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.
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.