In 1849, Henry David Thoreau published an essay on the imperative to follow one’s conscience in protesting unjust laws.
Decades later and a world away, Mohandas Gandhi read that essay and developed a framework for civil disobedience that ultimately ended British rule in India.
Martin Luther King, Jr. studied Thoreau and Gandhi, while more than 8,000 miles away, Nelson Mandela did the same. Each man applied the principles of non-violent resistance to the particulars of his time, hastening the cause of freedom.
A comic book on King and civil disobedience was translated into Arabic and distributed in Egypt in 2007. Yes, a comic book did its part to galvanize the Arab Spring!
The Arc of Justice and the Long Run, an online essay by activist Rebecca Solnit, is chock full of examples such as these. Ideas, planted as seeds in one time and place, emerge and grow to fruition elsewhere in a glorious web of cross pollination.
Solnit tells of Charles Black, a white boy in 1930s Texas who heard a young Louis Armstrong play trumpet at a white high school dance. "It is impossible to overstate the significance of a 16~year~old Southern boy's seeing genius, for the first time, in a black,” he said in an interview decades later. That Southern boy went on to write many of the legal briefs that ended segregation in schooling nationwide through Brown v. Board of Education.
Most of us will not see our talents bloom in ways as stunning as Thoreau or Armstrong, or influence millions like Gandhi, King and Mandela. Our seeds are small, their flowering more modest. We guide our children, interact with coworkers, offer random acts of kindness to friend and stranger alike, never fully knowing the results.
We are sometimes privileged to witness a fruition, though many seeds need time to germinate, nestled in a darkness hidden from view. Others emerge in a time and place far from our sight. But seeds do sprout. They bud and they bloom, offering their pollen freely to the wind, to be deposited we know not where.
So we plant our individual seeds and trust in their blooming and in the wholesomeness of their fruit. And when things look bleak in the world, as they may today, we hope. For Solnit, “Hope is a sense of the grand mystery of it all, the knowledge that we don’t know how it will turn out, that anything is possible.”
We are part of an intricate and interconnected living whole that, spiritual traditions tell us, is fueled by something greater still. Like the wind that carries pollen to points unknown, we cannot see it, only sense its influence. Anything is, indeed, possible.
So we plant seeds of love, trusting in their ultimate blooming. We welcome the pollen of others, and allow it to quicken the good that lies dormant within our own hearts. And we open to the grand mystery of it all, again and again.
Blessings upon all your little seeds. Plant with abandon!
To read Solnit's entire essay, which is full of gems and hope, click here. And to read more about that 16~year~old jazz fan who went on to become a scholar of constitutional law, click here.