I had a short run on my calendar this morning, just two miles. I haven’t run just two miles in six weeks, and I have to admit it was a relief to be looking at such a short run at the end of this hot week that’s going to get even hotter. I headed out by 9am, but it was already 80 degrees and 80% humidity. I zigged and zagged to stay in the shade as much as possible, and I was cruising. I’m a slow runner, so hitting my first mile less than 12 minutes in and I felt like an Olympic champion!
My second mile was slower, mostly because it was uphill, and also because I stopped to snap this picture of a sign outside the Homewood Friends Meeting House on Charles. It reads, “We hold in the light people murdered in Baltimore in 2020.” Each name of a life lost is written on the sign, and there are just too many.
I thought about this sign for the rest of my run, how meaningful it is to write down every name, to speak them, to know them. To be named, to have a name, is to be a person, and to be a person whose loss is mourned. I was on a panel discussion for our local Fox affiliate this week, about memorials and monuments. One of the subjects was a local councilperson’s offhanded tweet that if we’re tearing down memorials, maybe we should tear down the one put up by the Fraternal Order of Police, Baltimore’s biggest violent gang. The memorial in question has the names of police officers who have died in the line of duty etched on it, so the outcry at the idea it should come down was understandably noisy.
But why? It’s because that is a place for collective mourning of deaths that matter to all of us. They are supposed to matter to all of us because police are “public servants,” and all of us lose when one of them is lost.
Collective mourning matters, and who we mourn together says a lot about which lives are valued, and which are not. I’m not saying we should take down that memorial–that’s not important to me, honestly. But I wish we could talk about why lives of cops should matter more than the lives of those whose names are listed on this sign, or than any of us. Our inability to really see and mourn loss means we are haunted by those ghosts, and we are unable to incorporate those losses and let them change us. We are unable to feel empathy and change our policies and behaviors to limit the loss of life. Instead, we keep throwing more cops at social problems. Or when the death counts from COVID pile up people whose lives are already devalued, we open up and send more people to their deaths, because who will die matters less. Or when a generation of gay people dies, the collective sits and watches. It’s terrible.
I was glad to see this sign, and I wish there were fewer names on it. We need to say all of them. Every loss is grievable and must be grieved. It is all too much. Thank you, Quakers.