Today I begin a series of reflections titled “From Home.” While I, like millions of others during this pandemic, am working and writing from home, I want to use some of my time to reflect on our times, our world, my country, my own days. I begin this series exploring one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s core beliefs: we are deeply interconnected.
In his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King writes “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” While his words have always been true, perhaps they come home to us now more than ever before. In this difficult moment, when the C19 virus moves across the world, we are more aware than ever that borders do not protect us. Walls do not protect us. Even the massive oceans around our country do not protect us. The world is interconnected in ways we have always known but have rarely appreciated.
Apart from the C19 virus, consider the crisis for refugees in the last several years. With war raging in Syria and poverty growing in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, people are on the move. Whether we think of Syrians escaping their country’s violence or young people from Mali and the Gambia, people are running, literally, for their lives. We once again learn, from Dr. King’s words, that we are connected. Violence in Syria affects me because people in Syria need homes, food, and safety. The violence of hopelessness and poverty in parts of Africa affect me as well because Africans deserve hopeful lives just like anyone else. We are connected. We can deny it, and many try to. We can pretend it isn’t true. But those escapist desires will always fall flat.
The C19 virus should be a powerful lesson for us. Think about the various items in your house. We have foods that come to us from all over the world, products from nearly every continent. We depend on this global supply and the supply chain that gets these items from one country to another. When that supply chain can also carry a disease, we must learn the fact of our interconnectedness.
Is this “garment of destiny” of which we are all part, a good thing? A bad thing? Both? I cannot help but think that our connections are essentially good. But we have to learn to appreciate them, to know how they can harm us and how they can help us.
If you are currently one of my American Literature students or one of my poetry students reading this, expect this to be the subject of your next assignment when we return from Spring/Easter Break. What does it mean that we are part of a “network of mutuality?”
At the very least, it means that all our actions affect others. Therefore, we must use good knowledge and wisdom as we make choices. Our lifestyle choices affect others. Our leisure choices affect others. Remember some years ago when the reality of brutal child labor in the diamond industry came to light? We learned about the fact of “blood diamonds.” Our choices made a difference. If we bought diamond jewelry from countries and companies that did not regulate their industries, we were adding to the suffering of many children in West and Southern Africa. Every time I see one of my students drinking from a single-use plastic water container I recall that we are only adding to our misery as we heap plastics into trash dumps. Those plastics will last longer than we will.
Whether we like it or not, we are connected to one another. We have the chance to use that connectedness for good or for ill. We can help, build up, serve, and love, or we can make selfish, small choices. Which will it be?