I wake up in the morning. Stirring under the covers, I turn my head and look out my bedroom window. There I see the cottonwood tree rustling in the morning breeze. It welcomes me to a new day—and my life.
But what is my life? Why am I here? And why am I conscious of that fact? These questions can seem unanswerable, even suggestive of underlying, unsolvable mysteries.
All religions help us with these questions. They show us how to deal with the mysteries of our lives; how to relate to what is intrinsically undefinable; and how to live in the womb of that mystery. We call the most basic mystery of all, God. Our relation to God we call worship, which is a sublime form of love. Embraced in the warmth of that relation, we feel grateful, reborn, and inspired to live worthy of experiencing that mystery. Our rebirth gives meaning to our individual lives and motivates us to share our experience of love with others. The wellspring of that rebirth is our relation to the unknowable source of our very being. And its motivating power is love.
It is only when we strip our lives down to this basic relation—to love—that we begin to realize what we share with all humans—what makes us fundamentally human. The essence of human adaptability amidst countless species’ extinctions and planetary cataclysms is the will not just to survive, but to preserve that basic relation both for our fellow human beings and for our posterity. We want to preserve what makes us human and, thereby, to preserve our families, our communities, our culture, and our civilizations.
The one obstacle to the preservation of our common humanity is the individual who fails to discover the motivating force of love. That force is only an inborn potential in individuals whose exposure to human love is limited or non-existent. But compassion, empathy, and expressions of human warmth can rekindle love’s power in others. Gratitude, for example, is not just a response to love, but can be a renewing power that also triggers love towards others. Think of the gratitude of an orphan adopted into a loving family, or of a wounded soldier rescued under fire by a comrade, or of tragedies’ victims nursed back to health and safety by caretakers. Though we nurture our humanity in home and communities, we can also regenerate it in life changing events.
Our nation faces many divisive forces, both within and without. For us to form a “more perfect union,” we must dedicate ourselves not only to the values expressed in our Constitution but to the motivating power of love. Today, we see an outpouring of that love in Las Vegas, as well as in Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas. First responders, caregivers, charitable donors, and victims came together not only by sharing their anguish and pain but also their compassion and empathy. They shared the power of love.
In this moment, our nation can enliven our common humanity and the motivating force behind the human values formalized in our democracy. “Justice and liberty for all” is both our pledge of allegiance and an expression of our love for one another. It is a vow to preserve our community and our nation. We must resist those power seekers who value their personal status over the nation’s well-being. They lack empathy and seek justice and liberty for the few rather than “for all.” If we are going to preserve the many expressions of our founding principles in our institutions and norms of behavior, then we must rededicate ourselves to each other and the principled basis of our national union. We must love and respect each other.
Somewhere in Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” I remember reading his prognosis that Americans were better than their leaders. Unfortunately, I can no longer find the context nor verify the accuracy of my memory. Nevertheless, I cannot attribute this prognosis to myself, but can only agree with it. If we are to preserve our union, we, as individual citizens, must constantly renew what binds us together. Our leaders may at times fall to those human vices born of ego, power and money. But, in our democracy, it is the citizen who holds the ultimate power. We renew that power every day when we express the mutual respect and love we share for each other and for our democratic institutions. Many have shown the way. But real change starts with each and every individual. America, then, depends on all of us.