Lane Berk: A Tiny Colossus

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There is no way to contain the multitudes of Lane Berk, the longtime Baltimore Ethical Society member who died on November 7, in a few hundred words. So I will try to leave some impressions.

Lane had been away from BES for a while but returned a few years ago and for the first time attended a Platform talk given by our Ethical Leader, Hugh Taft-Morales. After the talk, Lane gushed. It was the most profound, fascinating presentation she’d ever heard in all her years, she told him.

Wow, I thought, what incredibly high praise, coming from someone who had lived so long and seen and done so much.

It was high praise, and Lane meant it. However, since then Lane said the same thing about talks by Hugh and others many more times, about art events and community forums and social gatherings. If something touched her mind and her soul, it was the finest, most profound, most fascinating thing she’d ever experienced, in and of that moment.

You got the impression that, in the innumerable moments of Lane’s 89 years, she wrung meaning out of every second.

That’s one of the things I learned from Lane. Another is to listen to people with whom you disagree. Another is to keep learning so you keep growing. Another is, if you feel wronged, to give the other person a chance to make amends.

No one can follow those lessons all the time, but trying to follow them would make anyone a more ethical person, and I suspect a happier one.

Lane’s ethics went all the way down to ground level. She could not pass so much as a gum wrapper on the sidewalk without stooping to pick it up (or asking me to) while lamenting how little regard people had for their environment. She considered serving unhealthful snacks during our post-Platform coffee hour to be unethical because of the USA’s obesity epidemic.

Her legacy in Baltimore, where she helped create some of its civil rights laws and establish the harborside community of Federal Hill, is significant, and her impact was international.

She laughed with Albert Einstein, gave refuge to Cesar Chavez, corresponded for years with Nelson Mandela, was in the room with JFK when the Peace Corps was forming, participated in the de-Nazification of post-World War II Germany, walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Martin Luther King, Jr., and had met Pete Seeger and Alan Turing and who knows who else.

Somehow, she never met Kurt Vonnegut, a writer we both greatly admired. Vonnegut, like Lane, was a self-described Luddite who lamented how human beings too often have allowed machines to take their place.

For Lane, connecting with people was most important.

Her favorite holiday was Valentine’s Day. A long table in her home was perpetually decorated for it. She had so many friends that one evening could not suffice, so yearly she invited groups of 10 to celebrate the occasion over the course of several weeks.

Petite in stature, Lane was a gigantic figure to those of us who valued her many decades of activism, community service, charitable support, philosophical vigor, impishness, mentorship, arts advocacy, intellectual curiosity, kindness, stubbornness, and all the rest.

This tiny colossus was the most remarkable person I ever met.

Lane was committed to Ethical Culture but took bits and pieces from many faiths and philosophies, including a belief in some kind of afterlife because “nothing goes to nothing.” She did not fear death. The word she used was transiting.

“I don’t know what’s on the other side,” she said, “but I can’t wait to find out.”

By now, she knows.

And, no doubt, is fascinated.


The family informs us that in lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent In Memory Of (IMO) Lane to the Baltimore Ethical Society (BES), 306 W. Franklin St., #102, Baltimore, MD 21201 and Kol Halev, 6200 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21212, two of the many causes she held near and dear.

To make a contribution in her memory to BES, you may mail a check to our address (above) or put a check in the Sunday collection basket. Please note on the check that it’s “IMO Lane Berk”. In January, we’ll send letters to acknowledge 2017 charitable contributions, and contributions IMO Lane will be included along with your BES pledge payments. Please note that contributions IMO Lane are separate from your pledge. If you have questions, please ask our Treasurer, Richard Heffern: treasurer@bmorethical.org. Cell phone: 703.340.5221.

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