Soul Whispers by George Merrill

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I had conversations recently with two friends. They are long-time colleagues. One is a rabbi and the other a priest. They are seasoned clergy. Both think outside the box of sectarian religion and political affiliation. They’re reflective people.

We’d not seen each other for a while. We were catching up. Soon we were discussing the social and political scene in America today.

America’s moral decline soon came up.

We agreed that our social, political and moral codes are fraying. Those supporting the president are as angry and uncivil as those opposing him. The anger finds expression in hostile and mean-spirited exchanges and a pervasive feeling of uncertainty, if not helplessness and doom. We are stuck in a climate of malaise. That’s pretty much the state of affairs and we agreed it’s not going away any time soon. Given those realities, in the interim how might we live our inner lives and help others live theirs? Put differently, how can we stay sane and relevant in a world gone mad?

The rabbi suggested a spiritual exercise. In the short haul, he said, we are limited in what we can do to change things, except to hope and vote. He suggested that we write a letter to our own souls; take the matter up there, rather than engaging in the habitual no-win criticism and carping which I, for one, slip into so easily. What would emerge from such an exercise?

The idea of writing to my soul intrigued me. I began collecting my thoughts. It was a delicate exercise trying to assemble the data to write. A soul brooks no fudging.

Souls whisper. I have to listen carefully to hear. I can con my ego – which typically shouts – but never my soul.

As forthrightly as I could, in the interests of full disclosure, I prepared to write first that I didn’t like Trump one whit. When I see him on TV, the sight of him ties my stomach in a knot.

My soul whispered, “Merrill, don’t give me that, these are not your real thoughts; I know better. You call him a creep and a sleaze.” My soul, mischievously, goaded me: “I’ll bet the ‘Reverend’ would not like those sentiments made public. They’d make him look, well, not any different from the creep and sleaze he’s just scorned with such derisive language.

Listening to one’s soul isn’t always fun. I then had the thought that the meanness and contempt I feel for Trump was as reactive as many conservatives were when Obama was elected president. I’ll bet they said and thought a lot of ugly things, too.

While composing my letter, this first tangle with my soul highlighted what I have suspected is the real heart of the matter, not only in politics, but in how we deal with others; What am I to do with my knee-jerk responses of aversion? They can be vicious and waspish. Do I, as is common, build rationales to justify them, cling to my atavistic impulses and retaliate with all my righteousness blazing? Do I simply ignore them?

Ignoring powerful emotions never works. I know that. They only come out sideways.

What then?

As I consider writing my letter, I know that this internal struggle is timeless. It’s a part of being human. It’s about how discernment is different from reactive judgements and how I distinguish one from the other.

Reactive judgments often carry contempt – at least on this side of the veil – which is why God advises we leave the judging to him. Such judgements have incendiary qualities that stoke an inner seething. That’s when we wish only the worst for who or what we loathe. Such judgements will either mobilize energy or create malaise. When their energy is released, it rarely if ever ends well, or worse still, legitimizes my own craziness. I know this even before my soul confronts me. But, my soul also knows full well that there is also something deliciously seductive about feeling hateful, especially when the hate has been seasoned with a healthy dose of one’s personal sense of rectitude. It’s a rush, a high, and in an absence of anything more substantive, hate and resentment can offer a sense of purpose, a cause to champion. I can feel righteous and ready. It fills a spiritual vacuum.

Discernment is different. Discernment is nuanced. It is a form of discrimination (not prejudice) that reaches beyond outward appearances and sees to the heart of a matter, like an X-Ray goes beyond the surface to reveal what lies beneath. Discernment will not be driven by ignorance, in the way the ego is when making reactive judgements.

A Buddhist myth about an old monk makes the point.

