When the We is More Important Than the Me

Posted on July 19, 2020


A couple years ago, I was at the gate for my flight when I spotted who I believed to be John Lewis, seated at the same gate. I immediately strode over to him, put my hand out and said, “Mr Lewis, it is a true honor to meet you.” The man in question smiled and said, “I’m not John Lewis. I’m Elijah Cummings. But everyone makes that same mistake.” He smiled, put his hand out and I shook it. I stammered that it was an equal honor to meet him (and it was).

Two years later, both the man I thought I was about to meet and the man I did meet are both gone. The man I though I was about to meet died just two days ago. At an age in which most of us struggle to figure out who we are, Lewis helped to create a movement that shook this country to its core. And, at an age when most of us are winding down, Lewis remained in the fight and lived to see Black Lives Matter shake this country up once again.

One could paper a room, if not an entire house, with the powerful words of John Lewis. He was impressively articulate. From a life of hardship, he derived gratitude and joy. From a life of marginalization, he derived a steadfast belief that we are one family, and that the duty each of us has to make things better for all of us.

He said Rosa Parks inspired me to find a way to get in the way, to get in trouble…good trouble, necessary trouble. Lewis became a master at good trouble, at necessary trouble. He became a master at getting into good trouble, necessary trouble as a way to call attention to whatever was unjust.

I always believed that in the South there was evil but also good–so much good. The belief that all people were one people was bedrock for Lewis. The belief that terrible actions did not brand the actors as terrible people was for him, the only way forward. He was an optimist of the highest order, finding good and joy in places that would flatten others. He tapped into a humanity that nurtured him and gave him the courage to rise above his circumstances. He believed that hate sapped us, but that love energized us. For him, it was easy to love us, whether or not he agreed with us.

Many of us are becoming increasingly exhausted/terrified/angered by the actions this administration takes on a daily basis, actions that result, on several levels, in a total disregard for human life. We line up on whatever side we are on. We accuse the other side of ruining our lives. We mistrust and we fear and we hate.

Lewis’ emotions ran as high as anyone’s. He was, after all, a realist. He believed Trump to be a racist. He believed the GOP to be disserving the American people. He believed all of the things we believe to be wrong with the country were wrong. But he never lost his optimism and he never lost his belief that progress has been made. He challenged those who believed that we had not made progress. “Walk in my shoes,” he advised.

I have been beaten, my skull fractured for the right to vote. For those of us who are not as strong, as tenacious, as loving and as cisionary as Lewis was, he offers us a way to honor his memory. Lewis believed that the right to vote is the greatest right we have. it is a sacred right. It is a right that demands the good fight, the necessary fight. If we do anything to honor the memory of John Lewis, let it be that we not only exercise this sacred right for ourselves, but that we do whatever we can to inspire it in others.

Let us make good and necessary trouble for those who govern by the I and the me. And let us do it in the name of a man whose life was dedicated to honoring the we.