Cruelty and Injustice

Some of us have enough spare time on our hands to ruminate about what goes on around us in this world, sometimes without any “education” or any formal process that forms the basis for our lines of thinking.  I know it is a waste of time, but there is something intriguing about the search.  I have enough time on my hands that I even created this blog a few weeks ago musing about what it is all about.

But sometimes, when you see what is going on around you in the real world in real time, you can be shaken out of this somewhat disconnected and disjointed state of mind, the state of mind where you feel like generally talking about things in the abstract.  There is specificity. And your mind screams – really, is this what we are capable of?  Events that can evoke that kind of a response are happening all around us all the time. There are certain aspects of human reality, and of the nature of human unkindness, that make you want to scream – what is wrong with us?  Is it our true nature to be cruel and unjust?  Does it take a truly supreme effort for us to get away from our basic instincts?  I fear that this could be the real truth.

I do believe that if I were left to my own devices I would end up revealing the true nature of the cruelty that I myself am capable of.  I can sense it in myself, feel it lurking somewhere in the background. And I know that I have even revealed this innate element of my character to people who I have interacted with all my life.  Family, friends, relatives, and even other creatures of this earth (watch that mouse that you have trapped, or the cockroach that you have squashed, die!), have experienced it. A process of learning, forgiveness, and maybe even forgetting, can perhaps help deal with this state of being, especially as you age, but the process never ends, and some memories never go away.

But does one not have to at least try to learn that because of the nature of this society that we inhabit, because of the nature of this interconnected and interdependent world that we have built up, we need to at least try rise to a different level, and we need to work to uplift everybody around us, not just ourselves, in order to survive?  Could being good also not make you feel good?

I am in this frame of mind because of a story I read in the newspaper yesterday.  This is not an isolated story. Cruelty and injustice happens everywhere and everyday. Most of these stories do not affect us directly, but I tend to have a gut reaction and respond sometimes when hearing such stories.  Here is one such reaction I had in the past.  We can try to close our eyes because something does not affect us directly, but ultimately these things say a lot about us, and what we are willing to accept.

If you are inclined to follow the link I provided but are not inclined to read the entire article, the videos will provide you a shorter synopsis of what this particular story is all about.

The Words

The  year was 2014. I was on the towpath and approaching Fletcher’s Cove from the north.  I must have been on foot since I started biking once again only in 2016.  It must have been early morning since that is the time that I usually run.  Just south of Chain Bridge one comes upon Mile Marker 4 on the towpath, and shortly after that, a concrete spillway for the canal that allows overflow water to get to the river.  Then, further south, before Fletcher’s Cove itself, a truss bridge (that earlier used to carry the B&O Georgetown branch railroad line) carries the Capital Crescent trail (CCT) over the canal and the towpath.  On the side of the bridge for the CCT, just beside the trail, I saw the some graffiti with the following words:

“In the space between right and wrong is where I will find you.”

A very recent search reveals that the poet Rumi might have said something that seems somewhat similar, but not the same:

Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.

But, at that time, back in 2014, the original words I had read stayed with me.  I was trying to understand what it meant even as I ran.  Did it mean that nobody is perfect?  I am still not sure what exactly the words were meant to convey, but I would like to think of this message as a comment on the human condition.  I still think about it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The Sun Sets Upside Down In The Morning

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I woke up early today.  I had been planning to drive to Forest Park for an early morning run. I peered out between the blinds of the 7th floor apartment and noticed that the sun was beginning to rise on the other side of the Mississippi.  I reached for my camera.  Little did I realize that I would be looking at the sun temporarily setting upside down between the clouds!

Return to Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania

The last time I came to Ohiopyle was in 2016, during the epic KVIITM75 bike ride from Pittsburgh to the Washington DC area.  We had arrived at Ohiopyle on the second day of the ride, just in time for a late lunch stop and a detour to visit Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright built home.  We had arrived in town with little time to spare, and somewhat tired from the ride from Perryopolis earlier in the day.  We had picked up lunch from a restaurant near the place where we were to catch the shuttle to Fallingwater, and had decided to ride our bikes to the Ohiopyle waterfall to consume the food.  Alas, we never found the waterfall, having misunderstood directions provided to us, and having taken a path into the woods instead of into town.

But I was determined to return to Ohiopyle some day, not necessarily to look for the waterfall, but to explore the beautiful state park nearby.  The attraction of Fallingwater was actually what eventually led us to make the trip back to Ohiopyle last week.  We entered the town on a road that actually went past a busy part of town (nowhere near the trail we had biked on), and there on our left, beside the parking lot, were the waterfalls!  We spent some time walking through town before and after lunch.  Here are some pictures.

