There's something about this area where I live, the Patapsco Valley around Catonsville and Ellicott City, that's special. Call it the genius loci, call it the kami of the river and the forest, call it cultural geography, ley lines, whatever, but somehow there's a cluster of interesting people that have ended up around here. Some of them are just a little off (perhaps I should include myself there and say some of us!); some are kooky but functional, like the always interesting musician and activist Bob Pyle, subject of Sara Michener's short film Bobumentary (can't find a link right now but hope someone will give one in a comment); and some are vagrants, living in the woods around the river valley.
Even the vagrants aren't just random homeless people; you get the impression that in a slightly different world, a saner and more humane one, they would be artists or shamans -- or perhaps even Emperors.
One of these was a man known as "Backpack Ed".
If you spent time in Ellicott City, you probably saw him walking the streets or hanging out in Tiber Park. I didn't really know him, but he was a familiar face, and I'd nod and say "hi" whenever I passed. A lot of locals, though, knew him pretty well.
Last night, Ed was struck and killed by a train. I've walked along that stretch of track. We'll probably never know, but it is hard to believe that someone could be struck accidentally.
Sara wrote a moving note about him:
He was the town's Gollum; Everyone who knew him well enough, knew things couldn't possibly end well for him. He didn't have the support network that other vagrants in town had. And everyone who knew him more closely, shared with that feeling the hope that he would one day surprise us. But the eerie feeling last night among the townspeople that I spoke with was the death also of that hope. Both for himself, as he may have chosen to lay on those tracks rather than deal with an impending snowstorm with no place to stay, and for us, who were always pulling for him.
That's a hell of a thing to think about, that we live in a society where some people make a million dollars a year, and others are so desperate and hurting that rather than face a harsh winter they will lie down on the tracks. This is not due to some inviolate law of nature, it is not a consequence of physics or chemistry. It is because we have chosen to organize our society in this way.
I don't have any easy answer as to how to change that. All I can do right now is say, rest in peace, Ed.