Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Running choices

A running friend made a comment by email today that was flattering and a very pleasant surprise.  And even if it was just something that any polite person would have said (which some might claim), I still think it was a very nice thing to say.  What did my friend say? After asking if I would be training with Charm City Run this summer and seeing my answer ("no"), my friend said it just wouldn't be the same without me.

That got me thinking?  Am I the same without the Charm City Run training group?  That is an interesting question.  And even beyond the fact that I am not fundraising through distance running this summer, I really am not the same without Charm City Run. It is worth thinking about the choices.

I have found a subset of the old Charm City Run training group with whom I have been running on Saturdays for a while.  Most Saturdays it is a group of four of us--sometimes three and occasionally two.  And last Saturday I ran alone--it is actually a nice thing to do every once in a while.  If we were with the Charm City Run group we would be near (but not necessarily always in) the lead.  I like the fact that the group with whom I run most often now meets at 6 AM rather than 7 AM.  But some weeks it might be nice to be able to choose to run a different pace.  I didn't do that all that often when I ran with Charm City Run for three training seasons, but it was nice to have the option. Instead I have made a choice to focus entirely on making sure that I am challenged to go fast and run hard each week.  Pros and cons to each choice.  But by not signing up for Charm City Run this summer, I have made one particular choice.

As for track workouts, we had an incredible eleven people for our 5:30 workout on a high school track near the Johns Hopkins Hospital this morning.  It is nice as we have a partial view of the buildings in my tattoo.  Again, I have made a choice to train with a group that is forever challenging and in many different ways on different days.  Sometimes it is one other runner.  Sometimes it is the workout.  We are always running really hard.  Once agin, if I ever let up I'll be trailing way behind.  I am flattered that so many people come to run with me.  We are a group that mostly gets down to business and runs our hard workouts.  Again, my experience would be something different if I were to run in the evenings with Charm City Run.  I would not, for example, have every night at home with as much of my family as is home every night.  But if I were to return to running with Charm City Run at some point, I'd have more choices about how hard to run and a wider variety of people to chat with.

There is nothing wrong with the choices I have made for this summer.  They are in contrast to what I have done the past two summers during which I focused on the group as much as on myself.  The group was large.  The group was diverse.

The choices I have made are the right choices for right now.  Still a bit of a group focus, but the group is smaller.  The group is more concentrated. And the group is about focused training to make us all better because we are all seeking to be "near the top" rather than just to finish.  It is more than just finishing.  Even more than just improving. It is about being as close to the top as we can manage. Again, right thing for right now.

But after I finish with Boston next spring and I look ahead to my next year of running, I may rethink what meets my needs. One of the beauties of actually thinking about this is that I can make a conscious (or to use the last entry's term, willful) choice about what is best at a particular point in time.

Leading a conscious life is a great way to lead life.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Willful Choice

At mass at 9:30 at St Pius X in Towson today, we got to hear a homily from Fr. Ray Chase--once he got his microphone turned on for the homily.  Fr. Ray always gives nice concise homilies.  Today we were talking about things related to the celebration of the birth of John the Baptist.  One thing he shared with the congregation was what he called the most frustrating part of being a priest.  I'll paraphrase: that no matter how much he prayed with us, consecrated the Eucharist before us, or preached homilies to us, he couldn't make us do anything.  No matter how much he knows what might be right from the point of view of following the path of what God would want, it is ultimately up to each one of us to take a willful action to make things happen.

I can see where this would be frustrating.  We are often called upon to ask "What would Jesus do?"  Well, I believe that most clergy (I won't say all given the continuing news about some small fraction of clergy in the Catholic Church) have a better idea of what Jesus would do than the rest of us.  They want to offer what they know.  They have spent a long time thinking about things.  They want to help.

It is not so different from public health experts.  They know more about many things for our health than the average person.  They have spent a long time thinking about things.  They want to help.

So, I can relate to what he is saying when I think about it professionally.

