've just got to get better about putting my thoughts down.

I just ended two weeks of jury duty. No, not reporting to jury duty. Serving on a jury. This was the first time I've done this. It was a challenge, because like most folks, I have commitments at work, and I thought seriously about finding some way to get out of jury duty. Friends offered me "sure fire" ways to get dismissed, should I get called to the jury box and interviewed. I did get called, and I tried my best to be honest.

But in the end I just couldn't make up a story to get myself dismissed. Thankfully, my boss really believes in doing one's civic duty (he was a career HP guy, and HP President Lew Platt himself had told him that giving back to the community is what every HP employee should do). You guessed it. I got chosen.

But why two weeks? Kinda long for the average trial, no? This wasn't your typical armed robbery or drug trafficking case. It wasn't auto theft of illegal possession of a firearm. It was child abuse. Father to daughter. The last kind of case I ever wanted to serve on.

The stakes were high. No matter who was telling the truth, lives would be ruined. The family was already destroyed. The child, if s/he were telling the truth, would never be the same. If s/he were lying, it would haunt him/her for life. If the father were innocent, and he were found guilty, his life would would be over. And if he were guilty and found innocent, then justice would not have been served.

These were among the feelings that I brought to jury duty each day. Listening to the testimony was tough. If true, what father would do that? If false, what would that be like for the father?

There were a few positive take-aways. I'll share those next.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Thanks, Mom!

My folks were never big on Mother's or Father's Day. I don't think they cared for the commercialism. Plus, if you loved your parents, you showed it throughout the year, not so much with gifts, but with kindness, being helpful, showing respect. You didn't wait for a holiday to "honor thy father and mother."

But having lost my mother 25 years ago, I'm coming to really like Mother's Day, and I like celebrating it. It gives me a chance to stop and reflect on all that she meant to me, and that's more than you can possibly imagine. I learned so much from her: all of the basic virtues and values, plus things like the power of positive thinking, the ability of affirmation and encouragement to change lives, and the importance of valuing all human beings. Remember the children's book "The Little Engine That Could"? "I think I can, I think I can" was the little train's mantra, and that was hers as well.

She started the girl scout troop in our little home town of Corcoran and led it for years, changing countless girls' lives for the better. I bet that some of them even now remember Mrs. Barnes on Mother's Day.

Her home was the most welcoming place. No matter who you were, when you walked into our house, you were welcomed, you were asked how things were going, and you always left with a word of encouragement. My friends used to tell me how lucky I was to have a mom like mine. They were right. I was lucky, and am still blessed.

So even though you weren't big on celebrating it, Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Thanks for everything.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Places That Touch Your Soul

One of my best friends absolutely loves the ocean. Standing on a cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean, the surf pounding against the rocks, is like going to church for him. No, he isn’t one of those “nature is God” types. It’s just that the ocean is where he really feels the presence of God. With my dad, being among the giant redwoods in Big Basin is like that.

Those places are special to me, too, but for me, the place that really touches my soul is the desert. Yeah, I know. What’s in the desert? Sand, cacti, scrub brush, lizards, ghost towns. Not nearly the grandeur of Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. But the desert speaks to me like no other place.

It might be because of where I was raised. I grew up in Corcoran, a small farming town in California’s central valley. No hills, no rivers, just a checkerboard of land planted with cotton, barley, alfalfa and safflower. All of my summer jobs were out in the farmlands — a surveyor’s assistant, a row boss on a cotton-chopping crew, painting cotton trailers, running parts at an equipment repair shop. I came to see beauty in a perfectly leveled, plowed section of land. Out there in the middle of nowhere, miles from anybody but your work crew, there was a serenity that took me to a thoughtful place.

I vividly remember a trip to Death Valley in my mid-teens. Death Valley is like the Yosemite of deserts, so many natural wonders, strange formations of rocks and minerals, ghost towns that held more secrets than they revealed, a place of austere beauty and mystery. God often speaks to us in silence, and I think it is this very quality of the desert that I find especially spiritual.

In the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to spend several memorable weekends at the Tubac resort south of Tuscon, Arizona (they have really low summer rates, ‘cause it’s, well, summer in Arizona). These weekends reminded me how special the desert is to me. Yeah, the resort is a draw, but it’s the peace I feel when I’m there that is the real attraction. I hope I can go back again soon.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Anyone For Tacos?

You’ve all heard about college pranks. Looking through a pile of old photos, I came across a snapshot that reminded me of the best prank I ever pulled.

