I’ve told you about my necklace.
Let me tell you about our ribbons.
Today and tomorrow, across the country, prosecutors will be wearing black ribbons. These are in honor of the Texas District Attorney and assistant prosecutor from the same county who were shot to death, along with the District Attorney’s wife.
Prosecutors around America have volunteered to assist the Kaufman County prosecutors who continue affirmatively to answer the call of whether they are ready for trial.
In Massachusetts and elsewhere, prosecutors also remember Paul R. McLaughlin, an Assistant Attorney General who was the founding prosecutor for the Urban Violence Strike Force. He was murdered shortly before beginning a trial in 1995. Another prosecutor immediately jumped in so that the Commonwealth would be ready for that trial.
Today also is April 4th, which marks another murder that lodged in the country’s collective memory.
On April 4, 1968, my grandmother was visiting our Massachusetts home. I only realized today what must have prompted her presence: my brother had been born four days earlier (though few people believe youngsters who choose to announce on April Fool’s Day that a baby was just delivered to them).
I was upstairs with my older brother when my grandmother walked to the doorway and looked at us, stricken.
“They killed him,” she said, in a tone in which even a child could read shock. “They killed him.” She repeated it, shaking her head, looking into the room where we were playing, but not looking at us.
Somehow I knew she was not talking about anyone we knew.
She was, of course, speaking of Martin Luther King. She must have heard the news on the radio as she helped at the house while my mother was tending to the new baby.
Some degree of peril comes attends nearly every commitment, but ordinarily it is metaphorical. But certain occupations–like police officers and soldiers–carry with them physical danger, and the very real possibility that in doing one’s job one could lose one’s life.
An act of homicidal violence may fall upon an unlucky store clerk doing his or her job, or a prosecutor doing his or hers.
Human rights activists have been killed. So many, well-known or little known, have suffered and perished while pursuing their commitments to larger causes. Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, an advocate of education for girls, was shot in the head and survived to continue her commitment. Pakistan’s only female Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated shortly before an election in which she was a leading opposition candidate. She took on her commitments to lead her country after her own father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, also a former Prime Minister, had been executed.
With every worthwhile commitment comes the ever-present possibility of some kind of loss.
The keynote speech at my oldest child’s Commencement was David Brooks, who talked about how the new graduates would find themselves “hunting for commitments.” He said, “You can’t just commit to the first thing that comes along. But you can’t wait and miss your opportunities. You have to struggle against the signals of your culture and commit to serious things that will give your life significance. Once you pounce on your commitment, you have to dig your teeth in, and hang on in good times and bad.”
Other words of his linger with me: “I think it’s a mistake to ask yourself, ‘What career do I want to have?’ It’s better asked, ‘What problem is life summoning me to tackle?’” “The value of your life,” he told the graduates, “will derive from how fully you tie yourself down to a problem.”
He concluded: “Your worth and happiness will be a byproduct of how zestfully you engage the commitments life throws in your path. . . .[L]ife comes to a point only when the self dissolves into some larger task and summons. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.”
May we be committed to justice.