He sits by a stream and watches the current go by. He listens to the gurgling water. He is at peace with himself and the world. He sees a scorpion. It’s floating on a leaf. The Monk knows that downstream the current gets turbulent and will flip the leaf over and surely drown the scorpion. The Monk reaches for the scorpion to take him safely to the shore. The scorpion stings him. In a few minutes, he does the same with another scorpion. It stings him. One of the monk’s disciples standing nearby sees him and rushes over to him. “Master, why do you reach for the scorpions, you know they will sting you?” The monk replies, “Yes, that’s just how they are.”

It’s an odd parable at first glance. Initially I thought the monk was foolish; after all he knows what will happen. I also thought that the monk might do better for all concerned to let the scorpions meet their fate downstream as they would not pose a danger to others.

A closer look at the myth is revealing. In the face of harm that might cause the monk pain if not death, he did not behave reactively. He was a kind and compassionate man. He had no illusions about what scorpions do. He did not react to them with revulsion, anger or fear. He responded with the kindness of his soul, transforming the moment dramatically. The moment was like Dr. King’s March on Washington. King was fully aware of the venom of his adversaries, but he turned a moment that could be potentially toxic into one of hope and promise. The event changed America. Dr. King did not, as with many frustrated Americans today, identify with his angry adversaries and behave like them. He did not lose his own soul under pressure.

Our challenge today is to be as wise as serpents, and as gentle as doves.

For those of us, however, who will hopefully continue to struggle with soul, ego, and specifically with personalities we can’t abide, George Eliot offered this kind but wistful lament: “It was a pity he couldn’a be hatched o’er again, and hatched different.”

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Reading Water by Nancy Mugele

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I have been looking for my dog-eared copy of Upstream by Mary Oliver for months. I am inspired by this collection in which Oliver illustrates the importance of creativity, her insatiable curiosity for the natural world and the great responsibility she feels, handed to her by writers before her, to observe thoughtfully and record her passions. She encourages us to keep moving upstream – to lose ourselves in the beauty of nature and to find time for the creativity that lives inside each of us. “I could not be a poet without the natural world,” she said, “someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.”

I found the book last week in an unexpected place, but one which I should have assumed. Jim surprised me with a short trip to Montana, after a few days in LA for Jim’s business and a little time for me to visit family and a dear friend.The dog-leg to Montana was the perfect end to a week on the West Coast (not to be confused with the Western Shore). I was so happy to see, for the first time, James’ new home, visit Sweetwater Fly Shop, meet the store’s owner and James’ fellow team members, and of course, hug Boh, James’ black lab. Yes, my book was in James’ bedroom sitting casually at the top of an opened, but not entirely unpacked, moving box.

I learned a lot about fly fishing in a few short days as we spent time on Mill Creek and the Yellowstone River. To me, James is clearly one-third fisherman, one-third entomologist and one-third, like Mary Oliver, a joyful nature enthusiast. The 19th Century British chemist Sir Humphry Davy, who invented the miner’s safety lamp, described fly fishing rods as “a fly at one end and a philosopher at the other.” I can attest that this is true.

James told me fly fishing is all about “reading water,” recognizing how the slightest breeze or even the movement of a cloud across the sky changes everything; noticing the dark, slow pool next to the faster water where fish may be lurking. The more time he spends observing and understanding a river, the more success he will have as an angler. Jim caught his first cutthroat trout on a fly on this trip with the help of his personal expert guide!

James also needs to know the bugs that the fish eat and how they perform on the water so that he can tie flies that replicate actual insects. We saw a lot of mayflies on the river. James thinks these are the prettiest bugs; I think they are romantic. Mayflies are aquatic insects and spend all their lives underwater. Then, one day, they leave the water to dance with each other in large groups over the riffles (the rocky or shallow part of a river with rough water – Merriam Webster), lay their eggs, and die. Fly fishermen make use of mayfly hatches by tying, or choosing, flies that resemble these flighty bugs. Tying flies is most definitely an art and a science.

