In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., here is a letter I wrote to myself in the fall.
22 October 2015
Please remember the day you bought this card. It was July, and you were picking up gifts for Greg & Jamaica to thank them for Company. The colors of life had looked muted for so long that you had despaired of seeing any differently.
You didn’t know that in a few short months you’d sit on a train and watch orange leaves drift down from abundant maples. One of the soft leaves very nearly grazes the hard hat of a grinning construction worker, and you see it as a benediction. The light falls across your lap, and you pause to see its beauty, to feel the joy of noticing.
In July you let this card catch your eye even though you hardly knew how to let your eyes be caught. The card reminded you of seasons past when the words would’ve rung true:
Life is a spell So
thing conspires to
They didn’t ring true in July. You hardly remembered the woman who pauses to marvel at sunlight and buys cards sometimes to write to herself. No, actually you remembered her fine . . . in fact, the memory stung. You couldn’t recall the feeling of being her, that was the trouble.
In July you wept nearly every day. You made Lindsay promise you that you wouldn’t feel like that forever, and she did.
Just two nights ago on the phone she reminded you of that promise. Now dozens of sparrows exult above the Connecticut marsh and you’re headed to Philly to spend a few days enjoying your family. Now life is vivid and precious and when you cry it’s gratitude on your cheeks.
Please remember that day in July. When you bought this card you recalled the woman who could love her life so dearly, even though she was nowhere to be found. Today as you write this card, remember the woman in despair. She is as true as this bright day. She will come ’round again, too.
Oh darling self, the most you can hope for is this: that when she comes, you will know a little better how to love and trust her.
To my logical mind the connection to MLK seems far-fetched, but to my heart it feels obvious.
I’ve always had a hard time holding the reality of Martin’s luminous life alongside the injustice of his inevitable/unalterable/wrenching death. I might talk or sing with my students to recognize the holiday, but I’ll confess that most MLK days I don’t think or do much to “celebrate.”
This past week, however, we sang “We Shall Overcome” in every class. Good God, was it powerful. My students spontaneously began singing We shall overcome today instead of We shall overcome someday. They created their own verses: We can shine together, Nothing can take our hearts, We’ll find peace on earth, Nothing can stop us now.
Towards the end of week I started encouraging my students to do something over the weekend that would make the world a more peaceful place: show up for someone in need, offer kindness to a stranger, maybe just take a nap.
It turns out my own offering is to sit quietly in our kitchen, honoring life and death: Martin’s and my own. My soul mandates that I regularly pick up yarn/thread/fingerfuls of hair/pen&paper and weave together the strands of my experience. When I join my seasons of heartbreak to my seasons of happiness, I am living the Dream that Martin spoke of. Black, white, and all the shades between: united in peace. Martin’s dream gains power with each new day.