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Ohiopyle Waterfall on the Youghioheny river
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Ohiopyle Waterfall
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The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) bike trail bridge in the distance
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Walking through town
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The GAP bridge over the Youghiogheny
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View of bridge from town

The B&O and the Western Maryland railroad lines used to run through Ohiopyle on the two sides of the Youghiogheny river.  The Western Maryland line has been converted to the Great Allegheny Passage.  The old B&O line is now a CSX mainline connecting the eastern seaboard to the rest of the country.  Ohiopyle is now a holiday spot with a focus on watersports and place for bike riders on the GAP to rest.  The Ohiopyle State Park is on the other side of the bridge!

We are Very Hungry

I was doing at task at Manna that I usually do not.  I had been avoiding it for a while.  Because none of the other “regulars” had shown up, I was the only volunteer left to do it.  Basically, the task involved greeting the customers when they came in to pick up their food, checking their identification, ticking their names off a list, and getting signatures.  It sounds simple, but it was the small variations in the type of folks who come to pick up food that I was not used to.  People can pick up food for others if they have their IDs, case workers can pick up food for their clients with their own IDs, organizations can pick up food for a larger number of clients, etc..  I was simply being lazy and trying to avoid having to remember what needed to be done in each case.

In any case, it was time for me to bite the bullet and learn the process a little better since there was nobody else there to step in. Things went nicely, and it was actually nice to talk to some of the clients, beyond the conversations that one might have with them when actually delivering food to their vehicles.

I was taking care of stuff when I heard voices emanating from the window where clients go to talk to the Manna staff when needed.  In the background I could hear somebody talking about not having food, and about her child not having gone to school that day because she was being bullied, and about travails related a job situation.  The staff member (a person who must have a good heart, and who will remain anonymous for this blog) was asking questions.  Usually, the people who receive food on a particular day are on a printed list that is prepared from information collected ahead of time.   But an exception was made based on information provided.  The staff member went through the required process as an urgent matter.

The lady who had been talking to the staff member was now a client and was being allowed to pick up food the same day.  She walked up to me with her daughter and presented me with a tiny piece of paper.  On it was the information that I would normally have found on the printed sheets for the clients.  I improvised and wrote the name at the bottom of the printed list, checked ID, and got the required signature.  While this was happening, the lady mentioned that they had no food at home and that they were very hungry.  I was struck by a sense of urgency by the statement even though the lady was speaking in a calm manner.

We were giving out one piece of pastry to the customers that day, but I said that they could take two if they wanted.  The daughter addressed me politely – “Sir, can I take this one”.  I said “sure’, but then noticed that mom had already taken two pastries.  I pointed this out and the mother and daughter decided on which pastry that was already in their hands they were going to put back.  It was an “Oliver Twist” moment.  Meanwhile, I began to feel like a jerk.  Why should I be limiting food to hungry people?  Anyway, the clients were being allowed unlimited amounts of bread that day (because we had a lot of bread, and bread goes bad quickly) and I made sure to emphasize that fact while they were picking through the bread available on the rack.  The mother and daughter left with their food (which also included a closed box of dry food, some meat, and an open box of perishables, including fruits, vegetables and prepared foods). I was left thinking about how they would feel once they got some food in their stomachs.

While volunteering, there are occasional incidents that challenge me mentally and take me outside my comfort zone.  Some of them are good for me, and that is perhaps one of the points of the exercise.

2/17/2008 – Cherries in the Snow: The Legend of Mary Pinchot Meyer

I was reminded of this old email that I had sent to family and friends because of some recent news that I blogged about.  I will explain at the end.
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Ok, I am being overly dramatic! It is not a legend. It is merely a curious story. The particular name in the title has the remote possibility of attracting the attention of suspicious people who like to keep track of activities on the Internet – even though the story is quite old at this point. Anyway, back to the story.

If you were running along the C&O canal near Washington, DC, (just north of mile 1 on the towpath), you might come across a small white cross leaning against a tree trunk beside the trail. On the cross is a card. The card indicates that this is a memorial to Mary Pinchot Meyer.IMG_4171IMG_4172IMG_4173The cross appeared on the trail some time last year and is at the location where she was killed while walking along the towpath in 1964. She was 43 years old when she died, and the cross appeared on the towpath 43 years after her death. Nobody has yet admitted to putting the cross there. Who was Mary Pinchot Meyer? She was John F. Kennedy’s mistress at the time of his death. If you look it up the Internet, you will find a few conspiracy theories surrounding her death. She apparently used to keep a diary that included an account of her affair with JFK. Various people were interested in this diary after her death and went looking for it. Her ex-husband, Cord Meyer, was a higher-up in the CIA and was involved in the search for the murderer. The person who was brought to trial for killing her was acquitted. Just another story on the towpath…

By the way, if you are interested in a really good (but completely humorless) movie about the kind of people who came together to form the CIA during that time, I would recommend The Good Shepherd directed by Robert De Niro.

