“I have only just a
minute, Only sixty seconds in it. Forced upon me, can’t refuse it.
Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it. But it’s up to me to use it. I must suffer if I lose it. Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute, but eternity is in it.”
–Congressman Elijah Cummings
Sept. 4, 2019, was the last time I saw Congressman Elijah Cummings in person, and it may have been at one of his last public events.
I saw him at Beth Tfiloh, an Orthodox synagogue near my home, where he participated in a town hall discussion about the future of Baltimore. In partnership with Liberty Grace Church of God, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, Reverend Terris King, Sen. Ben Cardin and Congressman Cummings, the forum was an opportunity to highlight the collaboration between faith leaders, and a recognition that breaking down barriers is just one step on the path toward building a better Baltimore.
When I saw a member of his staff that night, he told me that Rep. Cummings almost didn’t attend the gathering because he wasn’t feeling well. It’s enormously important that even though he was clearly uncomfortable and struggling with his health, he thought it important to participate in the Town Hall.
Surely not for the first time, Rep. Cummings said that night, “Diversity is our promise.” And, he meant it. Even a scant survey of the tweets and social media posts in his memory demonstrate the scope, breadth and depth of his relationships.
He was profoundly rooted in Baltimore — not just the City, but in the county and the entire region he represented, both in the Statehouse and in Congress. White people, black people, brown people, young people, older people, people of all faith traditions and individuals from all parts of the country are feeling the profound loss of this moral leader.
I heard him speak numerous times and he was always appealing to the “better angels of our nature,” by exhorting, “We can do better.” One left a gathering with Rep. Cummings inspired, and he had the unique gift as a public speaker who could simultaneously call out our shortcomings and inspire us to be better and to do better – not just for today, but for the future.
The night at Beth Tfiloh he repeated a quote that was a favorite of his, “Our children are our living messages we send to a future we will never see.”
When I heard the news this morning that Rep. Cummings had passed away, I wanted to stay in my pajamas and connect with others who were mourning. But then I remembered — that we can be better. So I showered, got dressed and headed off to the elementary school that I was scheduled to visit, albeit a bit late for my appointment.
When I explained my tardiness, the principal nodded, and I think she truly understood. When I departed, I looked up at the U.S. and Maryland flags, which were flying at half-staff, and I knew that she really did understand.
While the world is a bit darker and will feel his absence, let us all keep the memory of Congressman Elijah Cummings alive by fighting for those most in need among us. May his family and friends find comfort in the days and weeks ahead, and may his memory be a blessing.
Del. Shelly L. Hettleman represents the 11th District in the Maryland General Assembly.