I can also relate personally and I think that this is pushing me one step closer to changing the blog to "Connecting the Dots--Nourishing the Soul".  If we think about a "dot to dot" it may just seem like a random series of dots if you look at the dots before connecting them.  No matter how much you stare at it.  If I think back to string art I did as a child (dating myself there, perhaps...) I think of the pattern of nails in the board looking somewhat random before the string was wrapped to make it a coherent pattern.  A meaningful pattern.  A pretty pattern.

In both the case of the dot to dot and the string art--it takes a conscious and willful effort.  A choice.  A choice to make the effort rather than simply to stare and wonder.

My tattoo is similar.  As a few people in church who had not seen it before this morning asked me about it, I gave the medium to long answer.  My sixteen year old asked me how many times I had explained it.  The answer is--a lot.  But now I have a short answer--a modern reinterpretation of the art around St. Sebastian, the parton saint of athletes.  And I have a much longer answer that goes into detail about the symbolism.  If people want to hear (and I want to share) the deeper meaning that requires a conscious effort on two people's parts.

As I think about whether I would ever get another tattoo, I think "only if I find a story as compelling that I want to tell."  In other words, I don't see any small tattoos. If I am going to get any they will be big and bold like the first and tell a whole story.  About what?  Maybe my music or my cooking or my writing or my teaching.  There are many other themes.  I could work in other patron saints or my confirmation name.  Who knows?  The one thing I do know is that it will be a long thought out willful choice.

Willful choices guided by God have the potential to take me far in my life.  I try to live up to what I am taught by priests like Fr Ray.  It's not always easy.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012


I've been pondering renaming the blog.  When I started my blog (other than a health economics blog for my teaching), I called it physical and spiritual running. That was the most appropriate title as I was trying to figure out what running meant and what a death from cancer meant.  Running had begun to evolve for me from just a personal physical activity to something much more social and much deeper.

Then, after my first marathon I closed the book on that first topic and then called the blog what it is now and has been for a year and a half--Physical and Spiritual Well-Being.  The blog is about all types of well being and I talk about my running as well as other things that I ponder.

I'm now thinking of calling it "Connecting the Dots and Nourishing the Soul".  Why?  Well, everything that I write nourishes my soul.  Maybe it helps others to nourish their souls. It gets a reasonable number of hits.  And my sixteen year old pointed out that there is a sight that picks up my feed (  And everything I write is part of how I process things.  How I work with things.  How I try to grasp things in my life.  Connecting the dots?  Well, just look at how much my writing cuts across different areas.  Even the tattoo I got connects different themes.  When I write about it I connect the themes.  I connect my running and bible verses.  I connect cooking. I connect my kids.  I connect my life.  Connecting the dots in the right order takes a seemingly random array of spots and turns it into something that is a coherent whole.  So, I am trying to combine the dots in my life in the right order to find a coherent whole to nourish my soul.

I'll ponder a bit more before changing.  If it works. I'll probably make the change over the July 4 holiday.  It is a pretty cool concept but I want to ponder it a bit more first.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Turning Myself Over

When I got my tattoo--I let go of all control, relaxed my body, and turned myself over to the tattoo artist because I wanted the best outcome.

When I get a therapeutic massage, I let go of all control, relax my body, and turn myself over to the massage therapist.  I want to get the most out of the massage and let the therapist do what she needs to do.

When I give blood, I let go of all control, relax my arm, and turn myself over to the phlebotomist.  I want to make the experience as efficient and as uneventful as possible.

When I go to the dentist, I turn my mouth over to the hygienist or dentist.  I mostly just want to be done, but I know that cooperating helps to minimize the time required.

Why are all these examples, I am turning myself over to optimize the outcome.  What does God want me to do?  As far as I can tell--turn my whole self (body, arm, bood, teeth, etc.) over to God.

Why?  To follow in His ways and achieve the best outcome.

Why is that so hard?  While I know that I could not replace the tattoo artist, the massage therapist, the phlebotomist; and the dentist/hygienist.  Each of them is dealing with a physical part of my body for a relatively short time.

