The world learned yesterday that U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat representing Baltimore, had died overnight.
We are a divided country right now. I know some readers will mourn Cummings's passing greatly.
Others who might have disagreed with him might offer a quick prayer or condolence and move on.
But Cummings's passing has prompted the rediscovery of a video of the very first speech he ever gave in Congress.
Part of his speech had nothing overt to do with politics, but everything to do with life.
He recited a 54-word poem by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, a pioneering civil rights leader who was the president of Morehouse College during Martin Luther King Jr. education there.
(King cited Mays as one of his great influences. Mays gave the eulogy at King's funeral after his assassination in 1968.)
The poem, as far as I can tell, has been referred to by at least two titles: "God's Minute" and "Just a Minute."
I'm not sure when Mays wrote it. It's simple, but compelling -- a very short summary of the fleeting nature of anyone's life, and the things we're called to achieve within our short time on this planet:
Here it is in full:
I only have a minute.
Sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me, I did not choose it,
But I know that I must use it.
Give account if I abuse it.
Suffer, if I lose it.
Only a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.
Watch the inspirational poem that Rep. Elijah Cummings read in his first floor speech to Congress in 1996. pic.twitter.com/yFczcWq9su-- HuffPost (@HuffPost) October 17, 2019
Of all the many stories I read Thursday about Cummings, who was black, I was most moved by his account of being a young boy, and being attacked by a mob of white people in 1962, for the offense of swimming in a public swimming pool.
The son of sharecroppers, Cummings attended college and law school, served in the state legislature, and eventually in Congress.
Thirty years after the pool incident, he said a man apologized to him for having been part of the mob that attacked him at the pool.
Cummings's response: "Apology accepted."
He used his minute well.
Rest in peace: King, Mays, and now Cummings.