Small World, Hard Lessons

Gillian started a really cool new job this year, and her office is in down town Oakland. She told me over the last couple of months about this really cool guy that she has run into in the elevator. They struck up conversations a couple of times. She told me he was the editor of a local paper for the black community in Oakland, that it was a new job for him that he was really excited about. She told me that he was really nice, and she was hoping to get to know him a little.

That man was Chauncey Bailey.

Gillian and I were in Chicago when he was killed, waiting for a plane to fly home to Oakland. We were supposed to be on a flight the night before, but we were bumped. Gillian was supposed to be on her way to work that day, and it just happened that we were instead at Midway in Chicago. She very easily could have been a witness to the brutal assassination.

His death hits home for many reasons. One, it happened blocks from my home. Two, while people are killed every day it seems on the streets of Oakland and other cities, this more high-profile murder touches the lives of many people raising the visibility of the problem of violence in our communities.

Yes, there are big problems like poverty and education and drugs that lead to violence that need to be addressed to curb the problem. A long-term approach is what is needed to turn the ship around. Meanwhile, however, people are taking matters into their own hands in demanding that their neighbors and family members take some responsibility to make changes now.

I am saddened by the death of Chauncey Bailey. I wish that Gillian and I could have gotten to know this man. I wish that he could have lived to continue his good works in this community that so desperately needs men like him. Now we can only hope to learn from his legacy as a journalist and activist and the tragedy of his senseless death. The hardest lesson, perhaps, is that we are responsible for helping to make the change that we want to see in the world.

An Oakland Love Story

I have lived around Lake Merritt in Oakland for years. The bird sanctuary here is the country’s oldest wildlife refuge, I have read somewhere. I used to run the Lake regularly, and years ago I often noticed a pelican and swan, always together. They were beautiful. And you could tell they were companions, not just accidentally hanging out in the same place like so many other birds there are wont to do.

One day I ran into one of the ornithologists at the Lake, and I asked her what their story was. This is what she told me:

Helen was the pelican, and earlier that year her life-long mate of more than 28 years, Hector had been strangled in some fishing nets in the lake. Helen was beside herself with grief. The folks who work at the bird sanctuary buried Hector’s body out of Helen’s sight, purposefully, so that she would more easily be able to move on from her grief. However, she found his grave, and stayed there for days, refusing to leave her beloved.

Before Hector died, a swan named Lancelot had been hanging out with the other large birds of Lake Merritt. He was there on and off. One day when he was at the Lake, he started hanging around Helen at Hector’s grave, and this offered her some comfort. Before long, Helen was persuaded to leave Hector’s burial site, and she and Lancelot were constant companions after that.

Helen died the winter of 1999, and Lancelot hasn’t been seen since they buried her.

This is a tale of love, grief and companionship, and a true Oakland love story.