Monday, January 17, 2011

Honoring Radiance

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day it always seems that my task here becomes a little bit bigger. I want to say something significant to honor the legacy not just of one exceptional man, but of an entire movement, an entire generation of people who struggled and died so I could enjoy the freedoms I take for granted today. All in 350 words or fewer....Yikes.

I feel a connection to this legacy, in part because I've studied the history and am truly grateful for the change wrought by the civil rights era. In part because I see the change that still needs to happen. And maybe in part because I think I'm supposed to, being a black American and all. Still, I find myself floundering for the right words to respond to something so momentous.

This morning, in reference to the Rev. Dr. King, someone quoted me a line from a poem by Elizabeth Alexander: "We all crave radiance in this austere world." I wonder sometimes how austere the world can become: We live in a time of war, and one in which violence can occur seemingly at random against a Congresswoman and an innocent, unsuspecting crowd, including children. Because of those things, I now live in a world in which an oddly-dressed stranger walking into a private meeting immediately conjured in my mind images of a random, psychotic shootout. Bit by bit compassion falls by the wayside, in service of fear.

In the midst of it all, I cling to the sense of triumph and sacrifice that this day is supposed to symbolize. For Dr. King, the first response--even in the face of terror--was never fear, it was courage. His dedication to what was right never faded in the face of all that went wrong. Most amazingly of all, he never had to stand alone.

Thanks, Dr. King, for your too-brief flash of radiance. Let us not imagine that your torch has burned out, but rather that it exploded and burst forth flinging bits of flame. Let us imagine capturing those tiny fires on torches of our own and walking forward through the night until the dawn washes over us all.

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