Our Montana river adventure took us through Pray one afternoon and I took note of the town’s name. (You know I am thinking about Kent School and what word I should select for next year’s theme, but that is another story.) Pray, Montana was founded in 1907 on the Yellowstone River and is 30 miles from the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Pray graced us with breathtaking views of the Absaroka mountains in the Gallatin National Forest. It was a spiritual experience for me, and I left the state believing that James is just where he should be, albeit very far from our Chester River.

To me, reading water is literally to read works such as Upstream and poems by others who share their thoughts about the power and mystery of water. This beauty is from Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry by Ted Kooser and Jim Harrison which sits in my office on my coffee table. Enjoy!

Only today

I heard

the river

within the river.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

Letter to the Editor:Trump’s Deplorables

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“Basket of Deplorables” cartoon by Clay Jones of Claytoonz.com

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton coined “Deplorables” during the 2016 presidential campaign, her signal attempt to mark out Donald Trump’s core voters, now estimated to be 40 percent of the GOP.

But a little history’s in order. In our hyper-partisan era, we can’t forget that Trump’s Deplorables had their genesis within—and were a shameful bastion of—the Democratic Party, constituting the party’s “Solid South” and tolerated by Al Smith, FDR, and Harry Truman.

Then in 1948, Hubert Humphrey proposed modest civil rights planks for his party’s platform and punctured the dike. Southern Democrats were offended and, as Strom Thurmond’s “Dixiecrats,” they stomped out of the convention.

The Dixiecrats’ exit was followed over the next half-century by the civil rights movement painfully winning battle after battle, LBJ signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Richard Nixon concocting his (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) “Southern Strategy,” Ronald Reagan perfecting it, and Newt Gingrich baiting and demonizing Democrats.

Before they became Trump’s Deplorables, they were Jim Crow segs and lynchers. Before that, Confederate slave-owners and traitors. And before that, Know-Nothings.

Die-hard racists, union busters, religious bigots, misogynists, America-Firsters, states-righters, self-appointed posses comitatus, oath-keepers, and neo-fascists—collectively, the Deplorables—are no longer welcome in the Democratic Party, and few, if any, remain. They’ve all migrated to the GOP, and to Trump.

As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Grenville B. Whitman

Rock Hall

 

Letter to Editor: A Fitting Nickname

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Of possible Democratic challengers to Trump in 2020 it is hard to guess at this point who will wind up on top. But of one thing we can be certain: Trump will give that person a demeaning nickname. He seems to believe that character assaults are, in addition to policy attacks, required. He favors incivility over civility, childish reaction to the slightest slight, gutter politics and prejudice that plays to his “base” – these are his hallmarks, his modus operandi against any opponent or critic.

Should his opponent take the high road and not respond in kind? Not entirely; not if she or he wants to win.

I am not recommending complete degradation to dirty tricks, but not complete surrender either. I think giving him a nickname would accomplish, with enough civility, an effective response. Mention his nickname every time he uses the one he gives you.

What should his nickname be? I’ve been thinking about this for a while. The requirements should be:

1) It must capture his defining characteristics.

2) The name must get under his skin, irk him every time he hears it.

3) The name must be so recognizable (ala “Pocahontas”) that it becomes generic. When it is mentioned, most people know immediately that it refers to Trump. All prospective opponents could (and should) begin using his nickname as soon as they receive theirs from him.

4) The name should elicit a mental image of the character with which Trump is to be associated.

Of the many names I came up with, none could capture all of Trump’s characteristics, so I had to settle on one that accomplishes the most for the image presented.

My choice? Pinocchio. My reasons:

1) Most political students know of the Pinocchio Award. A “Pinocchio” signifies a big lie, a provable, intentional falsehood. “Pinocchio” has become synonymous with lying. Is Trump not the reigning world champion in this regard?

2) Pinocchio, being a wooden puppet, had a wooden heart, and therefore possessed no conscience or moral compass.

