01 Jan 2003 New Visions Commentary: Let Us Once Again Recommit Ourselves to Those Values Which Define Us, by Dr. Condoleezza Rice
Sundays in my family meant church. It was the center of our lives. In segregated black Birmingham of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the church was not just a place of worship; it was the social and civic center of our community.
Throughout my life I have never doubted the existence of God, but, like most people, I have had some ups and downs in practicing my faith. After I moved to California in 1981, there were a lot of years when I was not attending church regularly.
Then something happened that I will always remember. One Sunday morning, I was approached at the supermarket by a man buying some things for his church picnic. He asked me, “Do you play the piano by any chance?” I said, “Yes.” And he said his congregation was looking for someone to play the piano at their church. It was a small African-American church and I started playing there every Sunday. And I thought to myself, “My goodness, God has a long reach – all the way to a Lucky’s Supermarket in the spice section on a Sunday morning.”
The only problem was, it was a Baptist church and I don’t play gospel very well, unlike our great Attorney General John Ashcroft. I play Brahms. So I called my mother for advice. She said, “Honey, just play in C and they’ll come back to you.” And that’s true. If you play in C, the foundational key in music, people will come back. Perhaps God plays in C, and that’s why we always seem to find our way back to Him, sometimes in spite of ourselves.
Looking back on the years since I found my way back, it is hard for me to imagine my life without a strong and active faith. Faith is what gives me comfort, and humility, and hope – even through the darkest hours. Like many people, I have turned to God and prayer more and more this past year and a half. Terror and tragedy have made us more aware of our vulnerability and our own mortality.
We are living through a time of testing and consequence – and praying that our wisdom and will are equal to the work before us. And it is at times like these that we are reminded of a paradox, that it is a privilege to struggle. A privilege to struggle for what is right and true. A privilege to struggle for freedom over tyranny. A privilege, even, to struggle with the most difficult and profound moral choices.
American slaves used to sing, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen – Glory Hallelujah!” Growing up, I would often wonder at the seeming contradiction contained in this line. But as I grew older, I came to learn that there is no contradiction at all.
Struggle doesn’t just strengthen us to survive hard times – it is also the key foundation for true optimism and accomplishment. Indeed, personal achievement without struggle somehow feels incomplete and hollow. It is true too for human kind – because nothing of lasting value has ever been achieved without sacrifice.
A second, more important, lesson to be learned from struggle and suffering is that we can use the strength it gives us for the good of others. Nothing good is born of personal struggle if it is used to fuel one’s sense of entitlement, or superiority.
America emerged from the losses of September 11th as a nation that is not only stronger, but hopefully better and more generous. Tragedy made us appreciate our freedom more – and more conscious of the fact that God gives all people, everywhere, the right to be free. It made us more thankful for our own prosperity, for life, and health – and more aware that all people everywhere deserve the opportunity to build a better future.
It prompted us to cultivate what the President has called “the habit of service” to others so that the “gathering momentum of millions of acts of kindness” may bring hope to people in desperate need. And perhaps most importantly, September 11th reminded us of our heritage as a tolerant nation; one that welcomes people of all faiths, or no faith at all.
Now, as our Nation once again deals with great loss, with fears and uncertainties, let us once again recommit ourselves to those values which define us. Let us renew our quest for understanding the natural world and all the heavens which God has made. Let us renew our commitment to standing for life, and liberty, and peace for all people. Let us renew our commitment to working with all nations to conquer want, and hunger, and disease in every corner of the globe. Let us accept our responsibility to defend the freedom which we are so privileged to enjoy.
If terror and tragedy spur us to rediscover and strengthen these commitments, then we can truly say that some good has come from great loss. And in all the trials that may lie ahead, we will carry these commitments close to our heart so we may leave a better world for those who follow.