Posts Tagged ‘heir’

Jury Duty

When Paul walked through the apartment door, he saw his younger brother Matt reach over from the couch, grab the remote, and quickly turn off the television.


Acting as though he didn’t see this, Paul said, “Hey little brother, how goes it?”


Matt abruptly sat up, and tried to act nonchalant, replying, “I’m good.”


But as Paul crossed the room, he swooped down and grabbed the TV remote with a grin.  “So what are we watching?” he said playfully, as he turned the television back on.


Matt jumped to his feet, and tried to wrestle the remote from him, but it was too late.  To Paul’s utter amazement, what came on the screen was a television preacher, talking about hell.


Turning to Matt, he said, “What is this?”


“It’s nothing,” Matt replied defensively, as he pulled the remote from Paul’s hand, and turned the TV back off.


“What do you mean, ‘it’s nothing’.  If it were nothing, you wouldn’t be trying to hide whatever it is that you’re doing here,” Paul said.


With an intensity that Paul didn’t often see from his younger brother, Matt looked him in the eye and sternly said, “It’s nothing that you need to worry about,” before disappearing into his bedroom and closing the door.


Paul’s curiosity made him want to go after Matt, and push him for an answer, but he reminded himself that they were both adults now; and that when they’d agreed to share an apartment, they’d also promised to stay out of each other’s business.  He knew Matt well enough to know that he wasn’t going to talk until he was ready, so Paul decided to wait him out.  As he thought about it, he realized that Matt would eventually have to come out to eat, and so he decided to help that process along.


After throwing a bag of frozen fries in the oven, Paul fried up some bacon and burgers, and made himself a plate.  He knew the smell of the bacon had to be working on Matt, as he knocked on his bedroom door and said, “There’s burgers and fries if you’re hungry.”


Though Matt didn’t come out right away, Paul knew it wouldn’t be long, as he sat on the couch, and turned on ESPN.  Sure enough, a few minutes later Matt came out, made a bacon double-cheeseburger, and sat down in the living room.  They didn’t talk much at first, other than to react to whatever the sportscasters were saying, but after he finished his food, Paul decided to try again.


“So what’s going on?” he said gently.


Matt let out a sigh of frustration, and started to get up.  “What difference does it make?” he said.  “Why is this such a big deal to you?”


“Come on Matt, don’t get mad.  I’m not trying to bust on you.  I’m just asking what’s got you so upset.” Paul said, in a tone that seemed sincere.


Matt grabbed Paul’s empty plate and carried the dishes into the kitchen.  When he came back out, Paul expected him to head to his bedroom, but instead he came back in and sat down heavily in the chair.  Letting out another audible sigh, he began to share the story.


“You know that I had jury duty today,” he said.


“Oh yeah, you’d said that was coming up,” Paul replied.


“Well, I got there and they have you fill out this ridiculously long questionnaire with all sorts of things, like you’re opinion on the death penalty, and have you ever been convicted by a jury…  And one of the questions was about ‘Religious Affiliation’.  So you could say Muslim, or Hindu, or Christian, or New Age…  And they also had blocks for, ‘Atheist’ or ‘No Religious Affiliation’.  And I know this is going to sound crazy, but I didn’t know what to put down.”


With a look of confusion, Paul said, “What do you mean you didn’t know what to put down?”


“I mean, what am I?” Matt replied.  “Mom and Dad raised us in church, so I guess I could say that I am a Christian.  But I haven’t been to church in years, so maybe I should just say, ‘No Religious Affiliation’.  But if I’m honest, I haven’t really thought about God in years, so at some point would you just be considered an ‘Atheist’?”


Shaking his head, Paul said, “No, an Atheist doesn’t believe that there is a God.”  And then, after a brief pause, he added, “You do still believe that there is a God right?”


“I guess,” Matt replied.  “I mean I’ve always believed that because that’s what we were taught.  I’ve never really questioned it.”


“Do you still believe the whole Jesus story?” Paul asked.


“I guess,” Matt repeated.


“Well it sounds like you’re a Christian” Paul declared confidently.


With a look of doubt, Matt replied, “I don’t know.  I wanted to check that box, but it seemed kind of dishonest.  You know, like I was trying to fool someone.  I thought that the ‘No Religious Affiliation’ box was probably more accurate, so I checked it.”


“OK,” Paul said.  “So what’s the problem?”


