Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Murder on my mind & saved by the book

The Murder - Paul Cezanne, 1868
I mentioned previously that my recent involvement with the Bizarre Bazaar Shoppe seems to be encouraging me to notice and explore--perhaps attract?--some darker aspects of life. In mid-August I was called upon for jury duty, and learned during the selection process that the case was a homicide. 

The Dark Side was creeping closer again, this time with no fantasy element whatsoever to buffer the chill.

Although I am a mystery fan from way back, the idea of determining someone’s guilt or innocence as a murderer, in real life, was daunting. As it turned out, our task was to determine the degree of guilt (first or third degree murder, or manslaughter) because it was already established that the defendant was the killer. Oh, good. That would make it easier, right?

Well, it did make the process simpler, in that incontrovertible, physical facts are just that and there was plenty of evidence (the details of which I will spare you.)  In spite of the considerable efforts of the Defense to convince us the defendant believed his life was in danger when he acted, you can’t fire a gun from across the street into an unarmed man’s back, and call it self-defense. Not only that, he killed the wrong man, a friend of his intended victim. (A person in the wrong place at the wrong time; which could happen to any of us, at any time. Random dark-sidedness. As my son would say, Welcome to planet-fucking-earth.)

The jury deliberated for only an hour before reaching a verdict on day three of the trial:  First degree murder. 

Nevertheless, putting a 36 year old man behind bars for the rest of his life, murderer though he is, is not without psychic consequences. We, the jury, had no other choice. But still.

As a friend said afterwards when we discussed my experience, “You’re watching peoples’ lives fall apart in front of your eyes” and you cannot help but be emotionally affected. At the end, I was left with a profound sadness that lasted for days. Sadness for the victim, the perpetrator, his children, their mothers, all their families; for communities where random murder has become almost normal; for our society as a whole where such things have become common and no one seems to have an answer.  I hope this is as close to murder as I ever get in real life.

Allegheny County Courthouse, Pittsburgh PA, c 1904.
Designed in 1883 by Henry Hobson Richardson. Build 1884-1888.

Well, something interesting happened during the days of the trial, which convinces me yet again that there are seldom coincidences, and our mental frequency, our state of attraction, determines what we draw into our lives. Yeah, it is definitely anti-climactic, after the above, to talk about a book I discovered, but I think it demonstrates not only the Law of Attraction in action, but also the power of words in the hands of a Master.

On the morning of the second day of the trial, I finished the book I’d been reading (a mystery by one of my favorite authors of the genre, Donna Leon). There's a lot of down-time while serving on a jury, so at lunch time I headed to the nearest discount bookstore in search of reading material.  I came across an author named Walter Mosley. There is an author named Mosley that I want to read, but I couldn't remember the first name. Was this him?  On a chance, I bought the book.  

As it turned out, Walter Mosley was not the author I had been looking for, but that didn't matter once I started reading.  In the book, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, Mosley writes eloquently about the human experience, through the often harsh lens of the contemporary African-American experience. Coincidence? 

Even though the book is not a mystery story, it was uncanny how settings and events in it related to my experience of being a juror on a black-on-black murder case. The book's protagonist, talking to a friend about a shooting victim, says:  “…so you think [the shooting] was just some mistake, somebody thought he was somebody else?”  Whoa! A person in the book has the same unusual surname as a person mentioned during the trial. The motive for the murder in the book is a love triangle. Also true of the real murder... 

I felt as if unseen forces had "sent" the book to help me cope emotionally with the surreal experience of the trial. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is  filled with Mosley's lively imagination and wit, and plenty of compassion. In spite of the often gritty settings and events, it was a joy to read. The contrasts and similarities between the fictional and the real shape-shifted in my mind as I read the book during recesses of the trial.

I finished the book, sitting on my sunny patio, the Saturday after the trial. I started to cry, and could not stop. Ptolemy Grey is a very old man, who dies at the end of the book. With a 91 year old protagonist, this is not a spoiler. But my tears went way beyond the death of an endearing fictional character, obviously, and the catharsis was intense. I couldn't start another book for days, because this one kept resonating in my mind and heart, softening the memory of the trial which also continued to haunt me. 

So, many thanks to Walter Mosley for giving me an escape valve for the head of emotional steam built up by jury duty and its consequences, and to whatever Power sent the book to me when I needed it most. To attract a book like The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey into my life, I would almost do it again.

"The great man say that life is pain," Coydog had said over eighty-five years before. "That mean if you love life, then you love the hurt come along wit' it. Now, if that ain't the blues, I don't know what is."

Walter Mosley, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

Moonrise over the patio, 3 days before the trial started.

I’ve also learned that Mosley is the creator of the celebrated Easy Rawlins mystery stories, which I've not read, but will now. 

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