I finally worked up the courage to do the Potomac tour on foot in the area of Washington DC this morning. Basically I ran on both sides of the river at Washington, DC. Working my way south on the towpath from Fletcher’s Cove,

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Early morning on the Canal near Georgetown

I crossed over into Rosslyn on the Virginia side of the river at the Key Bridge (named after Francis Scott Key),

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Early morning view from the Key Bridge
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A view of Roosevelt Island from the Key Bridge
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Crossing the George Washington Memorial Parkway to the Mt. Vernon Trail in Virginia

and then followed the Mount Vernon trail south, past Roosevelt Island and the various bridges that span the Potomac.IMG_4182IMG_4189IMG_4190I followed the trail as it paralleled the George Washington Parkway all the way to Gravelly Point Park at the end of the longest runway for Washington National Airport.  I spent some time at Gravelly taking pictures and watching the planes landing and taking off.IMG_4195On the way back, I crossed over the river at the 14th Street Bridge into Washington DC.IMG_4210IMG_4212I got off the bridge close to the Jefferson Memorial, and then worked my way back up north along the river, past the Lincoln Memorial, the Kennedy Center and the Watergate buildings, to the beginning of the towpath. I then followed the canal back to Fletcher’s Cove.IMG_4222Next time I come to this area I will try to explore the trails on Roosevelt Island, and also try to find the trail along the edge of the river north of Key bridge on the Virginia side.
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Today’s Postscript: Coming back to Mary Pinchot Meyer, mentioned in the first section of the above email, the cops tried to pin her murder on a black person, Ray Crump, who happened to be in the general area.  Dovey Johnson Roundtree, the subject of my previous blog, was the one who was able to get Ray Crump acquitted of the crime.  It was quite an achievement for a black woman lawyer in those days!

Since I wrote the original email, I have been to this area, and traveled this path, several times on a bicycle.  I have taken the 18 mile long Mt. Vernon trail all the way to Mt. Vernon.  I have however not been to Roosevelt island yet!  I have also walked the trail on the Virginia side of the Potomac up to the Chain bridge under very trying conditions.  That was the subject of another email blast, an email that I might rediscover some other day.

By the way, I have not seen a memorial to Mary Pinchot Meyer in subsequent years at that location, but this could possibly be because I have not been on that section of the towpath at the right time of the year.

In The Still of The Day

I was driving on the road from the parking lot at Pennyfield Lock.  I was driving quite slowly.  It was not just the numerous potholes in the road that were slowing me down.  It was very quiet and relaxing out there and I was in no hurry.  Besides, there was an older gentleman walking briskly in the middle of the road in front of me with headphones covering his ears.

I had observed this older gentleman on the trail at Pennyfield lock a few minutes earlier where I had stopped to check out the fall colors.  The colors in our neighborhoods (except for that red maple that we planted behind our house) seemed to be somewhat muted this year relative to other years, but things seemed to be getting better a the tail end of the falling of the leaves.  I drove to the parks in spite of a weather prediction (that turned out to be accurate) that the sky would become cloudier as the morning passed by and that there was a chance of some rain.

In any case, the gentleman was walking with a purpose.  He looked like he did this kind of stuff regularly.  He was proceeding quite briskly in his yellow coveralls.  He had a backpack and I saw a camera hanging from a strap attached to it.  I did not see his water supply, but I am sure he was carrying some.  He had his music.

As the car got closer to this gentleman, I began to wonder if he realized that I was there.  The combination of the headphones he was wearing and fact that I was driving  a Prius that was in its quiet super-efficient mode because of my speed, could have made me difficult to notice. Since he was in the middle of the road,  I decided to drift off to the side of the road and get closer to him at a slower pace.  I was not about to honk the horn.

I got a response from him.  He shifted the position of his head as if to acknowledge me, and I was not sure if he was irritated by my approach.  All of a sudden he started crossing the road in front of me, to the side I was trying to pass him on.  I had not wanted him to change his position on the road just for me, but I figured out that this was what he was doing.  I reacted by turning the wheel so that the car moved back towards the middle of the road.

The guys raised his hands and signaled, it seemed somewhat aggressively, for me to stop.  As I halted the car, he broke off a stick from a fallen branch beside the road and walked with it across the road right in front of me. Soon he was pushing something that was on the road off of it.  I then saw it.  It was a small turtle and it looked very familiar!  After he had moved the turtle, he signaled for me to proceed. My mind quickly rewound to the incident many years ago when I had also moved a turtle off  a road. That incident had  motivated me to start writing about random stuff, and in some way led to the existence of this blog!  It felt, in a very irrational way, that there was some kind of connection being made across the different times of my life.  Weird!

As I eventually passed the gentleman in my car, I told him that he had done a very nice thing.  He was wearing his headphones, but he nodded to acknowledge me, and continued with his brisk walk.

Here are some pictures from yesterday.  I need to get out today to find out if I will find better conditions for fall photography.  It actually looks much nicer in some spots than I expected, but I also need better lighting to try to bring it all out.