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Opinion >  Column

Faith and Values: A letter to my grandchildren on the importance of MLK’s legacy helping others

Paul Graves, Faith and Values columnist for The Spokesman-Review.  (COLIN MULVANY)
Paul Graves, Faith and Values columnist for The Spokesman-Review. (COLIN MULVANY)

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 MLK Day. I hope you spent some time reading King’s quotes and a few speeches. They’ve inspired us, moved us to be better people who pursue the journey towards justice.

Like this quote, from “Stride Toward Freedom” written 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 Jan. 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 difference 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.

Another quote from Martin Luther King 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.”

That’s from a speech King delivered at the March for Integrated Schools in Washington, D.C., on April 18, 1959.

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. So 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’s 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, 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!

Love, Grampa

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at elderadvocates@nctv.com.

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