I just finished watching The March, a PBS special commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. As I watched, inspired, I wondered whether I would have been one of the white faces in that crowd. Or, more importantly, would I have been one of the white allies organizing the march? Would I have worked 18 hour days for a cause that put me harm’s way? I’d like to think so. But it’s hard to be sure. I can only evaluate what I’m doing now. What kind of risks I’m taking, or not taking.
This internal monologue reminded me of another I had just this morning. I was thinking about my career, which demands long hours, international travel, and some risk to my health and safety. The risks are relatively minor, but weigh on my mind nonetheless. Lately I’ve been wondering how I will balance my career against the important work of motherhood and what sacrifices I will need to make. I’ve defaulted to the assumption that my work will be sacrificed for the sake of my daughter. But The March gave me new perspective. When I saw the faces of mothers and fathers, drenched in sweat, marching forward against oppression at considerable personal cost I understood that my default assumption may be wrong. Perhaps the work of motherhood is to continue working for what I believe is just and right, even when it is tiring and somewhat risky.
I don’t delude myself that my work wouldn’t go on without me. Nor do I believe it’s equivalent to the work of Dr. King and others who sacrificed their lives for the cause of justice. But I do believe I live a life of unearned privilege that I must harness for the greater good, even when the road is long and tiring and difficult and a little bit perilous. And it’s okay if my daughter sees me stumble along the way, or struggle to balance my roles as mother and researcher and humanitarian, because she’ll be better prepared for her own journey. And she’ll know what it takes to keep marching.