From the Editor

In the preamble to his remarks at the funeral of Congressman John Lewis, 
President Bill Clinton thanked the Reverend Bernice King who, he said, “stood by my side and gave a fascinating sermon in one of the most challenging periods of my life.” He might have said the same thing about Lewis, who was the keynote speaker 
at an event on the Vineyard in 1998 at which Clinton also spoke. The occasion was 
to mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of the March on Washington, but Clinton, who 
only weeks before had faced a grand jury looking into his sexual behavior, and who previously had been resolutely defiant, spoke about forgiveness.

“All of you know, I’m having to become quite an expert in this business of 
forgiveness,” the Vineyard Gazette quoted him as saying. The crowd laughed and applauded. “It gets a little easier the more you do it. And if you have a family, an administration, a Congress and a whole country to’re going to get a lot 
of practice.”

He then told a story about meeting former South African president Nelson Mandela. “And I said to him – I said, you know, I’ve read your book and I’ve heard you speak, and you spent time with my wife and daughter, and you’ve talked about inviting your jailers to your inauguration. And I said, it’s very moving, and I said, you’re a shrewd as well as a great man. But, come on, now, how did you really do that? You can’t make me believe you didn’t hate those people who did that to you – 
for twenty-seven years.

“He said, I did hate them for quite a long time. After all, they abused me 
physically and emotionally. They separated me from my wife and it eventually broke my family up. They kept me from seeing my children grow up. He said, for quite a long time I hated them. And then he said, I realized one day, breaking rocks, that they could take everything away from me – everything – but my mind and my heart. Now, those things I would have to give away. And I simply decided I would not give them away.”

The president’s newfound humility got more attention in the paper than Congressman Lewis’s keynote address that followed, though the writer said he 
was an “equally powerful” speaker. “Given recent despair over a perceived 
deterioration of race relations in America,” the paper reported twenty-two years 
ago, “Mr. Lewis’s most potent message was one aimed at the younger members of 
the gathering.”

“We have come a distance. Let nobody tell you that we have not made progress towards laying down the burden of race,” Lewis told the audience. “I say to all of you young people, thirty-five years later, don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t give out, don’t become bitter, don’t get lost in the sea of despair. Keep the faith. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold onto your dreams. Walk with the wind. Let the stories of history be your guide.”

With all that is loose in the land these days, it’s hard sometimes to imagine 
forgiving even the haters. But the life of John Lewis forces all of us to ask two 
questions: “Have I done enough?” and “Can I do more?” They are difficult questions to ask but easy ones to answer. To the first, the answer is no. To the second, it’s yes.