3) Pinocchio, being a child, had a child’s perspective, demeanor, and knowledge.

4) Pinocchio was a puppet. Others pulled his strings (Putin, McConnell, Duke, LaPierre, etc.) before he became a “real” boy.

5) If you read the original story, The Adventures of Pinocchio, author Carlo Collodi described him as a rascal, imp, disgrace, ragamuffin, and confirmed rogue. Upon being born, Pinocchio laughed in his creator’s face. Pinocchio’s goal was a personal ambition (become a real boy); he expressed no interest in helping others.

6) Pinocchio, being fictitious, was an unwitting participant in the history created around him.

Other suggestions? I feel that Democratic candidates shouldn’t just take it from the bully in silence.

Bob Moores
Chestertown

 

Breaking Takes on the News by Al Sikes

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Breaking Takes on the News

Supreme Court Nominee

A fair number of my Republican friends voted for Donald Trump because of a Supreme Court vacancy and the likelihood of retirements. Their rationale has been affirmed by the President in the orderly and temperate manner in which he has nominated two very ab|e judges.

The Constitution is both enabling and limiting. At the risk of over simplification, the Left stresses the former and the Right the latter. The Left, often frustrated by the messy and difficult job of passing laws through State Legislatures and the Federal one, prefer a Court that finds new rights and thus national laws. The finding of a right to an abortion in the Constitution, in the case of Roe v Wade, is instructive.

We live in intemperate times. President Trump approached the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice in a temperate manner. Trump should study the Trump of recent weeks and seek to emulate him.

Democrats have regularly, and often rightly, criticized Trump’s various intemperate actions. It appears that they intend to become intemperate as they attempt to destroy Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Con Job

It is hard to know what the President knows and thinks.

At one point when his intellect was challenged, he bragged about having a degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School — certainly an impressive business school. Trump has an undergraduate degree.

I am going to take a leap. If you are a Wharton graduate, you must understand Martin Feldstein’s (a Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Reagan Administration) comment in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “the trade deficit reflects the reality that Americans
consume more than we produce”. Mr. President, if you understand that truth, then you must realize that much of your trade agenda is a con — an inflammatory one.

There is a strong case to be made against China for stealing technology and protecting strategic industries. If that were the focus, Wharton might be inclined to celebrate its most famous alumnus.

Game On

It is now widely said that the Republican Party is President Trump’s. Perhaps; he has certainly influenced it — straight jacket orthodoxy has been cashiered.

Yet, the next election for President is 29 months off. A victory in 2020, after contested primaries, would be at least a medium term recognition of his primacy.

It should be noted that Mitt Romney won his U.S. Senate primary election race in Utah over State Representative Mike Kennedy with 73% of the vote. Most won’t recall, but Romney had been forced into a primary election because he lost the delegate count at the State Republican convention.

Romney’s opponent fought him on two fronts. Romney was, he said, insufficiently supportive of Trump’s agenda. Earlier criticisms, some harsh, by Romney of Trump were used to prove the point.

It was also said that Romney was a carpetbagger. You will recall that Romney had been Governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s overwhelming victory in his adopted state was impressive.

A clash between Romney and Trump is inevitable and at some point it will be measured electorally; then the “Trump capture” or not will be clearer.

Taxes

I will spare you the dismal status of U.S. accumulated debt, projected annual deficits and underfunded entitlement obligations. Look them up, but not when you are trying to come back from one drink too many.

We are now being told the contest within the Democrat Party for supremacy will be contested over expanded health benefits and free college tuition.

My suggestion: ask all candidates which taxes will be needed to pay down some level of debt, more fully fund the entitlement promises and pay for any new programs. Require the candidates to do the math.

High risk debt eventually bites. In 2008, it brought down major financial institutions; they either failed or were bailed out. Likewise, millions of homeowners lost their homes because of ill- considered collateralized debt.

