I watched history replay on nightly news in late April. Cameras rolled and commentators described what viewers could clearly see. People were rioting in the streets of Baltimore. The death of a man in police custody spawned this violence. Store windows were smashed, fires started, cars burned and bricks thrown at police. Anger spewed hot and bitter. Still? I thought, have we made no substantial progress in over 40 years? I remember riding in a car with a fellow student after a night class at Syracuse University the night that Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated. My mind was still on the earth geography class. I struggled with the geography part because I never had geography in any class as a child. But I loved that class where I learned to answer questions like if it is the rainy season in India, what is the weather like in Venezuela. Thus, the conversation in the car picked up where our instructor had stopped. Neither I nor the driver knew about the assassination until without warning we were in the midst of a riot. Police directed us to an alternate route. We were mystified, could not understand what had caused chaos to break out. We locked our doors, drove slowly, and sorrow hit. Whatever had happened, I knew deep heart wounds had erupted into something ugly and destructive. Watching the riots in Baltimore made me think we’ve not come very far in finding solutions that give people hope of participation in the fabled American Dream. People remain locked in poverty, lack good education, and the illegal drug industry is too often the only job provider. Anger simmers, ready to become rage expressed in violence. Violence is like a flash fire, first a spark and then a towering flame. I prayed silently that long ago night as our car carefully headed out of that mob. I was sad. Syracuse had curfews imposed until things got quiet once again. But the root causes of that violence remain. I know the tendency is to shift the debate over the cause of such violence to political views, liberal versus conservative. Do-gooders versus realists. My reaction to the scenes in Baltimore mirror my reactions the night of that assassination. I grieve and I pray. I wish we could find a way to break the cycle of poverty and crime, of poor education and broken families, of senseless deaths and excess suffering. But I’m not God. So instead I pray. I remember the Prayer of St. Francis so loved by my father and offer it as I watch scenes of violence bruise the eyes of my heart. The prayer of St. Francis Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy; O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.