When I am dealing with handing my being over to God, it is my whole self.  it is a mystery to whom I am turning myself over.  And, when all is said and done, while I know I don't have the skills of any of the four types of individuals, I may think that my judgment can replace Gods.  God doesn't undertand people today.  God doesn't have to deal with the repercussions if things get ugly and I'm still trusting in God.  It is not too hard to think that we have a better judgment than God does.

Moving forward, I only see myself trying to make sure that I turn myself over to God or God's representatives here on earth in the same way that I turn myself over to certain service providers.  The goal will be to maximize the positive experiences in my life.  I simply have to trust that good will come when I walk in the ways of the Lord.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

John 20:4-7 from 5K and Life Numbers

On Sunday, I ran the 5K.  The numbers for me and my three sons stretched from 204 to 207.  My time was 20:56 (so, the 20 and the two numbers in between the 4 and 7).  When my mother read some of the biographical information that she could find on St Sebastian (related to my tattoo) she found that his feast day is January 20.  Again, the number 20.  So, while walking my dog this evening around 9, I used my iPhone to search for a verse that might be relevant to my life right now and I came up with John 20:4-7.  From the New American Bible Revised Edition:

"They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place."

Let's see.  A direct mention of my confirmation name in verse 20:4 (I was number 204).  A direct mention of running in verse 20:4.  I think this was meant to be pondered.  And certainly beyond the two interesting but otherwise inconsequential coincidences of chapter 20 verse 4.

Why did this capture my attention?  Well, I have written about a verse similar to this before as it is an Easter verse.  However, right now here is what it makes me think of.  First, mystery.  While I am 42, I still find life a mystery.  I still find my efforts to get my commitments in life under control a mystery that I have difficult solving.  And I know that I should place my trust in God--as John did more quickly in the verses that followed Peter's initial discovery.

Second, this is about the Resurrection of Jesus.  It led to a second chance for humanity.  We all need second chances sometimes.  (And third and fourth...)  As a professional, I am trying to reduce the number of times I need to ask for second chances after committing to too many things.  But it is nice to know that we have them.  We don't always get them with colleagues.  We don't always get them with those we love or those with whom we are friends.  But God gave humanity a second chance at life in God's presence forever that we can always access if we are truly contrite about transgressions and we make every effort to walk in the way of the Lord.

So, this set of verses which makes me think of mysteries and second chances seems just about right for pondering as I continue to think about the meaning of the many choices I have made in my life.  And the improvements I continue to hope to make so that I can continue in my success and have fewer disappointments along the way--no matter how much those disappointments can teach important lessons. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Great Running Weekend and Kids Growing up

So, this weekend I ran the same sequence I did last Father's Day weekend--a 10 mile race on Saturday and a 5K race on Sunday.  Last year I ran 1:13:09 and 21:22 placing second in my age group in the 5K.  This year I ran 1:11:30 and 20:56.  On person I run with sometimes thought I would be a bit faster than that in the 5K--maybe on fresh legs.  I took first in my age group this year.  And, I'd consider the weekend an incredible success overall even if I still have not hit the 7 minute mile average I hope to for the 10 mile race or broken 20 minutes in a 5K yet. Was it all improvement or was some due to nicer weather and friendlier courses?  I'll never know. I'll just enjoy

But I didn't just enjoy my own experience.  I enjoyed watching my kids come home yesterday from their garden club with vegetables and my 12 year old helping me with turnips au gratin yesterday.

I enjoyed seeing both the 7 year old and 12 year old run their best 5K times when running alone today.  For my 7 year old this was only his second and he improved by about 7 minutes over his first.  This time, his 16 year old brother was supposed to stay with him but he ran 5 minutes ahead of his brother who walked most of the distance.  The 12 year old broken 30 minutes when not running with me for the first time ever.  Great for them.

And the take home quote from my 7 year old this weekend as we heard that 1970's tune "Rock the Boat" on the radio--"Why would anyone want to do that?  You'd get sea sick.  Maybe they mean a rock band."