America’s economic scale and the international primacy of the dollar have allowed politicians to accumulate debt and over—promise benefits. Fiscal recklessness has become a narcotic; withdrawal a need. If we don’t begin withdrawal, our economic strength will be the victim.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Awaiting an Apology from Andy Harris by Michael H.C. McDowell

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I am seeking a full and contrite apology from Congressman Andy Harris, over a verbal attack at a League of Women Voters Republican primary election forum on Sunday, June 10, 2018, at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills.

After a no-show by the other Republican primary candidates, the League cancelled the forum. Mr. Harris, however, agreed to take questions from the audience out in the lobby around 1:45 p.m. I joined a group of about eight voters gathered around Mr. Harris, half of whom I knew from Chestertown, where I live.

Mr. Harris first answered a question on health care and pre-existing conditions. After listening to the end of this particular exchange, I asked Mr. Harris a question on his environmental record. I got about 20 seconds into my question when, suddenly, Mr. Harris interrupted me in an aggressive, accusing tone: “I know who you are. I met you in Chestertown. You threatened violence and to kill one of my campaign workers. If you don’t step away, I will call a state trooper.”

I was absolutely stunned. I responded that this was complete nonsense and demanded he explain and retract his wrongful accusations. He persisted in ignoring my response and once again warned me he would call a state trooper if I further engaged with him.

I was shaken and angered by this utter lie. I took a few moments away from the lobby, to try and understand what had just happened. At no time have I ever threatened violence against anyone, and certainly no one connected with Mr. Harris’s campaign, and I never suggested I might “kill” one of his staffers. Where could this truly shocking accusation of Mr. Harris have come from?

The next morning, I spoke to Mr. Harris’s press secretary, Jacque Clark, and on her specific advice, emailed his campaign manager, Nicole Beus, and followed up two further times. Mr. Harris or his staff never responded.

Minutes after the June 10 attack, I recalled a posting on May 8, from a man who occasionally posts on Mr. Harris’s campaign Facebook site and supports Mr. Harris. I made a comment about this posting and received a threatening message to me and other critics of Mr. Harris from this individual. This person said he had a weapon and could shoot us!

I saw from this man’s personal Facebook page that he seemed to have been in the military, or was possibly still in the military, and his photo on the page shows him wearing military fatigues and brandishing military grade weapons. I responded to his post, saying that his comments were way out of line and possibly illegal and perhaps in breach of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He replied back suggesting I didn’t know what I was talking about. I let him know that I am on the advisory board of an historic military college, and know a number of flag officers, judge advocates-general, and other senior officers. This individual mocked my knowing “big shots,” and I didn’t bother responding further.

Later that day (May 8), I had a text and voicemail message from Mr. Harris’s press staff, which were friendly in tone, saying they were deleting this man’s threatening posts and, because I had responded to those posts, my posts would therefore also disappear and they wanted to explain why. I had no problem with that. I responded to the press staff within minutes, suggesting that this man be unfriended and/or blocked from Mr. Harris’s page and that this person should be reported to law officials. That is the last I heard on that issue.

Jacque Clark told me on the phone on June 11 that she indeed remembered that message to me from Mr. Harris’s staff.

Did Mr. Harris somehow mistakenly connect this man’s threat to the Harris staff with me? Did he completely wrongly attribute the threat to me, on account of this Facebook exchange? I want to know on what basis Mr. Harris justified his outrageous and false allegations about me at a public event.

I felt humiliated, angered, and shaken by Mr. Harris’s behavior towards me on June 10. About 10 minutes after this hostile attack, I showed a male member of Mr. Harris’s campaign staff (a burly bearded man with a Hogan campaign sticker on his shirt) the May 8 text I had received from Mr. Harris’s Capitol Hill staff, about the removal of the threatening post on the Harris Facebook page. The staff person suggested I take up the matter the next day. Did this fellow inform Mr. Harris about the clear evidence which I offered?

