Tuesday, April 28, 2015

My City is Burning . . .

Those of you who know me also know I make Baltimore my home, and have for many decades. It is a wonderful city, vibrant, stimulating, welcoming . . .and absolutely nothing like the image most people have in their heads. I am a pasty Irish girl living in a city where almost 70% of the population is black, almost half of the remainder is Hispanic - and I have never once felt unwelcome. I have long despaired of the image Baltimore has on the national and world stage, an image formed by the media and centered around the worst portrayal possible. The Wire may have been critically acclaimed, but it set the standard for convincing everyone that Baltimore was a dangerous dangerous place. It is no playground, true . . .but neither is any other major city in America, especially these days. Homicide: Life on the Streets cemented that perception in the minds of the world. And now the unrest following the murder of Freddie Grey. Not one news outlet bothered to cover the peaceful protests, or the heroic and selfless acts of those trying to calm the outrage or clean up after the inevitable destruction, but as soon as violence broke out it was wall to wall on every channel and every newspaper. 

If you know me, you also know I am a Buddhist. I do NOT condone violence in any way, shape or form. I don't think violence solves anything. I have seen the downside, on the streets of Belfast, in Detroit in the 60s, and now in my current home. No place I have lived has become a better place as a result of violence . . .and yet, as much as I deplore it, I also understand the frustration that spawns such a reaction. There is a fundamental problem when more money is spent trying to pay off victims of brutality than in preventing it in the first place. There is a problem when, in a country as rich as ours, so many people have no hope, no future, and no way out of grinding poverty other than sports and drugs. 

I drive my son to culinary school from my blue collar neighborhood, increasingly populated with for sale and auction signs as the jobs once held have slowly trickled away to be replaced with a smattering of low paid service positions. I pass through neighborhoods that look as if they have been bombed . . .blocks away from the jewel of the Inner Harbor with its sports fields and glitzy shopping centers. Blocks from Johns Hopkins, the hospital known around the world for excellence, sitting in the midst of third world devastation.

I wish I knew what the answer was. I wish I had the ability to turn the tide. I wish that, in our rich and amazing nation, one people from all over the world want to live in, no one was homeless, or hungry, or uneducated, or without medical care. It is a sin and a shame because without the basics of life we can never be free or brave. There is no liberty when you are shackled by poverty and circumstance. There is no freedom when you realize you may live and die in the same crumbling housing project. There is no equality when some are treated as less than human for whatever reason.

And so, this is a post without a resolution. I have no amazing insights, I have no words of wisdom apart from this - everything is more complicated and more intertwined than you think, take nothing at face value, strive to do the best you can for everyone you come into contact with. If we don't do better it will never get better. Practice empathy instead of superiority or condemnation. And, hopefully, we will all come out stronger on the other side.


  1. Eloquent and very touching, Sessha.

  2. Darling Sessha, you say it well in just two words: PRACTICE EMPATHY. Thanks for your calm and penetrating insights into a world in turmoil. ~Erin