The younger two were encouraged by my friend at the race to think of when they might beat me.  I look forward to the day.  My 7 year old passed Denise Koch from channel 13 today within the last quarter mile.  She is the local TV newsperson/celebrity who supports the 5K race each year.  And both may beat their pediatrician some day.  None will necessarily beat me for a while.  And neither will necessarily be just like me. That is fine.

What I do hope for both of them (and my 16 year old) is that they come into their own.  Today (and this weekend in general) was a time to see that better than I had for a while.  It is a wonderful thing.   

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tattoo as Story Telling

So the other day I compared the way I try to manage my body and my heartbeat during the tattoo process and during a therapeutic massage.

Today, I will comare tattoos to something else--story telling.  When I was running with a resident member of Team Christopher's Place Back on My Feet on Sunday, we were talking about tattoos.  I described the story behind my tattoo.  The story is now with me all the time.  A constant reminder of the themes that were important.  And, as a talking point, the way to share those points with others.

My friend mentioned that the story was a good one.  And that each tattoo is there for a reason.  Something we needed to remember.  Something we needed to be reminded of.  Some big event in our lives.  He had a rather philosophical view of tattoos and I was quite impressed.

So as people now ask me whether I think I will ever get another--I answer--first, when I have enough money, and second when I have another story that is so important for me to tell.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Getting a Tattoo, Getting a Massage, Giving Blood--Things Where the Serenity Prayer Helps

Today, I got my first tattoo.  Color  will be added in September.  It turned out to be more than I could ever have imagined.  The artist was incredible and the process was not something I'd want to do every day but really not so bad.

I commented to Emily (the artist) while she was working that I was glad I had chosen to get it in a place that I really couldn't easily see while she was working.  She found this curious and told me that whenever she got a new one she would do everything she could to contort herself to see.  She talked about being a type A personality.

At the time, I said that I saw an analogy with getting a full body massage.  And since then I have also thought of an analogy with the process of giving blood.  The last of these is highly ironic given the wait to donate after getting a tattoo in at least some places.

What is the analogy.  Well, I relate it back to the Serenity prayer--where i ask for the courage to change things I can and the serenity to accept those I can't.  Before I decide to donate blood, to get a massage, or to get a tattoo I have the power to make the choice.  To choose to do it.  Doesn't take much courage to get a therapeutic massage but getting a tattoo and giving blood require at least a bit of gumption--if not courage.  But once I have started, in any of the three settings (tattooing, massaging, or blood donation), I simply let go.  There is nothing more I can do.  All I can do is have the experience.  That sets me free.  My leg muscles tightened a little, but I did not break a sweat and I did not have my heart rate go up.  I just relaxed.

Sometimes, we have to figure out that we can change things we don't want to.  But the ability to accept those things that we truly cannot change is an amazing release.  It is almost empowering to let go.     

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Fourth Day

When I came upon my old journals, one thing that I stumbled on was my description of the fact that I went on a retreat called Search.  It was a three day retreat.  It was my first real introspection in a religious setting as an adult, albeit a very young adult at the time.  The retreat was Fri-Sun (or three days).  At the end we were asked what we would do on our Fourth Day.  The Fourth Day was essentially--the rest of our lives.  Not literally one day.  

Viewed that way, I've written many things about my Fourth Day.  Most of them up.  Occasionally down.  In the near future there may be one or tow things that are down because I let things go much too long.  Even at age 42 there are lessons to learn.

I don't know that when I was 18 I ever really appreciated just how long the "Fourth Day" would go on and the fact that I would still be learning, still be struggling to prioritize, still be trying to make sense of things, and still be trying to figure out how it all fit together as part of God's plan for me 24 years later.

But now I know that even in 2 times 24 more years (if I make it to age 90), I'll still be learning, I'll still be struggling to prioritize, I'll still be trying to make sense of things, and I'll still by trying to figure out how it all fits together as part of God's plan for me.  It is a never ending process with just one goal--always try to keep God's way as my way as I go along.  The closer I model my life after God's way, the more sense it makes.  Things get messy and murkier the more I stray.  Things seem to get clearer the more I stay close to God's way.  Sometimes, I wonder how Jesus prioritized when there were multiple ways that he could have worked to demonstrate the glory of God.  In some ways, a simple "what would Jesus do" type of question.  But in other ways, a much more subtle one--how would Jesus prioritize?  How would Jesus allocate his time on the days when he felt "there are only 24 hours in a day?"  