Mr. Harris verbally attacked me without any factual basis for his claims, refused to allow me to respond to his false accusations, and threatened several times to call a state trooper.

There are at least four witnesses to this appalling and totally unsubstantiated attack. I have spoken to four of them, three of them in person, one on the phone, and have their names, email addresses, and phone numbers. They completely confirm my account of what Mr. Harris said about me in front of them, to their shock and disapproval.

To repeat, I want a full and contrite apology and full explanation from Mr. Harris. Mr. Harris works for us, the voters, of whom I am one. The voters, and this voter, certainly don’t work for him.

As an elected public servant, Mr. Harris cannot be allowed to make such disparagements of a voter seeking information on his campaign platform.

Mr. Harris has had more than a month to act. He has done nothing. Shame on him. The voters of District 1 deserve better than the bullying, arrogant and offensive Andy Harris.

Michael H.C. McDowell writes from Chestertown.

The Phenomenon of Weather by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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For a string of days last week, we baked in the oven of summer. Relentless heat: grey, blazing, steamy days; airless nights. The thermometer in my car registered triple digits. What we wouldn’t give for just one cool breeze!

Then suddenly we all felt it: that moment when a cold front miraculously swept through town and turned all those hot, sultry summer days into a breezy delight. The sky turned blue again; the humidity drained away and all that still, soggy air became a refreshing zephyr caressing our cheeks. We perked up. We felt reborn. It was fun to be outdoors again.

It was just a cold front, the weather girl informed us, nothing more than a transition zone during which a mass of colder air replaces a mass of warmer air, or in our case, a mass of really hot air. (Cold fronts generally move from northwest to southeast so maybe our kind Canadian neighbors are still speaking to us after all!) We felt immediate relief because the air behind a cold front is noticeably colder and drier than the air ahead of it. The phenomenon of weather, simply and scientifically explained.

But it wasn’t always that way…

Helen, beautiful Helen, Helen of the face that launched a thousand ships and burned the topless towers of Illium, has been seduced and stolen away from her husband King Menelaus of Sparta by handsome Paris, Prince of Troy. The honor of Greece has been egregiously offended. For months, Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon have been plotting revenge, gathering a vast army to rescue Helen and bring her home. Achilles, the greatest of all Greek warriors, has been strangely delayed (that’s another story) but eventually he arrives, and the armada that has been patiently waiting on the beach at Aulis is ready to descend on Troy and destroy it.

But on the morning of departure, the wind suddenly dies. Airless hot days descend and the fleet is becalmed. A month passes. Then two. The men grow restless; fights break out. Someone must have angered the gods. Agamemnon senses disaster and devises a plan: he proposes that he bring his youngest daughter Iphigenia to Aulis and give her to Achilles in marriage because the gods love nothing more than a good wedding feast! Five days later, she arrives amid great pomp, but instead of a wedding ceremony, Agamemnon suddenly pins her to the garlanded altar that has been prepared and slashes her throat—a human sacrifice to the goddess of war Artemis. The blood splashes on the tunic of the stunned Achilles but at the very moment Iphigenia dies, the assembled throng feels a cool wind blow across their cheeks. Sails billow. The goddess has been appeased. The next morning, the armada sails away to Troy and into history.

The phenomenon of weather, simply and anciently explained.

So take your pick. Maybe it was nothing more than a cold front from Canada that cooled us off last week or maybe the gods were angry at some human insult and demanded restitution. (Apparently there was a big wedding in town over the weekend.) Either way, things have cooled off for a bit, at least for now.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Out and About (Sort of): Journalism Jolted by Howard Freedlander

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I can’t stop thinking about the murder of five journalists nearly two weeks ago at The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis. I’ve read numerous articles about the shooting spree in the newsroom and the deranged and angry suspect. I’ve read each of the obituaries.

The mass shooting, almost commonplace in our violent country, touched me not merely because of its geographical proximity but because of its closeness to my life as a former journalist.

