Timing is everything.
Case in point. Let’s just say, I wasn’t in a hurry to read “The Tragedy of Baltimore.” When the article first appeared in The New York Times Magazine last March, everyone was asking, “Have you seen it? What did you think?”
We were still weeks away from spring, so I just wrapped myself a little tighter in my “no-news-is-good-news” cocoon and offered a somewhat dismissive reply – “No, I haven’t read it yet. I’m not ready.”
I know this way of handling things made me look ill-informed and hopelessly out-of-touch. No matter. I was telling the complete truth. I was interested. Curious, even. I just wasn’t ready. Why all the rush to look like I’d just donned an ancient Greek tragedy mask? To go about my days with a face frozen in alarm – eyes wide with horror, a gaping mouth silently crying out in pain? Who needed it?
Nonetheless, if you live in this town, no matter whether you had read the article or not, you were not immune from the feelings of shame, frustration, or hopelessness – or, even worse, a combination of all these things – that it engendered.
April and May were not such good months for our city. If you didn’t keep up with the local news the way Baltimoreans were experiencing it during this time, you might want to look it up. No one would disagree that when spring finally arrived in Baltimore, we may just as well have been writing the next installment of “The Tragedy.” Neighbor by neighbor, porch to porch, scene by scene, there we were. All of us. Sitting out on the brightly lit stages of our respective rowhouse stoops – actors, all – players in a contemporary drama where there seemed to be only unhappy endings.
Following the publication of “The Tragedy,” there were the usual letters to the editor. You know. The apologias and let’s look on the bright side kind of stuff. And, there was the requisite handful of predictable, albeit thoughtful, op eds. One or two of them even made it into the big city papers. All of them, to a T, read like well-worn pages from the same hymnal.
“Baltimore,” they espoused, “is still a great place in spite of its challenges.”
Don’t get me wrong. I believe this, too. With my whole heart. My whole being. It’s this belief and the incredible, impossible-to-make-up stories that hover right outside my front door each day that keep me here. Baltimore is a great place. It’s also a quirky place with a character on every corner – someone who, if you give her the chance, will change the way you think, whether you want to change your mind or not.
It was sometime early in June when I was ready. I picked up the magazine, and I finally read what Alec MacGillis had to say. He’s a very good writer. He did his homework; and, he wrote a pretty solid investigative piece. Still, solid writing is not necessarily clairvoyant writing. It may not even be close. So much has happened in Baltimore between the beginning of March, when "The Tragedy of Baltimore" was first published, and the beginning of June. Our mayor stepped down; thousands of city computers went down; and, Harborplace might also be going down, if we don't find a way to get it out of receivership. The issues we face are complex. But, they are not insurmountable; and, they certainly don’t stand still. Not even for a moment.
If timing really is everything, what time is it now in Baltimore?
We know one thing for sure. Getting to “The Tragedy of Baltimore” took a minute. Getting there, like getting anywhere, has its complexities and challenges. And, getting out of “The Tragedy of Baltimore” will be more complicated than just hitting rewind or putting things in reverse.
But, getting out is not impossible. In fact, it’s entirely possible.
The real tragedy of Baltimore is not that we are unraveling. It’s that we lack focus. Or, at least, we lack the proper focus. We haven’t learned to see the possibilities of what we can be together, of recognizing all we can become by truly working together.
I can't get this one sobering observation from “The Tragedy of Baltimore” out of my mind - “It takes remarkable fortitude to remain an optimist about Baltimore today.” But, fortitude without forward-thinking will be useless. We must summon the courage to change now.
At Caroline Center, we are doing our part to foster positive change – through education; career skills training; meaningful, sustainable work; and opportunities for advancement for women. And, we are succeeding because our graduates are succeeding. A dozen or more times a day at Caroline Center, I take the opportunity to reflect upon a couple of sentences in an inspirational mural that is along our stairwell. It says, “I have a dream too, you know. And, my hope, my hope faces forward.”
Fortitude and optimism will only get us part of the way there. Courage alone is not enough. Being strong must also mean being smart. We need dreamers. And, doers out of love. We need hope. And we need vision. We need to think forward to move forward.
Timing is everything. And, Baltimore, the clock is ticking.