“I don’t know,” Matt stammered.  “It made me feel kind of guilty that I couldn’t say that I was a Christian.  I thought of how disappointed Mom and Dad would be if they saw that.  I thought about the time I got baptized at church camp, and I remembered being pretty sincere about all of that back then.”


“Listen little brother, you’re way over thinking this.  I’m sure that the courts don’t really care that you don’t go to church, and no one else is ever going to see that questionnaire.  If I remember my Vacation Bible School trivia correctly, it says something like everyone who believes will be saved.  So if you believe, you should be good.  You’ve done your time in church.  You did the whole baptism thing.  You’re a good guy.  I think you’re really worrying for nothing.”


“I understand what you’re saying,” Matt said.  “But I had hard time shaking this uneasy feeling.  Then, I got picked to be on a jury, and we drew a civil case.  And that was interesting enough to take my mind off of it for a while.”


“Yeah, so how did that go?” Paul asked.


“It was pretty cool.  This old guy had died, and his will said that everything should be divided between his kids.  But this woman, who claimed to be his wife, was contesting the will.  She said that in the last year of his life, he had changed his mind, and that he really wanted everything to go to her.  She claimed that she had a piece of paper that he’d signed, which was essentially his new will.”


“So did you believe her?” Paul said.


“She had a pretty good lawyer, and from his opening remarks, he made it seem like they had proof of everything.  The way he told the story sounded so reasonable that I felt like I was probably going to vote in her favor.  The lawyer for this guy’s kids just said that the woman didn’t have any proof to back up her claims, and that the kids were the rightful heirs.  I guess that was all he really could say, but I liked the first guy better.”


After taking a drink, Matt continued, “But as the day wore on, I really had to wonder.  She said that they’d been living together for almost two years, but the kid’s had never met her, or spoken to her.  She tried to say that it was because they lived in other states, and that the man kept it from them so that they wouldn’t feel like he was betraying the memory of their deceased mother.  I guess I could kind of see that, but if they were really married, you’d have thought that he’d have told them at some point.”


“Wouldn’t the state have a record of them getting married?” Paul interrupted.


“Yeah, but she claimed that they got married when they were on vacation in Mexico, and that their luggage, which had the marriage papers, got lost on the trip back,” Matt replied.


“That sounds pretty shaky,” Paul said.


“Yeah, but then her lawyer pointed out that this is a ‘Common Law Marriage” state, and that the law says that if you live together for more than a year, you are considered legally married; which kind of sounded like a slam dunk.  But then, the kid’s lawyer pointed out that there wasn’t any real proof that they’d ever lived together.  In fact, he had proof that she’d had her own permanent address for that whole period.  She claimed that she’d been trying to sell her old place, and that she just wasn’t having any luck, but then the kid’s lawyer showed phone and utility bills that made it seem like someone was living there.  And this new will she claimed to have didn’t look right either.  The signature didn’t look like his handwriting, and she tried to say that it was because he was really sick and couldn’t hold the pen steady when he signed it.”


“This all sounds pretty crazy,” Paul commented.  “How did you decide who was right?”


“Well, for me it was the testimony of both the woman claiming to be the wife, and the man’s oldest daughter, that made the difference.”


“What did they say?” Paul asked.


“It’s not exactly what they said,” Matt replied.  “It was more like the way they acted.  The woman seemed like she was after this guy’s money, and like she was willing to say anything to get it.  Nothing that she said gave me the feeling that she really knew or cared about this guy.  His daughter was just the opposite.  She just seemed to want to do whatever her father would have wanted.  She didn’t seem to care about getting his stuff, and she actually seemed more hurt that he might have had a life that he’d kept secret from them.  When we got together to deliberate, it didn’t take us any time to decide.  This woman didn’t have any real proof to back up her claims to be his heir, and none of us believed her story.  So we ruled in favor of the kids.”


“From what you’ve told me, it sounds like you guys got it right,” Paul said.  “So what does all of that have to do with you watching TV preachers?”


Matt’s face turned serious, as he said, “As I was driving home, I had this crazy thought pop into my head.”


“What was it?” Paul asked.


“I was thinking about my difficulty in answering that questionnaire, and about the rest of the day’s events, when a little voice inside my head said, ‘I wonder how your trial will go if you show up in heaven claiming to be an heir?’”


Paul’s face appeared to twist into a painful expression, as he quietly exclaimed, “Ouch!”

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