I was a community editor in Caroline and Queen Anne’s County. I never enjoyed a profession more. Unfortunately, the pay was terrible. The business model propagated the stepping-stone culture, implicitly accepting the premise that the product could only be so good. Content would be secondary to profit—when the latter might increase with consistently high-quality journalism.

I moved on for the sake of my family.

The journalists at The Capital, Gazette, along with other small-town and small-city newspapers, are underpaid and overworked. They accept that reality. They love their work and their communities. They believe they are performing a public service by aiding and abetting democracy.

Uh-oh. How does democracy insert itself in a discourse about journalism? Without pesky, incurably curious and sometimes cranky journalists, print or electronic, our government, for example, might function in a sloppy or corrupt manner without any oversight or accountability.

Our media keeps us honest. We can be our better selves. We can allow ethics, not greed, to guide us. We can avoid damaging headlines and investigative stories.

More than 35 years ago, I heard the famed CBS broadcaster Walter Cronkite speak at a conference in Nassau organized by the owners of then Chesapeake Publishing. An owner of a small New England newspaper, he opined that community papers provided the glue that kept counties like Talbot, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline and Dorchester and their towns and villages together and compassionate.

He told the story about a pharmacist in Manhattan who died. No one knew, because the New York Times certainly wouldn’t cover the death of a small merchant. A community paper didn’t exist. What was Cronkite’s point? If people know about the good and bad things that affect their neighbors, then they naturally can offer human support and empathy.

Community cohesion results.

Large media outlets cannot cover local stories—or the pharmacist’s death—while focusing on larger matters. Too bad—bigger stories lie in waiting.

The Capital Gazette tragedy has afflicted the Annapolis community with grief and unleashed a reservoir of support. The Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County, working with a family and the Baltimore Sun Media Group, immediately responded by raising money for the Capital Gazette Memorial Scholarship Fund for select journalism students at the University of Maryland, College Park.

My youngest daughter knew and liked one of the five, the community correspondent, a woman, Wendi Winters, who loved covering and supporting local news, like her Teen of the Week column. An eyewitness to the rampage watched as Winters tried to distract the gunman by rushing him with a trash can and recycling bin. Before she was shot.

So, a lone assailant, bitterly outraged by an article written in 2011 about his conviction for harassment of a woman, attacked the newspaper, which simply performed its mission to inform. For me, he assaulted an invaluable instrument of democracy. He silenced the voices of five innocent victims.

However, he missed the mark; the newspaper published that day and every day since.

As it should. As it must.

When I read The Star Democrat, as I do daily, I might grumble about its thin content. But I appreciate its value as a community resource. Like everyone, I read the government news, reports of fires and accidents, births and deaths, academic and athletic achievements and, of course, I look at all the pictures of civic participants. I think about Walter Cronkite’s sage comments and feel thankful to be served by a community newspaper long devoted to local coverage.

Our local journalists deserve our gratitude. They serve all of us despite poor pay and long hours. Though they likely will move on to better-paying jobs, I believe they give as much as they get in experience.

Mass shootings have an impact that diminishes but doesn’t kill the spirit. Nor should our commitment to journalism as a critical tent of American democracy weaken or atrophy.

We’re protected by freedom of the press. Every day.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Good Samaritan by George Merrill

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Who is my neighbor? The real question is, who are my neighbors?

I remember attending a Eucharist years ago. The homily was memorable, partially because it was mercifully short but also poignant. I’ve never forgotten it.

During the liturgy, the celebrant recited the Summary of the Law: “Thou shalt love the lord thy God will all thy heart with all thy soul and with all thy might, and thy neighbor as thyself.” During his homily, the celebrant posed the question again but rhetorically this time, asking who is my neighbor? He responded, “All those with whom I share space.”

