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The Power of an Idea

I. A Painful Confession and an Unforgiving Past. Despite overtures from family members, I took a sabbatical from writing for a time to focus on my practice, my health, and my family. I have found that to genuinely write is to give of yourself to the scrutiny of other people and I barely escape my own scrutiny from day to day no less to accept the scrutiny of my peers. But in doing so, I have noticed that - for instance, from the first sentence of this paragraph – the focus of my life has turned to a more selfish persona than I ever imagined. Akin to Polonius in Hamlet, “[w]e’re oft to blame, and this is too much proved, that with devotion’s visage and pious action we do sugar the devil himself.” In other words, all that evil needs to be victorious is for the good to stand silent; and for a year, I was silent. When I was in law school and in the first several years of my practice, I focused on an idea and from that idea grew an image of myself that I actually adored. However, in order to maintain that image I had make sacrifices: I did not always make my rent on time, I rarely paid my student loans in a timely fashion, and what I had I gave freely in accordance with that which my conscience required – not necessarily that which my creditors required. To one end, I suffered – my credit score, phone calls from creditors at all hours of the day and night, the constant fret over not meeting the obligations which I had incurred in order to live while I gave. Essentially, I was “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” But I did not hide it. I did not care what others thought of me, my practice, my home, my car, my life. I marched and I protested with my brothers and sisters of conscience against Republican presidents, Democratic presidents, and the gaggle of cackling politicians who acted as little more than pawns to whomever was paying the bill that day. At the same time, I was lucky enough to spend my days and nights working with local organizations like Together We Hurt, Together We Heal and Alpha 12-Step Recovery to combat the flood of drugs to our community and to support the families and lives shattered in the flood’s wake; as well as state and national activist groups like the Black Panther Party of Central Ohio, Columbus NAACP, War Resister’s League, Witness Against Torture to combat police brutality, inner-city violence, poverty, hunger, homelessness, and the misuse of violence and the use of torture by a government founded upon the highest principles of man. I believed in an idea. I lived for an idea. I gave for an idea. I had no time for or care for what the conservatives would think or what the liberals would think. I had neither the time nor the inclination to justify my dedication to an idea to anyone. And I was perfectly content. However, to my everlasting discredit, I’ve spent much of the past year ignoring an idea that once burned like a wildfire inside me, and I stood silent while it was reduced to the mere flicker of a flame at the end of a match. I had my excuses. A degenerative spinal and disc condition had inflamed for the first time in several years and brought my physical body, literally, to my knees; and a genetic predisposition to heart disease and the never-ending stress of running my own law office caught up with me. Regardless, neither a degenerative spine nor a weakening heart is an excuse to lose one’s soul. I lost myself to billable hours, collection rates, overhead expenses, and my eyes wandered from the world around me to my world. I lost myself to the monotony and comfort of daily routine, and in doing so I ignored all that makes life worthwhile. Instead of providing for the greater good and adding my voice to the protests of the myriad of evils around the corner, I found myself being the man who silently pursued personal gains and commercial conquests. I lost the idea, but luckily the idea was not lost. II. A Unity of Everlasting Convictions and Ideas. I believe that ideas cannot be killed. In fact, in this life, our ideas are all that is worth dying for and all that is worth living for. Ideas are whispers in dark corners and cries in the street. They breathe and live, and so long as we have the courage to utter them, they never fade away. And it is courage: the courage to give in to our most natural instinct and to love one another without regard or expectation; the courage to let go of the economic pursuits that our favorite shoes encouraged us each day to pursue, and to lend yourself to highest judgments of humanity; the courage to stand beside equality, kindness, compassion, and to prop them up on your shoulders; and the courage not to give up on your fellow man - to remember that at one time or another in this life, we’ve all made a bad decision, we’ve all strayed from the path, and if it were not for the compassion and empathy of someone, it is likely you would not have come back from that decision. So what is the idea? Some lofty ideal? Quite frankly, that is for me to decide and for you to decide for yourself. To me, an idea transcends politics, transcends labels and the differences that men have created – liberal, conservative, gay, straight, black, white – and it transcends religion to the extent that we allow faith to divide us and label us into superficial man-made categories. An idea is grounded in our integrity, our hope, our faith, our dignity, and our humanity. An idea has no room for material things; it cannot be sold or traded – it rises and falls with the meaning of words. For instance, when did the taking of innocent human life become “collateral damage?” When did I become a part of the “body politic?” I am – you are – a human being with dreams and hopes, and that is never to be taken lightly. You are an individual with endless potential and the capacity to change the world. Your laughter and your tears, your success and your failure belong wholly and entirely to you. You have the voice of God inside you; you merely have to stop, sit down, be still and listen to the silence. In that silence, if you have the courage, you can hear a sweet, tender voice whisper your idea and you can be something more for your family, your community. You can embody your idea, and though you may fail to see it come to fruition, the mere pursuit will leave this world changed for the better. III. My Youngest Wisest Teacher. I met a young girl once. I tutored her in reading; she tutored me in life. She was an orphan born without a father to a drug addicted, HIV positive prostitute. Through no fault of her own, she had contracted HIV and due to her mother’s negligence, she eventually contracted full-blown AIDS. When she was merely five tender years old, she found her mother in their bathtub with her wrists slit. For several days, she sat by her mother weeping until local law enforcement came to the door for a “child wellness check.” From there she was placed into the custody of her maternal aunt, who spent her time ignoring my young friend and, instead, gave her time to her own self-destructive tendencies. Yet, somehow in the midst of the misery of her life, she knew life better than anyone I have met and may ever meet. She loved poetry. She loved apples. In fact, my fondest memory of her is sitting outside on her lunch break under an old dead oak tree reading whatever poem she randomly selected from my copy of Maya Angelou’s collection of poems. On this particular day, we went outside with her lunch and sat under the tree. She asked me if I knew that God was in her apple? I had no idea how to answer, so instead of answering, I asked her to show me. So, she took her plastic knife, and slowly but with purpose, cut the apple in half. Inside was a perfect star shape of seeds. She looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, “See, I told you that God was in this apple. Look what He did, He made a star just for us.” I was and continue to be speechless. All at once I felt humbled, revived, and restored in my faith not just in God but in humanity. Ultimately, if a little orphan girl sentenced to death at the hands of four letters whose deadly combination cannot be stopped can find God in an apple then certainly we – you and I – can bind up the wounds among us, focus on that which brings us together, and learn to live our lives in a more excellent way for the betterment of the community. IV. Conclusion -“[V]i Veri Universum Vivus Vici” To be quite honest, I am writing this more for me than for you. I want to be what I once was and am terribly sorry for the year that I ignored the greater good or at most gave only half of myself to my idea. In the end, we are nothing more than the sum of the work that we have done in the name of our idea. Our lives will someday end. Our bodies will grow old, rot, decay, and turn to dust; but our immortality is written in history of our idea. For me - my idea is lofty and unachievable - it is the cause of love. Not love in the sense of a grocery store romance novel, but the love that is forgiveness, community, decency, kindness, equality, and mutual and universal respect. It is the love for which Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, even my young friend, and countless and nameless others died. And though history may forget their names and mine, their fight and their lives were not in vain. But what is more, of all the things that life can take from us – our health, our money, our things - God will always be in an apple and no one can ever take or otherwise even touch your idea or mine. In the words of the poet Aleister Crowley, “[v]i veri universum vivus vici” [By the power of truth, I while living, have conquered the universe.]
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