Can you imagine a carpenter saying this even as he reaches for a pry bar? Or a mechanic explaining that his lack of diagnostic equipment is not an impediment to working on your late model BMW? Or a drum major on a parade without the tools to help write a narrative of patriotism and pageantry, or remind a people of a history that has always challenged them yet finding a hunger to triumph?
We know that perfection is not the enemy of the good, and a few tools missing, by themselves, do not doom a project. However, as we continue to differentiate and specialize both for efficiency and safety, shortcomings are a liability. It is an inherent part of being human, but a cracked cup can still quench the thirst, a bucket is valuable on a leaky boat and a good doctor without his stethoscope can be a life saver. At what point, however, do we consider, ‘If I had a hammer` an ominous warning or an alarm?
Despite sabotage and accidents, our world is filled with good intentions. Skilled tradesmen and apprentices apologize and make amends when they fall short. Lawyers, not so much. We understand that lives and fortunes are fragile, that dreams scribbled on a torn napkin is a living breathing entity, pregnant with the spirit and hope of grandfathers and great-grand- mothers we have never met. It is to those ears, if we are unsure how to respond to, ‘if I had a hammer,’ we should give pride of place.
Competence and mediocrity have valid claims on what we say we hold dear. We have confronted stormy seas and brought to shore safely, boat, nets and bumper catch. But we have staggered home with stories of seas that went from calm to treacherous in the blink of an eye, taking the bumper catch, nets and oars, everything but, by the grace of God, us and the boat, only to be buttressed by the providential hand of God in our wives and girlfriends` reflective praise as all the fishing gear and our mistresses` outhouse have washed up behind our homes. Lord be praised. We can shout ‘hallelujah and speak in tongues’ or be aware, no, be forewarned!
The tragedy of ‘if I had a hammer’ is not the horizon we don’t see, or how we would intervene in societal unjust and discriminatory practices if we held levers of power, or if we could vary rules of engagement. It is accepting the idea that we are powerless, that we too are victims, that all I can do is excuse myself by high lighting inability and lack of resources. We should all look to a tomorrow improved with decency and improved access to economic opportunities. While tomorrow is a far way off, we can engage the rot of our bridges and despair of our children, fashioning ‘a hammer’ to nail down our commitment and create sacred spaces.
There are always going to be Justice Squares, Heroes Park, Lincoln Memorials and hallowed halls of worship where what is dispensed and preached is tainted and elastic. Such is the nature of history and faith. Yet, that is not the problem. It is us. It is us walking through shadowy places where the legal, economic, and social architectures are weighed towards inequality and we leave them undisturbed. It is us getting the resources to initiate and effect change, but instead we steal, betray, and abandon the hopes of those we hold dear. Despite the fact that we are uncomfortable with the ‘if I had a hammer’ soliloquy, we proffer it tritely, still.
We arrive at the blood splattered scene where a good man died at the hands of thieves. Crying and sorrowful, what shall we say? ‘If I had a hammer…’ or ‘Gone too soon.’ Enough of that meaningless talk. ‘Here is the spot, ‘would we rather say,’ where thieves way laid a man,’ or ‘at this spot a man stood for what he believed.’ Whether it is Selma`s determined unifying steps or Gettysburg`s brief poignant address to a people seeking the dividends of a vision still a far way off, we can bring the force of our commitment into existence. We do this every time we are prepared to stand with the fallen and honor their moment of unselfishness. Indeed, we have a hammer.