From Google Images

From Google Images

This is, perhaps, my favorite quote from Dr. King. Well, it’s difficult to pick a favorite but this one is certainly among my favorites. I love it for two reasons. First, the call to service and second the subtle reminder about the superficial ways we use to dismiss others.

The call to service is important because too many of us feel helpless and insignificant when it comes to changing the world. But service doesn’t have to be large. It doesn’t have to change the world or even one person’s entire life. It can just brighten someone’s day.

The mural my daughter and her friend's help paint at a local elementary for King's Day of Service.

The mural my daughter and her friend’s help paint at a local elementary for King’s Day of Service.

Service isn’t about showing how grand you are and standing back to admire how your efforts made things better. My daughter and her friends will not see the reaction of the teachers and students when they see this mural tomorrow. We don’t really have ties to the school so they won’t get accolades or lots of thanks for their time and talent. They left knowing that some little kids would probably smile when they saw this and that was enough for them. That’s what service is. Doing what you can to help another person, no matter how great or small the help offered.

In addition to calling us to service the above quote is one of my favorites because it reminds us of the true measure of a person. My maternal grandmother was a remarkable person. She cared about others on a level that is rare; she gave her time, her money (though there was very little to give) her talents and her compassion to every person she could. It didn’t matter that she only had a first grade education, couldn’t read or write and spoke with a “hillbilly” drawl. She was the wisest woman I’ve ever known about things that truly matter. The mechanics of language are there to make communication easier, not to lord over others how superior we are. I get annoyed by ubiquitous errors as much as anyone but I remember my grandmother and know that in spite of my frustration I won’t use those errors as an excuse to be dismissive or to tear someone, or their ideas, down.

There is much left to be done in the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream and my efforts feel insignificant at times. However, this quote reminds me that I can reach out in service and accept with love the imperfections of others doing good works. And no matter how small, that is a step in the right direction.


7 responses to “Service

  1. Enjoyed these reminders! If the thoughts about the mechanics of language were prompted by recent playgroup discussion (me! guilty!), that was in the context of business/website development and I do think it reflects very poorly on a business to have a large number of errors present on a website.

    • I agree that business websites, blog posts, etc. should be edited carefully. But I know that I’ve been guilty of hastily posting something on social media only to realize I’ve used the wrong form of their, not because I don’t know better but because I was in a hurry to share my thought. As our culture expands in our use of the written word to include more and more informal communication it’s a natural extension that we will see more and more errors. There’s a lot of noise on the internet that is hateful, dishonest, misinformed, etc. I hate to see people who are genuine and simply searching for information, truth, etc silenced because they don’t have perfect grammar. (Not that I think you are doing that, but I’ve seen plenty of other people doing that in comment threads.)

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  3. I loved this, and I love your grandmother! Honestly, there are so many ways to keep us from feeling each other, so many ways to weed out our cares and concerns. The truth is, it doesn’t matter how we talk, how we write – if we have a heart that beats inside us we have what it takes to serve the world. Love that fruits and vegi mural!

    I think grammar an interesting topic. More should be written about language and how we systematically use it to dismiss the rights of others. It’s quite ugly. If you don’t learn to speak properly when you’re young, than you have to play catch-up, and when you do that you never really feel you belong. But you don’t really have an option, because that’s just the way things are. And if you make an error, if you misspell or mispronounce something or your syntax sucks, the truly educated people will be quick to point it out and to quietly alert everyone of your interloper status. Even if they don’t use those words, that’s the intent. Humans are always looking for ways to transcend each other, to keep other people down. And this is truly sad because people who feel oppressed, who don’t know their worth (or who have been trained to believe they have no worth) are perhaps less likely to see themselves as having something to give the world.

    I love hearing these stories about people like your grandmother because it reminds me how powerful truth is. It reminds me how goodness will take up residence in the hearts of our children, and their children’s children – there will be no casting it out. That’s how it works. The dream transcends poor grammar.

    • I’m so glad you commented, Patrice! I love it when people “get it” when I post something. Overcoming a dialect is not only difficult but often alienating to friends and family still immersed in that dialect. There are so many issues surrounding language/culture that are not cut and dry.

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