There’s a Biblical story called the Good Samaritan. The story is well known beyond its sectarian boundaries. In fact, it has found its way into American law; it’s known as the Good Samaritan Law. It offers legal protection to people who give assistance to those who are, or whom they believe to be, injured, ill, or in peril. If the help does no good, there are no legal repercussions. We’re free to do good whenever we can. It’s comforting to know in today’s litigious society that when we risk caring for others, we have the full weight of the law behind us.

It’s a humane law. It underscores the assumption of a basic solidarity among humans, and all those with whom we share space. Everyone is our neighbor; some are next door while others are thousands of miles away. Our job, where it’s within our power, is to look out for one another.

Today there’s an undeniable rip current, pulling against our humane instincts. It’s a mindless drive to make those who would naturally be our friends, into our adversaries. One loyal public servant after another is mocked or fired; agencies that serve not only the administration, but also the country’s safety are relentlessly demeaned; the agency for assuring environmental protections, the planet on which all of us share space, exhibits no vision. It’s being sold out to short term economic interests. Migrants, America’s future lifeblood, are being driven from the land.

By now this is old news. I don’t want this to be an “ain’t it awful” rant. Instead, what I’d like to consider is another way of understanding ourselves in today’s adversarial climate. There’s one vision of being with our neighbors and ourselves that might give us heart again and help mitigate the loneliness that our prevailing atmosphere of suspicion has bred.

I’ll paraphrase the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s from the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus is teaching. A lawyer in the crowd asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies; love God with all your heart, your soul, your strength, your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

The lawyer (pitching a trick question) asks, so who is my neighbor?

Jesus tells him a story:

A man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho has been robbed, beaten and his clothes taken. He’s left half-dead. A priest (establishment clergy) passes by to avoid him, as does a Levite (privileged citizen with social capital). A Samaritan (regarded as a low-life) comes by. He has compassion, goes to the victim, administers first aid as best he can, and puts clothes on him. The Samaritan places the victim on his donkey, takes him to the nearest inn, gives the inn keeper money, instructing him to ‘look after him.’ In the event the inn keeper incurs additional expenses, the Samaritan says he’ll pony up for whatever the amount when he passes by this way again.

So, Jesus asks the lawyer, who of the three was the victim’s neighbor?

The one who showed the victim compassion, the lawyer responds.

Now you know who your neighbor is and what you need to do.

Seems to me as if Jesus was saying to the lawyer that if he really wanted to inherit eternal life, he’d first have to get down to earth and get serious and become personally involved with the needs of his neighbors.

One writer said of our time that we live in a season of vanities and spiritual emptiness. Our psycho-spiritual diet has few nutrients. We’re fed mostly junk food. The symptoms are ennui and hopelessness.

Stories can help; parables, sayings that illuminate the soul, can lift us. We need to hear good news; we yearn for a loftier vision.

I’ve read some of the accounts of the early Christian monks, sometimes called hermits. They meditated in the Egyptian desert. They were a quirky lot, one of whom, Simeon, was reported to have lived sitting on top of a pole in order to have a clear and uncluttered spirit to be with God. It’s similar to Buddhists who, when they meditate, say that they “take the one seat,” only Simeon’s practice was more precarious and surely not as comfortable. All were good men.

As quirky as some were, they spoke the language of the spirit and knew the music of our hearts; they knew of the things that are eternal while at the same time were earthy and temporal. One story from that era illustrates this:

“Once, a certain brother brought a bunch of grapes to the holy Macarius. He, however for love’s sake, thought not on his things but on the things of others, carried it to another brother, who seemed more feeble. And the sick man gave thanks for the kindness of his brother, but he too, thinking more of his neighbors than himself, brought it to another, and he again to another, and so that same bunch of grapes was carried around to all the cells, scattered as they were far over the desert; and no one, knowing who first had sent it, it was brought at last to the first giver.”

Considering the miserable climate these men lived in, and despite their personal idiosyncrasies, in my book they sure are the kind of neighbors I’d take any day.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.