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Every summer, I can count on two things like clockwork: the arrival of a jury duty summons and the arrival of wild plums.

Sitting here in a crowded assembly room at the Alameda County Superior Courthouse, waiting to be selected for jury duty, all I can think about are those plums – thousands and thousands of tiny sweet yellow plums, all about the size of gumballs. The sprawling volunteer tree behind our garage went gangbusters this year in celebration of the long-awaited rains, and over the past week we picked roughly ninety pounds of fruit.

I’ve already given away about twenty pounds, used another twenty to start five gallons of sparkling plum wine, and canned just over two gallons of jam, but there’s still another twenty-five pounds or so heaped in a recycling bin in my laundry room (the coolest, darkest room in the house). Those are the ones I’m fretting over as I survey the faces of annoyed and bored citizens who would quite obviously rather be somewhere else today. Admittedly, so would I;  I want to be home with my plums.

Having a prolific fruit tree is truly a labor of love. When I see the sagging branches burgeoning with fruit hanging in thick bunches like grapes, I feel certain that it is my personal responsibility to ensure they do not go to waste. When the plums ripen, they demand immediate attention so they don’t  fall and create a big sticky mess; once picked, they spoil quickly and must be used within days. That’s why when it’s plum harvest time, I clear a few days from my schedule to deal with them. All the picking, sorting, pitting, fermenting and canning take a lot of effort, but it is a chore I have gladly accepted as my end of the bargain for such beneficence.

When they didn’t call my name in the first court roll call, I breathed an audible sigh of relief and laughed nervously with others.  As an hour passed waiting for the second roll call, I was acutely aware that some miles away, my small mountain of plums was slowly moldering without me. Somehow that felt like a failure on my part, like I had shirked my responsibility and was guilty of gross profligacy.

Because if my annual plum harvest has taught me anything, it’s that bounties and blessings come with responsibilities.

Oh.  I see.

Just like democracy.

Of all the many freedoms we enjoy, the right to a fair and speedy trail by a jury of one’s peers is one of the most sacred of our Constitutional protections. As flawed as our legal system may be, trial by jury is still a crucial check and balance against tyranny in its many forms.  It gives everyday people a chance to be directly involved in upholding the rights that we all benefit from every day, so it is essential that we take part in the process.

By the time my name was finally called and my group was asked to stand outside in the hall to await instructions, I had adjusted my attitude and resolved to do my civic duty with the same spirit of gratefulness that my plum harvest calls forth. So much so that I was actually disappointed when the court clerk came over and quite theatrically released our group from service.

Oh well, there’s always next summer’s duties to look forward to.

Happy Fourth of July