Living in harmony in a great world house on Martin Luther King Day

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In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize lecture, given in 1964, he talks about the idea of a house, “We have inherited a big house, a great world house in which we have to live together–black and white, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Moslem and Hindu, a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and interests who, because we can never again live without each other, must learn, somehow, in this one big world, to live with each other.”
I love the imagery of that house, so easy to picture. A nice Victorian, neat and trim, brightly painted, purple and pink, warm lights shining through lace curtains, with all the peoples of the world living in harmony together inside–everyone happily cooking together, feasting and celebrating, sharing the bounty of the garden, raking leaves and shoveling snow with the seasons, emptying the dishwasher, doing the laundry, vacuuming the floor, fixing the car, fighting for the bathroom!
Wait. But how do you do that, exactly?
If there is a secret to living in harmony, I would like to know. I have four children. They all look the same, they were all raised the same, they generally like and respect each other–and they fight all the time in this house. Every summer, I take the kids to visit their grandparents in Hawaii for two months, and as wonderful as Hawaii and my parents and my children all are, by the end of the summer, everyone is ready for us to leave that house. I cannot even imagine going back to grad school days when I rented a room in a house and lived with six complete strangers.
I sometimes think that one reason some people resist multiculturalism and resent diversity is that it is simply not easy to live together with other people. It is no fun to compromise. It is challenging to understand and overcome difference. Why can’t everybody just be “normal”? Why can’t things be the way they always used to be?
(That used to be one milder argument against interracial marriage–marriage is hard enough without adding in language barriers, cultural differences and social consternation.) Remember, when Dr. King gave that speech in 1964, it was illegal to marry a person of a different race in 16 states, and national-origin quotas severely restricted non-Western-European immigration.
Yet, is this not the promise of America? That together, we can all make this work somehow?
Our family recently attended our first bat mitzvah. It was so special to be a part of this rite of passage and celebration of family and faith that the children and I have been floating in its glow ever since. What impressed me in particular is how the very large extended family–one side Jewish, one side Christian–came from all across the country to be a part of it. Like many celebrations of our children (graduation parties, weddings), there was proud bragging, funny stories, and a Power Point of baby photos. However, the stories in their narrative also included the parents’ first date (in an emergency room), how the grandparents met (at the Rocketts?), and their friends in the community. From my childhood Jewish friends, I had been under the impression that bar and bat mitzvahs were about learning just enough Hebrew to be able to bluff your way through your reading, but for this family, it was such a reflection of who they are and a celebration of all they value. It works because they make it work, their love for each other joyously palpable.
Originally published at AnnArbor.com, reprinted with permission of the author.

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