“We can choose to use our lives for others to bring about a better and more just world for our children. People who make that choice will know hardship and sacrifice. But if you give yourself totally to the nonviolent struggle for peace and justice you also find that people give you their hearts and you will never go hungry and never be alone. And in giving of yourself you will discover a whole new life full of meaning and love.” – César E. Chávez
I will admit I am drawn to quotes with layers of meaning, and I am inspired by quotes that reach into the depth of my soul, into that place beyond words themselves. The context of the quote is, in a way, engrained into my DNA as a direct descendant of farmworkers. Holding a Masters’ Degree in Mexican American Studies, I would hope I’m familiar with the context! Yes, there is a twang of sarcasm there. In the immediate sense, connected to the historical context, I understand that these words were intended to gather support and inspire action toward the organizing of farmworkers.
I also understand how profound these words are in the context of committing yourself to service in the struggle for social justice. For a long time, this quote kept up my morale when I felt myself out of balance working in nonprofits committed to social justice work. It was a piece of that patch I needed to hold me over, as lopsided as I felt, while I did “good work.” And, it was what kept me sane as I came to the realization that I wasn’t giving myself totally to the struggle because I was holding back my gifts, out of fear, out of necessity, and out of obligation.
In this journey, I have stumbled upon the most supportive like-minded people and we’ve connected in deep and heartfelt ways, each of us on our own journeys, helping and supporting each other along the way. I will admit answering this calling (so to speak) is a struggle, but it’s somehow an “easy” struggle; financially, I am not any worse off than I was when I was “gainfully employed” in the nonprofit sector. Surrendering to that choice may not be an easy path, but it is worth it.
Here is where the quote resonates at its deepest (for me): this quote continues to challenge me to expand what social justice work looks like. It calls on me to embrace my artistic “crafty” side with the full scope of what it is –that giving of myself for that new life of meaning and love in a non-violent struggle for a better world. It reminds me that the risk is worth it as I take the leap into the rabbit hole of the unknown. It keeps me inspired as I am activating my gifts and using my passion for art and words, crafting meaning in my own life for the service of others.
As a paranoid, over-thinker, Cesar Chavez’s words help me keep the faith that in consciously choosing to use my gifts toward my truest service to others, I will be okay . . . and so will you ;)