Monday, January 16, 2012

Dream Catcher

There are no more words to adequately express the meaning of the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr., beyond the billions already spoken by far greater luminaries than I. This man, this sweet, kind, gentle, fiery soul, has been at once enlarged and mitigated by the run of years from his heyday. A holiday bears his name, America's soul bears witness to his touch, but American society has not quite caught up with his dream. That a black man sits in the highest office in the land is not an accomplishment, but a step, one plodding footfall toward a higher and holier world that this black Southern preacher saw from his vantage point on the mountain top.

While he may continue to be lauded -- or reviled -- even to this day, it is not the man but his dream that should interest us more, for his revelation to us of his vision, a day when no person would be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, was just that: a dream. It was not a fully-formed thing sprung deep from within the recesses of a man's heart and soul, but a tapestry of the wishes and hopes and prayers of millions, woven into a transformative vision by this man's conviction and his belief in God. It was a thing built of the words and actions and history of the people around him, absorbed by every touch of a hand or every earnest conversation or every horrific scene of racial intolerance. The man took those skeins of human misery and hope and knit them into panoramic tableau, then shared it with us all, and we recognized ourselves in it even as his words spilled into the air.

It might be too much to ask that everyone who has heard his words has been so moved as to be changed at heart. In the pits of some, the darkness is too deep, and even the stirring words of a Martin Luther King, Jr. bring scant illumination. Many of us, however, have been transformed. We seek that world he showed us, a world where our humanity counts for more than the skin we were born with, the faith we were raised with, the gender we follow, or any of the myriad differences we impose on others. Having caught the dream is not the same as creating it, though; the vision outstrips reality, where no matter how delightful and empowering and righteous it seems, not all share our enthusiasm for its establishment.

On this day, let us remember the man who placed the hope for a more peaceful and just world at our feet, by doing what is necessary to pick up that hope, make it our own, and carry it forward. Though the man is no longer here to help carry the burden, may his spirit enrich us and help us to shoulder the load.

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