The Craft of Memory - Happy MLK Day

A year ago, I wrote this post for my other blog, Every Day is Awesome and, today, I thought I'd share it with you here. I wanted to remind myself (because, unfortunately, I need reminding) that today is not just a day off and, in fact, there are no days off from the world and how we choose to live in it. In the words of the man, himself :

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Happy MLK Day.
A few years ago while we were driving home from Texas, we stopped in Memphis (a town I like very much). We spent the day sightseeing downtown and at the end of the day, we found ourselves just driving around. I took a right turn at a random corner and, unexpectedly, saw the Lorraine Motel standing right in front of me. I hadn't sought it out. I just took a turn and there it was. Still half a block away, I pulled to the curb and just stared at it, silent. It was the same vantage point I had always seen in the photographs.

There's nothing terribly impressive about the building, you know? It's just a motel, or was. There is a feeling you get when you look up at that balcony though. A terrible feeling. A feeling so strong for me, that I never got closer than that half a block away. Never took a picture. I just stood there, leaning on my car, until I started to feel my eyes well up. It was a reaction I didn't expect, being that I was only a year and a half old when Dr. King was shot, but life is strange like that, sometimes the idea of a person is so powerful that it can hit you just as hard as if you had known them.

Neither my friend or I said a word in the fifteen minutes that we spent staring at the building. Then we just slipped back in the car and left, quiet all the way back to our hotel.

Flash forward

Today, I heard a speech. It was not the "I have a Dream" speech that gets trotted out every January. It was a speech about the Vietnam war and poverty and racism that was given a year before King's death.

As I listened to that voice, I found myself wishing that his words would appear quaint to me. That, like clothing styles or hair-dos of the past, the speech would seem outdated because we would have moved so far beyond the concerns of his day and into the society that he once dreamt of. That, somehow by this point, we could have put a check mark next to the items that have darkened our country's character. But the truth is, if you substituted the word Iraq or Afghanistan for Vietnam, this speech could've been given yesterday.

Sobering, yes. But also hopeful in a strange way. Forty-two years later, a man's passion for justice still has the power to move us. His words still carry the weight of truth and, most importantly, he is still calling us to action. The fact that this speech is timeless is simultaneously sad and beautiful. I don't know if he thought we would have reached mountain top by now, but you can bet that he wouldn't have wanted us to stop trying.

Thanks to the Epic Change Blog for inspiring this post.

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