Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dr. Martin Luther King Day reflections*

I can still remember it. We had come to Washington, D.C. and were visiting the monuments and museums. We had been to the Air and Space Museum, where we'd looked at a space capsule and watched the film about the Enola Gay. We'd been out to Arlington, where we had watched the solemn Changing of the Guard and visited the Kennedy graves. I have to admit, I was probably a little bit young to be much affected by the Kennedy graves, though I was amazed at all the little white stones over those low slopes.

And here we were, standing on yet another set of grey marble stairs, looking up at a giant seated Lincoln, sternly gazing out from his marble canopy. And my dad was drawing for my little brother and me a vivid word picture of a huge crowd gathered to hear a speech given there. And he told us how he'd seen that speech on television, halfway across the country in a small community hospital while recovering from a broken leg, and how he'd known that he was being called to help make the world a better place to be. He didn't yet know how - that came later, but he knew that he needed to make the world a better place.

There is a story that once upon a time, the Baal Shem Tov, a Jewish mystic, knew a secret place in the forest, where he would light a fire in a certain way and pray a certain prayer, and the Presence would come. In time, he died, but his students carried on, though they'd forgotten the exact place. Still, they lighted the fire and prayed the prayer, and still, the Presence came. In time, the fire was forgotten, but not the prayer, and still, the Presence came. Today, we have forgotten the place, the fire, and even the prayer, but we tell the story and it is enough.

As we stood on those steps, my dad told us the story of a speech, and how that speech had called him to respond to that Presence, and it was enough. I will not claim that that one moment was what resulted in how my siblings and I have turned out. It probably had a lot more to do with being raised to use our words, to believe in justice, in equality, that violence is not the answer, that every human being *deserves* access to food, shelter, medical care, security from intentional harm - not because they are especially good, or especially rich, or any of that, but because we are all human beings.

I was not alive to hear Dr. King in person. I have, of course, seen clips of that speech, heard them on the radio, read a transcript, and seen the pictures. But it was though the living story that my dad told us that day on those steps, and through the way my parents tried to live by those ideals that they shared with Dr. King that I was given the gift to hear the Presence that was in that speech. And I pray that it is enough to keep it alive in me.

* Okay, so I'm a day late in actually writing them down, but I was thinking them through yesterday.

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Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

With deep reflections like these, being a "day late," is not a bad thing!

1/16/2007 11:25 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Thank you. Whenever I think about the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King's day, or even Lincoln's second inaugural address, I think about that visit. After Dad had told us that story, we climed up the stairs and read the words in the walls - the Gettysburg Address and the "With Charity for all..." lines.

1/16/2007 12:13 PM  
Blogger Don said...

I was alive to hear those words on the news. His words and his presence on those steps brought tears to my eyes then and they bring tears to my eyes now. Martin Luther King was/is the American Gandhi. His leadership freed black Americans from an oppressive bondage that began in 1618 when they first came to our shores. You have written a lovely tribute and I love your story of Bal Shem Tov. Very fitting. We need another man like Dr. King today.

1/16/2007 2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. King Deserves Better in Charlotte, NC.

1/30/2009 5:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. King Deserves Better in Charlotte, NC.


1/30/2009 5:59 AM  

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