Perhaps as a religious economist who struggles to do good in all things I should ask myself "how would Jesus allocate his resources" rather than "what would Jesus do"?  Perhaps it is not quite as catchy.  But it really does capture why I sometimes feel like I am struggling (while still being very satisfied with my overall progress, accomplishments, and quality of life) in my Fourth Day.   

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It All Comes Together

My friend Marcus came out for a morning track workout with the crew that has been working out at the Dunbar track with workouts that I organize.  He commented at the end that he would definitely be back, particularly because the first week of the Charm City Run training program was always a two mile time trial, and he didn't think he would learn anything he didn't already know by participating in that next week.  It was interesting to me that he made that comment as the two mile time trial is what started me on a path toward being the organizer of this crew.  It was yet another reminder of how things just tend to come together in my life and how God creates opportunities that we can take or ignore and how his plan is for something wonderful if we just follow.

So, when I tell stories about history of my running, sometimes I begin in high school.  But, I recognize that those are mostly Glory Days kind of stories (thinking of the old song by Bruce Springstein) at this point.  And, while they are interesting to reflect on they are rarely relevant.  I separately myself from them for the same reason that I decided not to get a tattoo of the old symbol on my high school varsity letter pins--there is so much of life since then and so much more that is relevant to me.

Sometimes when I tell running stories, I start back on January 1, 2006.  When I decided to return to regular exercise.  However, I don't worry about a return to exercise any more.  In fact, the tattoo I am getting will feature the patron saint of athletes.  So, I don't go back to that point as often any more.

I also have gone back to July 2010 on some occasions.  That is when my running took a social turn and I started running for a charity rather than just for myself.   It was after a parent at my kids school was taken too early by cancer that running became not just a physical thing but a social thing and an expressive thing in my life.  And sometimes I got back to March 2012 when I first ran with Back on My Feet.  At that point, I found an organization that I could make a constant part of my running.  Back on My Feet also has an interesting relation to the tattoo.  The artist found a picture of the Baltimore city skyline (looking head on at City Hall and the buildings in the background in the 1930's.  That part of the tattoo is actually similar to the buildings in the picture at right, except for the one brick building with the very narrow top.  That is a more recent building.

Today, though, the story goes back to September 13, 2011.  On that day, the Charm City Run training group was scheduled to do a two mile time trial that I could not attend, but I really wanted to know where I was.  So, I asked two students/friends to come out and run with me.  They did and I ran the fastest two miles I'd run in a very long time.  Immediately after the Baltimore marathon, we continued running together and I continued to run with at least one of them through most of the winter.  Then, very recently the group expanded and now we have as many as 14 people on our list an that list is about to grow.  I never would have thought that one random ask to help pace me would lead to me being the organizer of a group that runs together once a week and includes people I know from work, from just running, and from Back on My Feet, all together to be supportive of one another and to make ourselves better, stronger runners.

God is great.  His gifts are amazing.  And I must never forget that.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

What Made Me Happy This Weekend?

This morning, on our local Christian Rock (or "positive hits" as they now call it) station (95.1 Shine FM), they asked for comments on what made us happy over the weekend.

I could have mentioned any number of things.  Comments on my blog, actually on the site--in addition to on FB which happens more often.   Seeing my oldest son happy with his audition for Peabody Youth Orchestra and his recording opportunity at All About Music.  A very busy and people filled Sunday.  Two great runs.  Happy dog.  Many things.

But if I had to choose one thing that stands out as different from most weekends that made me happy, it would be this: I got a friend of mine from Back on My Feet to come listen to 40 More Days play at St. Pius X.  My friend is Catholic, so it was not unusual for her to go to mass.  My friend was a cantor at one point--so it was not different for her to appreciate music at mass.  It was just one of the first times she had heard a worship band (including an electric bass) at a Catholic mass.

