Make Gentle the Life of this World

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Abby Hevert, ’15

On April fourth 1968, a man died. The adjectives used to describe him could probably never accurately define the breadth of his impact or the depth of his life. He did not pass away peacefully, but instead was robbed of a life that helped to change, and is still changing, the social and political framework of the United States of America. Many people know him for a speech that he gave on another April day. It is often called the “I have a dream speech,” and Martin Luther King Junior delivered it. In it, he details his dreams for America and its youth: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…I have a dream today.

And while many people know and love this speech, they often do not reference another speech that is, in my opinion, one of the most eloquent addresses in American history, the speech that Robert Kennedy gave on the day that Martin Luther King Junior died. In it, he pleaded for peace, nonviolence, tolerance, and solidarity among all Americans in the wake of King’s death:

 So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, yeah that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love – a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke

….

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

The phrase “life of this world” always struck me as important. It implies that the world is not a place where we live; it is a place that lives and is affected by the actions of the people who populate it. It has a life of its own, and has stories of its own. We are all involved in a kind of plot where we climb the climaxes and stumble into its valleys. King even mentions these ups and downs in his speech:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight…

 And this is what the life of King did; it started to make his dream come true. This is the life well lived. It dreams extravagantly and works toward those dreams day and night. It is consumed by these dreams and must accomplish these dreams. And while many of us have many dreams, only some are these all-consuming kind of dreams that seem as though they are requirements for living instead of things in life that we would like to have. Sure, I dream of one day owning my own jeep wrangler and a house on the beach, but I must become a social worker who will help to heal the human spirit. One of my professors calls this phenomenon a kind of “internal musting:” actions that we must perform instead of actions that we think we should perform. Some people call it a calling and it can come in many forms. Maybe you are called to be a teacher or a lawyer or a banker. Perhaps you are meant to be a father or a mother. Maybe you are called to open a nonprofit or a foundation. Or maybe you are called to level the metaphorical playing field for all of America’s youth by working toward fairer governmental policies. No matter what this “musting” is, you must do it. Listen intently and make decisions accordingly.

And, yet, it is especially important that we all follow the same dream that Kennedy delineated in his speech. We must all work toward making “gentle the life of this world.” It is necessary that we use our gifts, with which we are all undoubtedly bestowed, to create straighter paths, lower mountains, and higher valleys. After all, we are all given one life and these collective lives make up the life of this world.

 So, we may as well tame the savageness of the human condition in the name of Martin Luther King Junior and all of the martyrs who have died to make the life of this world just a little more gentle.

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