It was back in June of 1974. My best bud, Skip Rung, was visiting me in Corcoran. I decided to show him the town, which didn’t take long, Corcoran having less than 5,000 residents at the time. We drove past the newly completed, soon-to-be-dedicated City Hall and Police Station. Tan stucco, terra cotta roof, red-orange tile arches. The more we looked the more we realized: it looked like a Taco Bell. But there was one thing missing: the sign. Civic minded fellows that we were, we were determined to provide it. Oh, but it couldn’t be just any sign. It had to be exactly like the real thing. We noticed two wall lamps positioned about 12 feet apart, which would be perfect to hold the ends of our sign.

OK, but what about the sign itself? Remember, this was back before the internet, so we couldn’t google a photo of a Taco Bell, and the nearest one was a half hour away in Visalia. No matter, we needed to go there anyway to find the construction paper we’d need. So we drove there, took notes on the colors, the alternating angles of the tiles, etc. We came home and crafted our sign, stapling the letters to a 2X2. We affixed long wires to each end, so that we could race up, quickly whip the wires in place and make our getaway.

We rose early the next morning and drove with our sign to the Civic Center. Thankfully the streets were completely empty. Now’s our chance. We stopped, got out, looked both ways, ran up to the Civic Center, wrapped our wires around the wall lamps, stepped back, snapped a quick photo (see right) and turned to go.

We then realized that three workers standing outside the farm equipment shop across the street had been watching us the whole time. Uh oh, I thought. We’re busted now. But then they let out a laugh and started clapping and cheering. All right. We’re home free.

But that’s not the end of the story. My dad, who loves a good prank himself, was aware of our plot, and called a friend on the newspaper staff as we were making our getaway. He said he had been driving out to feed his horses (which was in the exact opposite direction from the Civic Center, by the way) and as he passed the Civic Center, he saw that someone had hung a sign. He thought they ought to drive right over and check it out. Oh, and they might want to bring a camera, too.

Their photo made the Corcoran Journal, I’m proud to say. The icing on the cake, however, came several weeks later in a Journal article about the dedication ceremony, in which Mayor Burnham Smith presented the architect with... a taco!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Blessing of a Name

On January 13, 2010, my grandson, David Isaac Hernandez, was born. What a blessing! Trudi and I are so excited to meet this little guy and to watch him as he grows. Here’s a pic of the family:

I couldn’t help but think: I bet he’ll like his name. No, not because he has my name, though I will endeavor to live in a way that makes him proud of that fact. It’s because I recall so vividly my mother telling me that my name meant “beloved.” I don’t recall where it was or exactly when, but I was just a little guy. It made a huge impression on me. I’m loved. I’m special.

Now, I’m not saying that people should always give their children names that have meaning. If that were the case, we’d all have biblical names or Puritan names like Faith, Hope and Charity (yikes!).

What I am saying is that it can be a real blessing to a child to know why their parents chose the name they did. For example:

“We named you after my great aunt. She was the most loving person, who always had a kind word to say. She was a woman of great faith.”

“We chose your name because it has always been a favorite of ours. To us it says strong, trustworthy and noble.”

For those more obscure names, stories can help. My middle name is Browning, and I didn’t like the name as a kid. Everybody else had "normal" names as middle names. But I’ve since learned more about the family history and I’ve come to love my middle name. The Brownings were rugged individuals. My namesake, David Milton Browning, was. My two great aunts, born around 1900, were as well: one became a lawyer and one became a doctor at time when women almost never did. William Browning, who came to the U.S. in 1619 and was a prominent figure in the Jamestown colony, certainly was.

So... David Isaac Hernandez, Wyatt Browning Smith and Loretta Joy Hernandez... you are blessed indeed!

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Best Traveler Award Goes to... Wyatt Smith!

On April 23rd, Trudi, Megan, Ryan, Wyatt and I flew out to Houston for Lori Hernandez' first birthday party. I'm sure all air travelers have had their own experiences with a hysterical baby. Annoying as it is, my heart goes out to parents trying to comfort a crying baby in confined quarters at 30,000 feet (but not to those parents who don't seem to care what others think).

Wyatt is a great little guy, but when he wants something, he wants it now and lets you know about it. So I was just a bit anxious how he'd handle four hours on a plane.

Well, surprise, surprise! The little guy was a champ. Hardly a fussy moment at all going out to Houston. Just a pleasant little dude. I got to hold him for a while, and it was a great grandpa/grandson time.

OK, Wyatt, you did well on the trip out, but it was a morning flight, and that's your happiest time of the day. But what about the 3:30 p.m. return flight? Wyatt can sometimes get cranky in the early evening, and as I noted above, when he gets fussy, you know it.

Once again, our little man delivered. He slept much of the time, and when he wasn't asleep, he was charming the socks off of everyone. Seriously, I couldn't imagine a better behaved baby.

As we disembarked, Megan and Ryan asked the pilot for a set of wings to commemorate Wyatt's first round trip flight. Congrats, Wyatt. You da man!