Living Long Enough to Make a Difference
Commentary by Paul Graves
Author’s note: This column is the latest in occasional series of letters I’ve been writing to our grandkids since the first one was born in 1997. These are meant to be my values legacy effort to our family.
Dear Katie, Claire and Andy,
It’s been too long since I’ve written a letter to you. Our weekly Zoom visits are terrific, but writing to you lets me reflect more deeply on some values that are worth nurturing.
I’m writing this letter on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I hope you spent some time reading King’s quotes and a few speeches. They’ve inspired us and moved us to be better persons who pursue the journey toward justice.
Like this quote from King’s memoir “Stride Toward Freedom,” about the Montgomery bus boycott published in 1958: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
To me, the presence of justice must fill the vacuum created by the absence of tension – in all situations.
I’m also aware that the Spokesman-Review will publish this letter on January 23, just four days before Claire’s 23rd birthday. I hope your graduate school classmates help you enjoy your day, Claire. But I also hope they and you – and your siblings – find “MLK” ways to make even a small differences in each other, and somewhere in the world around you.
About 14 years ago, I saw a small poster on a church wall. Its simple message still catches my attention:
ME: God, how long will I live?
GOD: Long enough to make a difference.
As long as I can remember, something inside of me has nudged my heart to make a healthy difference in someone else’s life. Not so much in my own, but in someone else’s life. It’s no surprise, kids, that making some effort has always made a healthy difference in my own life.
I am so proud of you three today because I see you all trying to make healthy differences in other people’s lives in what you are doing right now – Katie in your outreach work, Claire and Andy in your schools. You’ve learned well what your parents have taught you about respecting people and trying to improve people’s lives in some way.
In this, I am reminded of another quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that makes very good sense to me as I think of how you – and everyone – can make small differences that lead to potentially significant changes in ourselves and in society: “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”
The “noble struggle for equal rights” is a phrase worth remembering. I know only a few of the instances when you’ve stood up to someone who disrespected another person for some reason. I also know you’ve stood up for, and with, a person being bullied or disrespected.
Those instances may seem minor in comparison to what you see others do. But don’t compare your efforts with anyone else’s.
Comparing is senseless competition, particularly when it involves our efforts to treat others as equals – because they are equals to us and everyone else. In daily, ordinary ways, let us each remember to do what is healthy for someone else.
That simple act may make a bigger difference to that person than we could have expected.
So back to that pithy little saying on the church wall: In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m considerably older than you. If God does desire we will live long enough to make a difference, I’ve had many more difference-making opportunities than you have, simply because of my age.
But my opportunities are no more and no less, important than yours. In our own ways, in our own times, we each are in the difference-making business.
So let’s keep making the effort, kids!