The bumblebee I have been eyeing is having a hard time of it with the evening primroses, whose petals at high noon have mostly collapsed into soft mush. Every 3rd or 4th wilting bloom she lands on, she manages to work her way in to where the nectar is. Soon she gives up and goes for the easily accessible stalks of liatrus.
This morning, I am working at having a FULL DISCLOSURE heart and soul with myself. Because that collapsing evening primrose bloom is the body-mind of my country, spent, folding in on itself, and ready to fall to the ground. And I am the bee who insists: there is still nectar here, there is still something important to be gathered here. Don’t move on just yet.
To stay here, stay here, stay here long enough to weep, that is the challenge.
Last week I was full up with working against multiple deadlines. So when I came off an involuntary news fast the news from Baton Rouge was 3 days old, from Falcon Heights 2 days old, from Dallas, 18 hours old – an eternity in social media time. My heart rose to my throat and dropped to my feet all at once. My body went into its default state: dissociation.
Sorrow and determination, the same two words now rise in me again as they first did after the Freddie Gray Uprising in my home town, and then a few months later after the Charleston church shooting.
And something else, a fierce love for Baltimore.
A Mason-Dixon line city. A gritty city.
The-park-bench-with slogan-at-bus-stops-city: The City That Reads. Believe. Charm City.
Home of Shake and Bake Family Fun Center and HONfest.
The city of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Lenny Moore, Thurgood Marshall, Henrietta Lacks, Eubie Blake, Billie Holiday. And the city of Francis Scott Key, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Enoch Pratt, Philip Berrigan, Wild Bill Hagy, Barry Levinson, John Waters.
The history of my city and the goodness of its people are both rising up.
Native Americans have lived in this area since the 10th Millennium BCE, but were probably not inhabiting the land when David Jones settled a claim in 1661 on what is now the East Side. Thomas Cole settled the West Side in 1665, then sold it to Jones 14 years later. East and West Bawlamer remain vital cultural distinctions to this day, with Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland “Health Systems” the respective dominant land-holders.
We became the Port of Baltimore in 1706 and Baltimore Town in 1729. By the early 19th century we were a major port for the slave trade, attracting slave dealers from Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee. They built slave pens – yes, pens – near Pratt Street, now the major east-west thoroughfare that passes the Inner Harbor, a commercial development and community event and gathering place with a modern history of being inhospitable to groups of black youth.
I get the feeling that most any place I might step in the city I am obliviously treading on history, even holy ground, ground sanctified by suffering.
As individuals, we heal when we come out of memory into the present moment. We do this when we remember. When we bring into awareness our forgotten, suppressed, and frozen griefs and rages. When we feel them in our bodies. When we permit them entry and integration into our psyches and lives instead of acting them out.
This is the journey we seem on the verge of beginning as a nation. Towards naming our disappeared, both owned and owner. Towards feeling slavery and all its repercussions in the civic body. Towards FULL DISCLOSURE.
How can safety, justice, freedom, reconciliation, possibly be realized in its absence?
And this is likely to be a rough road, given how difficult it is to agree on “facts.” Given how poor we adults are at listening. Given our tendency to make the world over in our preferred image. Given the ways our tribal bonds have taught us to see the “other” as suspect if not outright dangerous.
I sit here, watch the bumblebees, hope the sunshine will thaw me into weeping.
Meantime, in this thirst to know my city, I sip bittersweet nectar, begin to gather historical facts to dignify some few drops of the lifeblood of all those who have been erased from my city’s narrative and living memory.
A wealth of historical facts is available through The Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery in Maryland – case studies, interactive maps, and a searchable database: http://slavery.msa.maryland.gov