Today is Martin Luther King Day.
What hardest of hearts could resist the voice of justicecalling down the corridors of conscience in the satin tremolo of our American Dr.Martin Luther King?
My indelible moment was underneath the Lincoln memorial withmy now-deceased parents, my sister-in-law and eldest brother. It was a thin crowd that day. Instillness we stood together, watching the video footage…listening…tentear-filled eyes. King's call forforgiveness on the larger scale seemed to fortify the waters of familial pardonfor which we had been striving, imperfectly, for quite some time. Our familyhas been one of fierce love, with divergent views fiercely held.
Today's holiday is a remarkable coincidence, coming just oneday before the inauguration of our first African-American president. No mistaking here the mysterious orderof being, moving in the wings and revealing itself-at times conspicuously--frombehind the chaotic curtains of life. A coincidence, yes, but no historical accident. The confluence of these two events is at once a harbinger ofcivil rights fulfilled, and a clarion call for action on dreams unfulfilled.
Soon-to-bePresident Obama has rallied our optimism. A highly talented and bi-partisan team is coalescing to help us recoverfrom a staggering heap of grave and complex problems: from a broken economy andconfidence, to a broken healthcare system, a broken energy policy, a brokeneducational system, broken infrastructure and a breaking middle class. You nameit. The collective sense of reliefin the air can be slashed with a proverbial knife. It's unlike anything my generation has witnessed, includingthe 60s, 70s and Viet Nam. Newstewardship is a blessing. We ache for renewal. We long for escape from maddening witness to mind blowingideological blindness, secret channels, censorship, paramilitary shadows, andOrwellian mischief--with its word play--passing for laws: "torture" redefinedto legalize torture, rendition of innocents renamed "productive," badintelligence from enemies tortured renamed "actionable." Not to mention the loss of life on allsides, and the growing morass of radical Islamists and End of Daysproponents. Ask us why we areheartsick, and we will tell you more. We are badly wounded, but deeply grateful for a renewing worthiness inthe eyes of our founders. We feelit. We are heading inward toward our constitutional soul, to regain a footholdon the genuine path lined with our fathers' yet-unrealized dream.
BarackObama's presidency represents a victory for racial equality. He embodies MartinLuther King's vision for racial healing in America. Obama also leads us further, to focus on our commonheritage, our unalienable freedoms, our values that transcend the civil rightsmovement. His language reveals apreference for non-violent means. He understands that these, in fact, are the mostpowerful weapons at his disposal in dealing with the rest of the world, even instriving to defeat terrorism. Tomorrow is not only America's day. People theworld over, who long for justice and the guidance of a peace-loving America,will be listening to his speech, shedding tears.
Obamamanages to fulfill a wider context of King's timeless words, which include andreach beyond race:
"Ihave a dream. That one day this great nation will rise up and live out the truemeaning of its creed. We hold thesetruths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…again and again wemust rise to the majestic height, meeting physical force with soul force…theyhave come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.We cannot walk alone…This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off orto take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real thepromises of democracy...It would be fatal for the nation to overlook theurgency of the moment...Now is the time to make justice a reality for all ofGod's children…From every mountainside, let freedom ring!"
Someof us remember "The Nightingale," by the Danish author Hans ChristianAnderson. In this fairy tale, theEmperor of China has favored a mechanical nightingale covered with jewels overthe real bird, known to communicate its beauty to humans through song. Themechanical bird breaks down and the emperoris taken deathly ill. When the real nightingale returns, its song so movesDeaththat he turns away, and the emperor lives on.
Thelast eight years was, perhaps, a prescription in disguise. Our democracy wastaken so deathly ill that the Nightingale was compelled to return. May wechoose to keeplistening to its authentic song, and come to realize that our own renewal isinextricably linked with renewal of unalienable freedom beyond our borders. Maythe song so moving Martin Luther King, and now Barack Obama, be passed through us,and live on.