Flower Tree on Mulberry Between N. Stricker & N. Gilmor

A white flowering tree in an alley between two brick row homes, a cloudy sky in the background.

I was in New Mexico celebrating my boo’s 40th birthday for a week and a half, and it was magical. Northern New Mexico is breathtakingly beautiful, and they put chile sauce on everything, which is such a great idea, and I didn’t want to leave at all. Except I did–I love Baltimore and my life here, and I am happy to be back on my bike.

I would ordinarily take a longer ride on Monday, but instead all I got to do was ride to and from jury service, which ended up being a lot of waiting to not get put on a medical malpractice jury case. I used to wish I could get on a jury, until I was on one for a murder case a few years ago. It was devastating, seeing up close the damage done to so many people by the violence of organized abandonment. What many children have to see and experience is just heartbreaking, and it is my immense privilege that I only see it up close like that on occasion. That’s a lucky accident of my birth. Being on that jury, feeling in my bones how little any of what we were doing had to do with justice or repair, was tough. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but I’m not excited about getting on a jury anymore.

The case I heard was a murder in a house on Stricker Street. I didn’t intend to ride over to Stricker Street on my way home, but as I pedaled away from Zella’s on Hollins Street ($5 sandwiches on Tuesdays, folks!) I decided to head west on Hollins to see where it went, and took a right on Stricker. I thought about that case as I pedaled north, the witnesses recanting their stories with visible fear, children deciding they hadn’t seen anything after all, the trauma that worked through every layer of each person’s story, including the accused, and I reminded myself, again, that this isn’t their whole story any more than the worst thing that has happened to me is mine. It’s complicated. We were a hung jury, and I got to just go right on back to my life. Nothing to do with justice, not at all, and it is what we’ve got at the moment.

I wondered what the people from that trial are doing now as I pedaled along, looking up at vacant row houses and down empty lots. There’s a lot of talk about tearing down vacants and putting in parks or urban farms, but again, it’s not that easy. A lot of the empty lots are now filled with trash, and much of the soil is so contaminated with lead I don’t know if you can safely eat what might be planted there. It’s complicated.

I hit Mulberry Street and the sweet lil bike path around the Highway to Nowhere, and I decided to do a loop, Mulberry to the top, Franklin down. I stopped to snap this picture of one of the many absolutely stunning spring flower trees Baltimore has this and every spring. These trees are my favorite thing after a long winter, even this year when we barely had a winter at all. My eyes are big enough to see the beauty of this tree alongside the trash, the graffiti (though I have never minded graffiti), the vacant home with the peeling painted bricks. It’s complicated, and I’m grateful to live in a place that doesn’t hide those complications and where so many people are working so hard in so many ways to make things better. We all have to find our corner and do something.

On this day the something I did was to ride my bike around and look and think. It’s not a doing of much, but for me, it is a constant reminder to see with complexity, move my eyes around to make sure I see the whole view, and again I am flooded with gratitude that my bike and I found each other. I continued riding north and east and north and east until I was home again, a ride that took me through so many different neighborhoods that feel like different worlds, all in just five miles. Gratitude.

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