Every morning my alarm wakes me up. It isn’t the buzzzzzz or the ringgggg sounds. No, I wake up every morning to music, to the song “Abraham, Martin and John,” a 1968 song written by Dick Holler and first recorded by Dion. It is a tribute to the memory of four Americans, all icons of social change, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. The song was written in response to the assassination of Dr. King and that of Robert Kennedy in April and June 1968, respectively. One of the verses says:
“Didn’t you love the things that they stood for? Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?”
In the aftermath of the election last week that will go down in history as one that has shocked the world, I think about the words of that song that wake me up each day and wonder if our president-elect is up to the task of standing up for all Americans.
While I try hard to stay out of politics, it would be an abrogation of my responsibility as a religious leader to not address these election results. While I wished that during the excessively long (why can’t there be a new law to make a presidential campaign 6 months instead of 18 months?) campaign for president, that President-Elect Trump would have confronted Secretary Clinton without the vitriol, without the tweets, without modeling for our children and for us behavior that is completely antithetical to the values for which our country stands — and while I wish that he would apologize for stoking fear in so many Americans and renounce many of the ugly words he spoke during the campaign — And while I have wished for that and still wish for that, it is clear that those who elected him did so despite all of his character blemishes and his inflammatory rhetoric.
Many voters who chose Donald Trump wanted to send a message to the politicians not just in Washington, but all across the land, that people are tired of gridlock and want their government to be the government for all the people and that it is time for our government leaders to put party affiliation aside and work together to help solve the problems of our country. And no one can deny that many of the 60 million plus voters who chose Mr. Trump are feeling disenfranchised and economically behind.
I will defer to the columnists and pundits to do a more detailed examination into last Tuesday’s election results. But regardless of those analyses, the reality is that on January 20th we will have a new president.
Those who are protesting the election results and those who are grieving might have a different perspective if they attended a funeral with me two days after the election for a 3-year old little boy who was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia when he was 14-months-old, so rare that only 45 children are diagnosed each year. At the funeral, I listened to the little boy’s parents’ talk about his sparkling personality, his infectious smile, his fighting spirit to overcome his medical challenges, despite the pain and suffering he endured for most of his shortened life.
I listened to his pre-school teacher talk about how he loved to walk across a bridge on the playground and jump into puddles of water. And then, I listened to the family’s rabbi who quoted scripture in describing this little boy. He quoted the passage in Deuteronomy (Deut. 30:19): “I call heaven and earth to witness you today: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse–therefore choose life!”—and then the rabbi urged the hundreds of people in attendance at that funeral, to follow the little boy’s example and to choose life. On my almost three-hour drive home to Sacramento from that funeral I thought about all I heard during that funeral service. A 3-year old little boy who for some reason which nobody can explain, was diagnosed with an illness that would take him from his family, his friends, our world—-he never gave up and whenever he saw tears from his mommy’s eyes, he would say, ‘mommy, don’t cry, be happy.”
We all should heed the lessons of this little boy’s zest for life. As our country is faced with the reality of a deep division, let those who are grieving and protesting the election results resolve to choose life by reaching out to each other more, treasuring our differences and standing up to the challenges our country faces with courage and help each other to overcome the divide. And let us call upon our elected officials to lead us in that effort. If we can all do that, then the tears which many have shed over the past week can be turned into smiles, and like the little boy who battled his illness to the very end, let us never ever give up hope. I sincerely hope that our president-elect, in this new chapter of his life, recognizes the responsibilities that now rest upon his shoulders. May his presidency embrace all Americans and embrace the people all around the world who look to the United States as a beacon of freedom, justice and hope.