Monday, January 15, 2007

In Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

I celebrate few holidays. I either care little for them and find them pointless, like Halloween or my birthday, or find what they stand for to be noxious, like Easter, Christmas or Columbus day. Today is one of the ones that matter to me.

Martin Luther King, Jr., is a rather special figure in history -- someone who was altogether more real and powerful for me than most. He is also a religious figure who retains his appeal and moral authority even after my re-abandonment of religion, and who still inspires deep emotion in me. So, today, I thought I would write about what he means for me.

First, I should note that most people don't truly know what King stood for. He was a figure far more visionary and insightful than is generally known. If you recall Martin Luther King and think primarily of his feel-good "I Have a Dream" speech as definitive of him, then you're missing a lot about him -- in fact, you're missing some of the most important things, not least of which were his view of racism as part of a greater problem at the core of American society and his consequent opposition to the U.S.'s war in Vietnam.

There are two of his speeches in particular that express this part of King, which has (almost pointedly) received little attention, and that bring me to sorrow every time I hear them. In fact, listening to the latter of them was one of the few occasions in which LB and I have ever cried together. They are his "Beyond Vietnam" and his "I Have Seen the Mountain Top" speeches, the latter of which makes plainly clear that he knew he would be killed soon -- it was his last speech. (You can listen to them both here.)

Having read about him and listened to his speeches, I have discovered that I truly love the man and mourn his loss, though he was killed just a few years before I was born. He is one of the few celebrated people in history I truly, deeply respect and would give much to have known or even met, blemishes and all. Beyond that, he is an essential, grounding figure in history -- one that cuts through much of the smoke and mirrors of media blather and "official" history that gives us little understanding of the past, instead leaving us with a whitewashed list of facts, figures and dates leading to how wonderful everything supposedly is now. I know better. We all do, in our collective historical knowledge if not in our individual knowledge, because of men and women like King.

So, today, here, I express solemn appreciation and love for the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and what he stood for, and hope, somehow, to be one of those working to carry the torch he left behind. I will teach my children to love him as I do.

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator – that something we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral. And I don’t think of it in a morbid sense. Every now and then I ask myself “What is it that I would want said?” And I leave the word to you this morning.

I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.

I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question.

I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry.

And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked.

I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison.

I want you to say that I tried to love and to serve humanity.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.