What follows is a departure from my usual subject matter, but it is too important to me to say nothing.
My father was a rare man in many ways, but one of the most admirable was his absolute inability to treat people differently. Diplomats, Army generals, janitors, homeless folk, they all received the same courtesy and kindheartedness. Race, religion, nationality, and status mattered not at all. All people were deserving of the best person he could be, in my dad’s opinion.
I was raised to delight in the beautiful variety humanity has to offer, and to always, always defend others from discrimination or poor treatment.
In the early 1960s, my father had just finished seminary, and was working for very little money in a small town in Ohio. The Civil Rights Movement was hard at work, and the Gandhi-inspired practices of peaceful protest and civil disobedience were in line with how my father saw the world. This was something he felt passionate about, and he saw that the world had to change.
So, in the spring of 1965, my dad made some sandwiches, put them in a small bag, and got on a bus to go south to Alabama and march with Martin Luther King, Jr. He had some medical training from his years in the Army Reserves, he had faith in the Movement, and he believed he could help in some small way.
He had about $1.37 in his pocket. He had no place to stay. He had no bus fare home. He had no plan.
But he went. Some kind people he did not know gave him a spot to sleep on their couch for the duration of his time there. He marched, and he patched up the wounded people who needed it. Mostly he talked to people, listened to their stories, learned about their lives.
He never would have thought about it, but he became a part of history. I like to think that somewhere out there are folks who met him on that march, who told their difficult stories to a kind stranger, and who hopefully saw in him that there truly are good, kind people who value all people, care about all people, respect all people, with no exception.
And here we are in America this week, facing racially motivated horrors yet again. It breaks my heart. For the first time in ten years, I am glad my father is not here. He would be so hurt and disappointed in us all. For good reason.
Please do your part to change the world. Love your fellow man. Do not fear what is different. We can be so much better than this.
Note: the title of this post is a reference to a speech given by MLK in Montgomery in 1965, at the completion of the march from Selma. My father was in the crowd, hearing him speak.