Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On Baltimore: Hearing the cries

I don't have anything new, or beautiful, or profound to add to this topic.  My voice is not going to add anything prophetic, or make people think new thoughts, or change...well....anything.  I suck at writing about politics and writing about the big, hard issues of the world in a way that is informative, so I'm not going to try here. 

I also know that if someone else were to post this, it would probably be the last thing I would read.  Honestly?  If I read, see, look at, skim, listen to, or watch one more article about Baltimore today, I think I'm going to throw up.  I wish I was exaggerating, but I feel physically ill.  Didn't sleep, can't eat, body hurts type of ill, so I'm writing for peace.  It's the only step forward I know how to take.

A few months ago, when I came back from Haiti, I was faced with the intense discomfort of having been to a country full of devastation and injustice, and returning to a country of excess.  When I re-entered this country, I was forced to confront, and re-confront my privilege with my every action: every time I turned on the tap, turned on the lights, took a shower, reached for something to eat or drink, I held in my mind's eye the pictures of people I had met who do not have that privilege.  Every time I sat down, it felt like a reminder of the fact that I have the privilege of leisure time, as it is so easy for me to meet all of my basic needs.  This startling, pervasive, and intense realization prompted me to write these words:

"I don't have children, but the analogy that keeps coming to mind is that it feels like the difference between knowing that babies cry and hearing your baby cry.

I knew the world was crying.  Now, it is my world that is crying.  This world -- the one that I live in -- with you, right here, right now, this world is crying.  Our world."

These words came back to me yesterday.  Hearing of the violence that occurred yesterday in Baltimore, seeing the controversy erupt, hearing the arguments of all of the scared and hurting and angry and uncomfortable people, I wanted to scream, "Don't you see!?!  This city is hurting.  These people are hurting.  This community is hurting.  We are hurting.  We can no longer just know that babies cry.  These are our babies.  The ones that we birthed.  They are crying, and we have let them cry unattended for generations.  Right here, in our very home."

Because we did birth these babies, didn't we?  All of them.  The babies of oppression, and racism, and fear, and hatred.  The babies of silence, and privilege, and anger.  We birthed these babies of police brutality, and rioting, and poverty, and systematic silencing and devaluation of entire groups of people.  We birthed Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and all of the black men (and women) who have been killed by police.  We birthed Darren Wilson, George Zimmerman, Sean Williams, and all of the miscellaneous good, bad, misinformed, scared, naive, and hopeful cops out there.  We birthed the good, resilient, hopeful people of Baltimore who started immediately to clean and pray and hope and stand together in community.  We birthed the peaceful protestors, and the gang members, and the clergy who walked together.  We birthed the rioters.  This pain -- it is our pain.  It is our world.  It is our community.  This pain is mine.  It is yours.  It is ours.  And nothing will change until we recognize that all of these factors -- the good, the bad, the ugly -- they belong to us, and we must be accountable for them.  We must be able to stand up together and face the things we have intentionally or unintentionally been part of creating. 

This morning, I was told that I had to report to work, and that we were operating "business as usual."  I drove in past a line of members of the National Guard, lining the street, with shields, and guns, and helmets.  I walked in to work past 20-25 members of the National Guard and Police, all with guns, all with shields, all in uniform, all standing at attention with their hands on their weapons.  I had to make choices today about whether it would be more helpful for me to see my client with anxiety for a session this week, or more harmful for him to drive past all of the armed men and women on the way to his appointment.  I had conversations with trainees about how they're from small towns in Alabama, or Louisiana, or Oklahoma, and they spent last night awake and listening to gunfire, and smelling smoke, and hearing helicopters and sirens and sounds that scared them that they couldn't identify.  I felt the panic in my body, and watched the tears rise in a trainee's eyes as an insensitive colleague considered the best escape route out of the city from our location, given that we are backed up to the Inner Harbor, and there is only really one way out.  I considered how I am going to handle conversations about this situation with my clients and their families.  I read a scholarly article and guidelines for mental health professionals on addressing racial trauma.  I supervised my trainee on how we are going to address the events of this week tomorrow in the therapy group we run together.  I received emails throughout the day about safety precautions and possible threats in the area.  I cried twice in my car. 

And ultimately, I left the city and drove home - and this is a privilege.  Ultimately, I realized that I have had the ability to not be (too) affected by the state of emergency that has been occurring for generations in Baltimore City until the governor actually called a State of Emergency.  Ultimately, I realized that I didn't need to be worried about walking into my building past those cops.  Ultimately, I realized that this crisis, this urgency, this pain has been in my world all along, and I have had the privilege not to see it.  Ultimately, I have been feeding those babies of privilege, and racism, and oppression by my inaction, by my silence, by my complacency, even as I drove through it and worked within it.  It is not enough to be a passive witness to pain.  To do so is to deny it, and to Other the people for whom it is an unavoidable reality. 

But even as we deny and other -- this is our world.  All of it.  These are our babies.  All of them.  This is our community.  These people are our people.  The crying belongs to us, and it is our responsibility to console, and change, and shape those babies we birthed into the communities, and people, and world we want.  The world we need.  The world we -- all of us, who are so deeply connected -- deserve.

I don't know where we go from here, but I know we belong to one another.

We belong to one another.

As we begin the healing -- our own, and that of the community -- the first step, perhaps, is just to witness and begin to name one another's tears. 

Blessed be.


  1. Wow. You really capture well the battle between compartmentalization (I need to put these painful feelings aside so I can do my job) and involvement. It's a fine line to walk, right? On one side you're paralyzed with grief and guilt. On the other side you're a callous shell, impervious to the suffering around you. That middle, where you feel and respond to suffering, but don't let it debilitate you, that's hard to find. But, as you say, even trying to find that place is a privilege. Great piece.

    1. Thank you for hearing me so well here -- it is such a challenging line to walk. Thank you!