In Annapolis, a per­fect breeze to heal

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS -

Abreeze stirred softly from the west — not strong enough to blow out the vigil can­dles, but strong enough to cool the sweaty brows of the peo­ple gath­ered near the West­field Annapolis mall to pray for the vic­tims of the shoot­ing at the Cap­i­tal Gazette, a few hun­dred yards away, across Best­gate Road.

At that mo­ment on Fri­day evening, I had a wish: That we could sum­mon such a per­fect breeze to cure peo­ple ev­ery­where of their dis­tress — not only the sad, the sick and the hope­less, but those who are con­stantly an­gry or full of hate, those who seem un­able to move away from griev­ance and prej­u­dice.

Such a breeze, to get Shake­spearean about it, could “gen­tle their con­di­tions.”

Min­is­ters twice asked the strangers as­sem­bled for the vigil to hold hands or ex­tend an arm of com­fort­ing em­brace. And we did. And the breeze stirred. And some­one sang, “Take my hand, pre­cious Lord.” And it was all good.

It is Amer­i­can ri­tual by now: Vig­ils af­ter com­mu­nity-jar­ring vi­o­lence. In Bal­ti­more, the Rev. Wil­lie Ray used to stage them all the time to draw at­ten­tion to the drug-re­lated killings on the city’s trou­bled streets. Af­ter mass shoot­ings in the na­tion’s sub­urbs and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, peo­ple gather, light can­dles and lis­ten to the words of sur­vivors, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and clergy.

Calls for “unity” have be­come stan­dard in vigil re­flec­tions, re­veal­ing a high level of self-con­scious­ness about how di­vided we are. On Fri­day evening, a min­is­ter in­voked the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was shot to death 50 years ago: “We must learn to live to­gether as broth­ers or per­ish to­gether as fools.”

I thought of the words of Robert F. Kennedy on the night of King’s as­sas­si­na­tion: “What we need in the United States is not divi­sion; what we need in the United States is not ha­tred; what we need in the United States is not vi­o­lence or law­less­ness; but love and wis­dom, and com­pas­sion to­ward one an­other, and a feel­ing of jus­tice to­ward those who still suf­fer within our coun­try.”

Kennedy spoke at the racial di­vide, when the coun­try was at war with it­self — a war over civil rights, and a war over a war. Since then, other fis­sures have opened.

Talk of unity is im­por­tant, but it seems lim­ited to vig­ils and times when Amer­i­cans are hurt and in need of heal­ing. Unity has cer­tainly dis­ap­peared from the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion in the time of Don­ald Trump.

You can re­gard the shoot­ing at the Cap­i­tal news­room as a hor­ri­ble work­place crime with a unique set of cir­cum­stances, car­ried out by a man who, ac­cord­ing to po­lice, had sworn a blood oath against the news­pa­per. That he used a legally ac­quired shot­gun, and not one of the weapons usu­ally associated with mass shoot­ings (and banned from sale in Mary­land), likely lim­ited the death toll.

But the in­stru­ment for the ap­par­ent griev­ance-set­tling was still a gun, and five in­no­cent peo­ple are dead. And, of course, the Cap­i­tal shoot­ing was not an iso­lated in­ci­dent. De­spite Trump’s in­au­gu­ral promise, the car­nage has not stopped.

Given what the Anne Arun­del County po­lice tell us about the ac­cused man, I don’t make the au­to­matic leap from Trump’s rhetoric about “fake news” and the press be­ing the “en­emy of the peo­ple” to the shoot­ing in the Cap­i­tal news­room.

But Trump cer­tainly poured that poi­son into a stew that has been sim­mer­ing in this coun­try for nearly three decades. I can list the in­gre­di­ents in no par­tic­u­lar or­der: mis­trust of govern­ment and main­stream me­dia; cor­po­rate cor­rup­tion; ris­ing xeno­pho­bia and racial an­i­mus; un­treated men­tal ill­ness and an end­less ar­gu­ment about whether the needy de­serve as much health care as the rest of us; in­come in­equal­ity and the stag­ger­ing di­vide be­tween the wealthy and ev­ery­one else; the coars­en­ing of pub­lic dis­course; opin­ions trump­ing facts; an­gry ar­gu­ment and hos­til­ity in­stead of civil dis­agree­ment and in­tel­li­gent de­bate; win­ner-take-all pol­i­tics that sees com­pro­mise as de­feat; the shift from mere par­ti­san­ship to­ward ide­o­log­i­cal trib­al­ism; trou­bled peo­ple liv­ing in iso­la­tion, a loss of com­mu­nity; a re­treat from the ideal of the com­mon good.

On the sur­face we look like the na­tion we want to be — pros­per­ous and full of op­por­tu­nity, grounded in jus­tice and the rule of law.

But to keep the bad from over­pow­er­ing the good, we need the voices of heal­ing and unity. We need the per­fect breezes.

“We are united in our grief, united in our anger, united in our frus­tra­tion,” one of the min­is­ters said at Fri­day’s vigil. “We must be united by love, united by re­spect, by our com­mon hu­man­ity.”

I held hands with a stranger at the vigil and thought of Bobby Kennedy again: “Let us ded­i­cate our­selves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago — to tame the sav­age­ness of man and make gen­tle the life of this world. Let us ded­i­cate our­selves to that, and say a prayer for our coun­try and for our peo­ple.”

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