This past November, we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which have so significantly altered our world. Here in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, we experienced a second wave of terror in October 2002 when, for 22 days, we were threatened by a sniper whose seemingly random acts of destruction were like a living nightmare. Many of us were left trying to make ourselves as small as possible when we saw a white van on the road, or we would walk in a zigzag pattern to fill up at the gas station, checking in by pay phone with friends and family between work and home since for many of us, cellphones, now commonplace, were still something relatively inaccessible in 2002.
Through this dark period, there was a voice of reason and reassurance, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, who led the D.C. sniper investigation and whose calming presence and stalwart demeanor served as a bulwark against fear, driving us to keep calm and carry on, as my husband would say. I remember when the snipers were at last captured; I started crying and continued for a week. It was like a pressure valve had been opened, releasing a full year’s worth of grief and fear combined with relief because we knew the long nightmare was at last over.
Chief Moose passed away on Thanksgiving at the all too early age of 68. His posthumous stories relayed a decorated career which spanned from Oregon to Hawaii, but for many of us, he will always be the hero of those three weeks in October.
As I sat down to reflect on the Thanksgiving holiday, to give thanks for the blessings of the season, I learned of the chief’s passing and remembered that feeling; that constant knot in the stomach, tension in the shoulders, shortness of breath, and easiness to startle which accompanied those 22 days but also how the community was unified, how we were kinder to one another, more attentive, more appreciative, more gracious and forgiving, and how we listened to the updates by the chief not with an eye to disqualifying or questioning or denigrating but with hope, in part due to the gravitas, compassion, and respect he offered to the community. He was asked the hard questions, but he always responded thoughtfully; at least that is how I remember it.
As we head into the holiday season, into the new session of the General Assembly, and into what is likely to be a rather divisive election cycle, it’s important to remember that history will remember us in broad strokes. They say people don’t remember what you do but rather how you made them feel. Nothing could be truer about chief Moose. He made us feel heard, protected and like a community.
As we navigate the issues facing us, the continuing challenges posed by COVID, an ever-more-divided country, financial disparity, social unrest, and a vast landscape of misinformation made all the more challenging by a 24-hour news cycle in the age of infotainment and the anonymity of the internet, it is important to recognize the lessons learned from those three weeks in October and the year of sustained grief which preceded them. We are not designed for sustained grief and rage, which have become our new normal. The holiday season is a good time for a reset, but it’s important to actively work toward it. As a legislator, I can work to address flaws in the systems which create disparities, but I cannot legislate people’s points of view. I cannot legislate kindness, compassion, empathy. I cannot make others care for one another.
Our great experiment, this young nation hangs in the balance of finding that balance, of caring beyond the confines of our own lived experience. I hope we can take a page from chief Moose, and understand that while we are doing the work, while there are no easy or immediate solutions, we can model calm, compassion and respect for one another.
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