I can’t stop thinking about Baltimore. I reject the idea of thinking about black people versus white people. That wasn’t my experience when I lived there, and I don’t believe it’s truly that way now, despite the protests, despite all the words of hate. I remember once driving down to Hopkins Hospital, getting off the Jones Falls Expressway on Fayette Street. I was stopped at the light, waiting to turn left, when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Pulled up next to me in the next lane was a big Ford Expedition. The driver had his window down, and was waving at me to lower my window, so I did.
“What kind of mileage do you get on that thing?” he said, indicating my Toyota Sienna minivan.
“About 22, maybe 23 miles per gallon,” I said.
“Damn! I’m getting 8, maybe 9 miles on this thing. It’s a gas guzzler!”
He asked me if I liked my Sienna, and I said I did, and that it could seat seven, that I’d hauled members of my daughter’s soccer team around in it to many games. Then the light changed, and we went our separate ways. The fact that I was white and he was black did not ever come up. I remember the conversation to this day as yet another quirky Baltimore encounter, actually a fairly typical Baltimore moment for me.
Another memory that comes to mind is a conversation I had prompted by a sales clerk, who was humming. I knew the tune: “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” I am about as dyed-in-the-wool Methodist as you can get. I grew up singing in church, and I sing in three groups now at the Prescott United Methodist Church (two choirs and a gospel band). Something just prompted me to ask her if she sang in the choir. She did. Soprano. I sing alto, and I told her I sometimes don’t even know the actual melody, because I’m so used to singing the harmony. She had been on a mission trip, and was thinking about becoming a minister. We talked about that for a while, about faith, and service, and just loving the music. Again, we were black and white, but who cared — we shared the same God. These encounters aren’t even that unique; there were many like this in my decade and a half in Baltimore. There was so much more good than bad.
I’m not naive, and I hope I’m not stupid. I know we have problems in our country. I know there are terrible divisions, and tensions, and there are hurt and pain and bad memories all around. I get that. But I also know that as different as we are, there are points of common-ness, points where we share experiences, things we can just talk about, one person to another — as parents or drivers of large vehicles or people who love to sing old hymns. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m going to try extra hard to look past the things that are different and find the things that are the same. How do wounds heal? One cell at a time. I may not heal any wounds, but by God, I’m not going to open up any new ones, either.