— This article by Jerry Cates, first published on 19 September 2015, was last revised on 30 September 2015. © Govinthenews Vol. 6:09(1).
When I was a teenager in the 1950’s the title to this article would have made no sense. The universality of lives that matter was taken for granted, by everybody. Things were simpler back then, when the expression “all lives matter” would have been a tautologism instead of a lightning rod.
All lives do matter. That truth has been recognized by mankind from ancient times. Jesus expressed it in these words:
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? Matthew 6:26 NASB
Later in the same gospel, he reiterated this view:
Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Matthew 10:29 NASB
As a biologist, those words mean a great deal to me. My life’s work has been devoted to preserving life in all its forms. Yet, human life is particularly precious, and so the way we view human life tells much. The words of the English poet and cleric John Donne expressed, nearly 400 years ago, that very point. His words are as relevant now as when Donne first penned them:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
John Donne, from Meditation 17, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624)
Being a part of the main, one who is diminished whenever any life is taken — precisely because we are involved in mankind — places a heavy responsibility on each of us. That burden is more than anyone can handle. Fortunately, we needn’t carry that responsibility on our own:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 NASB
Many, like me, have claimed that promise and relied on it time and time again. All who do so can attest to its healing power.
As we seek to understand the deep meaning behind the charge to value all life, it is crucial to remember who carries us through life. Without that help, pondering life’s mysteries would be an impossible task. It is an exercise in love, and not love in its simplest form but one that is indelible, that does not change even if mere humans cannot fathom its depths. Shakespeare put it this way in his Sonnet CXVI:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Shakespeare, Sonnet 116
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