Today happens to be Friday the 13th, which according to Wikipedia occurs approximately every 212.35 days on the Gregorian calendar. Friday fell on the 13th day of the month twice in 2017 and will happen again twice this year.
While I am not a superstitious person, I was journaling last night after midnight–so technically on the 13th–and wrote the following entry titled:
Strange sequence of events as of late.
1. I was summoned to jury duty for the first time in my life and had to report for service on Tuesday of this week.
2. This past Sunday, I was on my way to attend a meetup of Queer Book Club for the first time and went to the wrong bookstore location by accident. Realizing I would already be late by the time I took the train from 112th Street and Broadway down to Columbus and 82nd, I decided to peruse the store and ended up buying the following: The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson and The White Album by Joan Didion. (For some reason, these authors have been resonating with me lately, and I can’t seem to stop reading them.)
3. Anticipating the grueling eight hours of jury selection ahead of me on Tuesday, I decided to dive into The Red Parts first. Mind you, I had only the slightest idea of what the book was about beforehand. I read Maggie Nelson’s other book The Argonauts a couple months ago and fell in love; so, naturally, I went out and immediately bought everything else she has ever written.
As I sat there in the jury lounge, nose buried in my book, I came across a passage where Nelson describes her own experience of sitting in a courtroom in Ann Arbor, Michigan, alongside her mother. They are watching jury selection unfold on the reopened murder case from 1969 of Nelson’s aunt–her mother’s sister–Jane Mixer. She writes about how the judge–in that futile way that forces us to pay lip service to the pretense of a fair and impartial system of justice–instructs the jury members to distinguish fact from fiction. Selected jurors will have to separate the reality of the evidence presented in the case–he lectures–from the fictionalized pop culture portrayals we’ve all seen on shows like Law and Order.
The next moment, I’m shaken out of my book trance and shepherded down a long hallway and up an elevator with approximately 50 other potential jurors. The bailiff packs us tight into a room with walls surrounded on all sides by deep mahogany wood paneling. A gregarious and pudgy looking bald man is seated behind the bench wearing a black robe and a dopey smile as we enter single file into the room. There are no windows, causing the temperature to rise by the minute from the combined effect of our collective body heat and the building’s furnace. (April in New York City, it turns out, still requires central heating. Who knew?)
The judge goes down the line asking each potential juror in the box a series of questions, including: “Does anything about your prior experiences with law enforcement make it impossible for you to serve as a fair and impartial juror on this case?” While the case at hand involves an alleged robbery rather than a decades-old brutal murder of a young woman, the parallels between reading and living do not escape me.
4. Last night, when finishing The Red Parts in bed, right before writing this journal entry, I came across a reference at the end of the memoir to none other than Joan Didion’s book of essays The White Album. The collection of essays starts with the famous line, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live”–a message from Didion’s book Maggie Nelson’s mother had inscribed on a postcard and sent to her, and which Nelson hung up in her tiny “closet of an apartment” on St. Mark’s Place.
It’s not until many years later when Nelson re-reads The White Album that she discovers the deeper meaning behind her mother’s message. In the same essay, Didion concludes with the line: “…but writing has not yet helped me see what it means.”
As I mentioned at the beginning, I do not consider myself to be a superstitious person, or even a particularly spiritual person for that matter. I am an eternal skeptic trained in the social sciences and thus have always found a rational explanation behind all the serendipitous events we so often attribute to God or “fate”–whatever that even means.
Nonetheless, the “strange sequence of events as of late” that have coincidentally transpired and risen to the surface of my consciousness on this Friday the 13th, makes me stop and wonder–if even for a moment–that perhaps there’s some sort of inexplicable meaning behind everything after all.