As I walked, I looked into the strange completeness of the fog and thought about the woman and baby not yet two years old lying in critical condition in separate hospitals; the baby with a gunshot wound to his head. He may not recover, but we are all hoping he will. The helplessness of that left me breathless, gasping in great draughts of fog and sea air. I thought about the young men acting badly, firing guns repeatedly and thoughtlessly at a peaceful crowd of men, women, and children, and the wrongness of that forced me to exhale, rapidly. I leaned down, picked up a small stone, and hurled it as far as I could into the bay. I heard it splash but I never saw it fall.
The fog ate it.
We so frequently say of those who are lost, those who have strayed to violence, that their brains are foggy, they are lost in a fog, but I think it might be more accurate to say that their hearts and minds are polluted by decay and misery, made heavy by hate. They are overwhelmed by smog rather than fog. Fog heals; fog nurtures flowers, feeds moss and grass. Smog eats metal, soils glass, corrodes plastics, causes cancers in hearts and minds.
When seabirds swim in oily seas, their wings grow heavy and they can no longer fly. When young men live congested lives, surrounded by violence and decay, that pollution sticks to their skin as readily as crude oil clings to feathers. That's the oily smog that collapses their hearts and steals their breath, keeps them attached to hard metal violence, loving guns rather than flesh.
I wonder, longingly and stupidly perhaps, if those gun-toting maniacs were to walk instead in blue morning fog, feel its breath, hear the splintered cries of seabirds, could they feel the weight and grace of innocence? Could they give up their guns?
The earth heals in ways beyond analysis. I know this not only because I walk daily near salt water, passing under great trees and skies alive with birds, but because I have memories of other years spent in other inner cities almost as violent as Oakland.
When my sons were small, we lived in South Brooklyn, where there were many suffering from smoggy brains and collapsed hearts, where streets were littered with trash, crack vials and discarded needles, and nights were bursting with gunfire.
Sometimes, when the surrounding violence and decay became too sharp to bear, we would leave town for a day, drive north to still wild woods of High Tor, park our car behind some bush and walk along the narrow and overgrown path that zigged and zagged under trees to the bald granite mountaintop. Then, we could stand tall, look up to clouds, down to freight trains, the size of toys, chugging along the riverbank below as equally small sailboats flew across the wide belly of the Hudson river, imagine the trains with steam engines pulling carloads of pioneers and the sailboats as ocean going schooners tacking across a current, pulling them out to sea. Standing there in the wind, staring across miles, we remembered how to dream, and when we returned to the inner city, we carried with us bits of the forest -- colored leaves, flowers, rocks -- and gathered bits of our imagined dreams.
A healthy society is one that celebrates and encourages imagination, and when winter arrives, we need our imagination more than ever. When light disappears into foggy dawns and dusky afternoons, we may be left with leafless trees and shadowless shores, but if we close our eyes and dream, that dreaming can pin leaves on branches, refill the skies with light. It may sound corny but when the season is at its darkest, when life seems dismal, when unhappiness overwhelms, we can imagine the return of the light, replace shadow with sparkle, encourage joy. If we are what we think, if we imagine our future, I want to think peace, imagine a world without guns.