Mourning Catonsville barber Friends, family, community try to find meaning in a senseless tragedy


December 03, 1992|By WILEY A. HALL

A memorial service was held for James Ernest Brodi yesterday.

Mr. Brodie was a barber and a former custodian with the Baltimore County school system. He served in the Army. He bowled. He had three sons and a daughter, five sisters, two brothers, five grandchildren, four nieces, and nine nephews. Everyone who knew him described him as a nice man who went out of his way to help people.

Mr. Brodie was born on Feb. 3, 1935 in Franklintown, N.C.

On Saturday, somebody killed him. Somebody walked into Brodie's Barbershop in Catonsville and opened fire with an automatic handgun. Mr. Brodie was hit four times. A customer, Michael Selwyn Peters, 20, was shot in the head and killed. Another customer, Kevin Michael Johnson, 26, received minor wounds. Police have made no arrests. They can determine no motive for the shooting.

It was just another dumb, senseless, tragic act of violence in a society that is slowly bleeding to death.Mr. Brodie was the 38th person killed in Baltimore County this year, an all-time high. The city could tie or break its previous record of 330 homicides. This is a horrible hemorrhage of life.

But the dead must be buried. Life must go on. So Mr. Brodie's family and his friends, his neighbors and his colleagues, held a memorial service for him yesterday at the Macedonia Baptist Church on West Lafayette Avenue.

People hugged each other. They bowed their heads and wept. They tried to find some meaning to it all.

"I say to every family that I'm able to share with, that death is expected," said Pastor Maris P. May. "Whether you are black or white, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, death is expected.

"All I've heard about Brother Brodie was his great attributes and qualities, what a fine man he was, a trademark in Catonsville. But I've come to say a word to the living. Death has a multiplicity of dimensions and definitions. Martin Luther King called it life's common denominator. It is a place that all of us must go. It is a mystery and we're never prepared for it."

Pastor May used punctuation rules to help his congregation find solace in Mr. Brodie's death.

"Some of us view death like a period," the pastor said. "A period ends a sentence. It says 'Stop!' -- the end has come. It's over. . . .

"Some people see death as a question mark. They view death as a mystery, the eternal question. But a question mark also ends a sentence. . . .

"And some see it as an exclamation point -- something strange, out of the ordinary. But even an exclamation point ends a sentence. . . .

"But death has been described as God's divine pause. Death is not a period, but a comma. The word on the street is that Brodie is dead. But that's not the end. Death is a thoroughfare, an avenue, that leads us on into life. Physically, you may never get your hair cut by Brother Brodie again. You may never go into his shop gain. But spiritually, Brother Brodie still lives."

Inviting the congregation to pray with him, Pastor May said, "Lord, we are hurt and disappointed and we are upset and mad, but despite all of that, we still trust you. We thank you that death is not an end, that there is still something after the comma. We thank you for the things death cannot take. It cannot take our memories. Death takes life but it cannot take our love."

Two days after the shooting, one of Mr. Brodie's sons, Troy, called a local radio station. Noting that witnesses describe his father's assailant as a young man, Troy Brodie made an impassioned appeal to other such young men to find other ways to vent their anger at society other than through senseless violence.

"Now, I'm angry," said the younger Brodie. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to go out and kill someone."

And immediately before Pastor May's memorial message, the slain man's daughter, Fannie Lawrence, told the congregation that her "heart was heavy". But then, Ms. Lawrence began to sing, and she sang with such power and such feeling that the congregation was moved to applaud.

All of this seems to confirm the pastor's message. Death cannot destroy music. Death cannot destroy the hope that a simple appeal to reason will someday stop the violence.

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