I was not the least popular kid in my school, but I was probably in the bottom third. Hoping to elevate my social position a bit before high school, I begged my parents for permission to throw an eighth grade graduation party. To my utter shock and delight, they said yes.
I quickly drafted a list of invitees, including only my two best friends and fifteen or so of the most popular kids. But when I brought the list to my mother, she shook her head and explained, “No, you must invite the entire class or the party is off.” Was she out of her mind? She rarely entertained her own friends, and now she was essentially forcing me to invite fifty or so young teens to our home?
Desperate for the party, I agreed to her terms. I spent an entire period of recess tracking down my classmates to pass out invitations. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the last people I found was Maureen. Heavier and more awkward than most, Maureen typically spent recesses huddled in a corner trying to avoid the gaze of the other kids.
Maureen watched with apprehension as I approached her, no doubt fearing some put-down or teasing. I handed her the invitation and said, with a confident smile on my face, “I hope you can come, too!” I will never forget the look on her face as she took the invitation from me and offered a shy smile. At that moment, my mother’s requirement to include everyone suddenly made perfect sense.
Some twenty-five years later, my own daughter, Sophie, started preschool in our neighborhood. At the parent meeting, we were informed of a rigid school rule: “Everyone is included.” For example, kids were not permitted to exclude other kids from their play, kids could not discuss play dates that happened outside school hours that did not include everyone in the class, cubbies could only be used to distribute party invitations if the whole class was invited, and so forth.
Later, I overheard Sophie imploring her younger sister to let her join in a game of Barbies by explaining, “Everyone is included, Jessica!” This poignant incident made me recall my experience learning this mantra, and made me reflect on how universally this tenet applied to almost every area of my life.
I throw parties that are too crowded and that require too much preparation and cleanup. My small kids can get overwhelmed by the number of children at their birthday parties. The softball team I organize for my office has too many players. A quick lunch at work with one friend quickly morphs into a group outing of eight or ten. But these events, with their boisterous chaos and unpredictability, are more enjoyable to me than many smaller events or intimate gatherings.
More significantly, in my work as a prosecutor, I believe that the law applies equally to everyone. The theft of a Ford Escort should be prosecuted with as much fervor as the theft of an Escalade. The rape of a prostitute deserves as much attention as the rape of a suburban mom. And the murder of a drug dealer should be pursued as heartily as the murder of a prominent public figure.
More broadly, my political and religious beliefs are founded on this tenet as well. Democracy is premised on the concept of “one person, one vote.” Jesus taught us to “love your neighbor” and lived this commandment by loving enemies, tax collectors, prostitutes, foreigners, lepers, sinners, and even those who would harm him.
The vivid memory of Maureen’s happiness at being included in my party helps to remind me of the value of this core belief and to apply it even when it may be difficult to do so. This is what I believe, and it guides me to this day: everyone is included.