Afterwards she commented that she thought it was cool.  I was glad.  I thought about why it makes a difference to me that a running friend would come to mass. Or, why do I enjoy sharing my 40 More Days worship band experience?  I enjoy it most because it shows that I am not unidimensional.

Maybe most of my friends would not think that these days.  Having commented over the weekend on finding my old high school and college journals, it was certainly something that I worried about back then.  The worry at that time was that people might think I cared only about academics. Now, I could worry that people in each my circles might think that I take that circle so seriously that I could be unidimensional in that circle--my academics, my running, my participation in church.  But having a person from one aspect of my life come experience a different aspect reminds me and my friends that I'm not just about one thing.

Instead, I"m about figuring out how to make it all fit and all work together.  That is what I love.  The challenge.  The thrill.

Including my students in running--one way to demonstrate multiple dimension.  Inviting my running friends to mass--a second way.  Inviting my students/colleagues to mass--yet one more way.

I'm sure my close friends would like me even if I were pretty much unidimensional.  However, it is just nice to be able to explore and share more than one dimension and to try to make clear how much I enjoy having multiple dimensions and sharing each dimension with those about whom I care.  And then, inviting those I care about so much to make sure that their lives are not unidimensional either.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Overly Analytical--Or Not?

In yesterday's blog entry I commented on how I had been overly analytical even 20-some years ago.  I had another example of being overly analytic today.  When playing electric bass as part of the 40 More Days worship band at St. Pius X church in Towson, MD, I was listening to the homily. The bishop read from one of the candidate's letters and she referred to herself as a confirmandi.  My brain got lost thinking about what the appropriate feminine singular version would be.  It turns out that confirmand is the singular for both sexes.  I found that out at a reception afterwards.

When I get overly analytical, I don't play well and I noticed a tension in my playing for the first few songs after the homily.  Then, as I approached the final song, I just loosened up.  The last song was "Go Out in the World".  That is one of the few songs that I am often called upon to sing, and to sing harmony for.  When we play this song as part of our ministry, I just let go.  I just try to "Let it be" and take it all in.  I love the song as it both provides me a chance to sing a relatively high bass part and I do something a little different with my bass in that song--just in terms of the style I play.

That song is a blessing for me.  It is also interesting as the idea of being a person asked to "Go Out in the World" and tell everyone the good news is sort of what this blog does.  I like to share my good news.  And hope that others feel their own good news and to share that in turn with me.  There is much good news in the world--despite what we constantly hear in the news.  And I try to never forget that.   

Saturday, June 2, 2012

My Own Personal Time Machine

My family is on a bit of a quest to try to get our house in order.  Will we ever succeed?  Hard to tell.  Am I one of the biggest culprits in terms of non-neatness of the house?  You bet.  Why?  I love to hang on to things.  One thing that had been buried deep in a closet that is now being cleaned out--my high school and college journals.

What I'm finding now is that I am finally ready to part with them.  But not before one final read.  One final read that will give me an opportunity to look back more than 2 decades (in some cases almost 2 1/2 decades) to see what I was thinking and to think aout how it led me to where I am today.  Just in skimming a bit I have reached a few conclusions.

(1) My search for meaning in life is nothing new.  I over-analyzed everything even when I was not yet 20.  Different sets of questions. Different sets of concerns.  But a lot about how people around me related to me, related to each other, and viewed the world.  And how I viewed he world.  And, at the end of the day, I'm still writing about such things.

(2) My fascination with numbers is nothing new.  I picked up a journal that spanned much but not all of my sophomore year at Penn State.  I was counting how many days in a row I'd written.  I recorded the ages of many friends.  I noted my parents 20th anniversary.  I didn't try to find meanings in those numbers as I do with bib numbers and race times now, but the numbers were a critical part of what I wrote.

(3) An entry from January 3, 1989 is quite telling.  That was between semesters and I was home with my sister who apparently had been running a fever the night before.  With both parents working and with the convenience of having me around, I could take care of her.  In the entry, I noted that a close friend at Penn State had characterized my journal as "containing my world". I had talked quite a bit about it.  I wrote that my world was "extended" by "telling people aout it and not trying to hide things."  My personal blogs allow me to do just that in so many ways. It is essentially my journal of things that I am willing to share and of things that I hope others might ponder and comment on.

(4) Even back then, I was thinking about family, friends, religion, music, and running.  Do themes in life ever change?

I don't know if I am the only one who finds it fascinating to think about and ask, "Have I really changed that much or is it just a change in scenery with all the same questions and issues when all is said and done?"  If nothing else, I hope that while my life may be centered around similar issues I have at least learned enough not to repeat similar mistakes.

After taking a trip in "my own personal time machine" by reviewing my journals before I chuck stuff, I will be better able to answer the question of whether I have learned any life lessons or just a lot of facts in the past two decades and some.

I won't bore you with entries of "who liked who and what were they thinking?" but if I come across any particularly insightful entries as I review before chucking, I may comment on the theme I see from my old work.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

My Hometown and Violence in Baltimore

These days, I consider Baltimore to be my adopted hometown sufficiently that a tattoo I'm planning to get should have a bit of Baltimore's skyline--although I have not seen the artist's final pre-drawing yet.  But, where I grew up was just outside Philadelphia, and I have commented recently on the argument against cutting too many of the classes like arts, gym, and library as a result of a budget that must be cut.

Recently, there has been what seems like an inordinate amount of violence in Baltimore--from shootings, to stabbings, to robberies and assaults.  At least some of it has been linked to groups of youth.

I think I may see a connection.  Not a causal connection between the two.  But a common theme that is reflected in both discussions.

There are many reasons that a local school district in tough economic times has to make budget cuts which may result in entire programs being cut.  It is unfortunate.  But it is a reality.  The cuts are made should be determined rationally.  The cuts that are made hopefully reflect the preferences of the local community when it comes to where they are willing to accept less public investment in their children.  The cuts can be countered (in part) by more investment (and it will most likely involve time and money) in the children by parents and others in the local community.

It is the idea of the investment in children by parents and others in the local community that brings me back to Baltimore.  Why do youth feel that they have nothing better to do than rob and assault?  It may be, at least in part, due to a lack of investment.  That lack of investment may be from their own parents, it may be from others in their neighborhood, or it may be from their school district.  Most likely it is some combination of two or three of those listed above.

How willing are individuals in our society to invest in others?  I don't know what any scientific data will tell us.  But it is a fundamental political question for this year.  What is the role of government when parents or the local community don't have much to invest?

And what does each community invest in safety?  How can communities keep themselves safe?  At the end of the day--more investment.  Things like citizens on patrol.  But those only work if the investment is made consistently.  If they are only a response after negative events begin to occur, then they may help stop what is occurring but are unlikely to prevent things from starting.

I think we are at a point where communities need to focus on answering three questions.  First, are they willing to maintain a constant vigilance?  Why constant--because any problem that is arising should be nipped in the bud and not allowed to get out of hand while there is a lot of talking and hand wringing.  In other words, how action oriented are communities able to be?

Second, how much of our own time and money are we willing to invest in helping our communities.  Are we just in it for ourselves?  Each person or family making sure that they are safe and well?  Or are we all in this together and trying to keep our neighborhoods and our communities safe and strong?

Finally, how much time and money are we willing to invest in our own children and others' children?  Why should we be willing to invest at least something in others' children?  I think that not investing in children sufficiently can lead to a need for more investment in community safety and greater vigilance.  Maybe that is okay.  But we, as a society, amy want to shift some resources to more investment in children so that we would have to invest less later on.

I don't have any illusion that answering these questions is simple.  I am just trying to point out how the root causes of some of the problems that one suburban community outside Philadelphia faces are not so different from root causes of some of the problems in Baltimore City at the moment.  And I believe that many communities in America will have to struggle with answering the questions I have posed about themselves in the coming years.  The answers to those questions will define how we as a country will define ourselves in the future.

May our consciences, guided by whatever religious or other moral compass each of us uses, guide us to the best decisions for our communities.