23 January 2009

In this Regard...

Apropos. This seems to be the word of the moment. How long will this moment last? I don't know, but like a surfer on the perfect wave, I should allow myself to ride it as long as I can.

Apropos. Apropos. This word keeps rolling through me. On the 40th year after the assignation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the man who stands as the symbol for civil (also read as human) rights, the United States elects a man with African ancestry. MLK's birthday is January 15, and he would have been 80 this year. We honor his birthday on the third Monday of January. This year, MLK's birthday celebration happens to coincide with President elect Obama's inauguration. A perfect moment. Apropos.

In 2007 on January 13, two days before MLK's 78th birthday, I had the privilege to visit the Lorraine motel in Memphis where he was shot. These are some notes from that trip:

"Sittin' on the bus in Memphis
Outside the Lorraine Motel
Sittin' on the bus
Waiting to go home
Saw #306 MLK's last resting place.
Saw the balcony where he was shot
the bloody cement patch long gone.
Saw the cheap wreath hangin' where
he last stood after a pillow fight
with his friends,
his comrades.

They were here to fight for the rights
of sanitation workers.
Black sanitation workers,
who tried to strike earlier in '68,
who wore signs stating, "I am a man."
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to support a march (in early '68)
but an injunction blocked the march.
On April 4, 1968, the injunction lifted,
the men (MLK and his friends) returned to the Lorraine.
The all black motel
with king sized beds
and private baths.
A luxury place for Negroes
because segregation demanded it*.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could finally relax,
which he did by starting a pillow fight.
He went outside to greet
the folks who cheered him.
A brave man
a wise man
a spiritually strong man
a visionary
a catalyst for change
a man with a message
like Jesus
was murdered.
at the Lorraine.
The Lorraine Motel
in Memphis, Tennessee.
That's the world I was born into.
I was 46 days old. 39 years ago.

…At first, I was too overwhelmed and sad (by the tour of the museum) to be inspired, but now, I feel inspired. Not necessarily to fight for the injustices in the world, but to take on, with passion, my mission (whatever it may be) to live life courageously like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to persevere, to be strong and to inspire. "

As the President elect Obama readies himself for his inauguration and as I take this time to reflect on this historic moment, I appreciate these words from Swampland/Time magazine online journalist, Michael Scherer,

"Most people could only see Obama's train for a matter of seconds. It rarely slowed, and Obama only stepped outside the caboose to wave on a few occasions. But none of this seemed to dent the enthusiasm of the crowds. They cheered as if the train was coming to see them, as if Obama's victory had been their victory, and it was only now just beginning. For miles and miles, for people in dress coats and work clothes, it was the same--Americans literally jumping for joy over a president who has changed his country without yet taking office." Barack Obama's Inaugural Train Ride

As one door closes, another door opens. As the old door closes, if I look back will I turn into salt? It feels scary, now, to look back. Do I want to be reminded of all the ugliness of the past behind that door? It seems so dark and dreadful. As the new door opens, a recognizable light peeps through the crack…a light that I have forgotten in the battles. The light I see is reminiscent of a feeling that I clung to with every shred of being, because if I didn't, my spirit would have truly withered. It seems that some have tried with all their evil will to obliterate that feeling in us all, but, our spirits, having clung to that shred of light within the soul, have fought back and persevered. This new door seems to be invigorating feelings that I have long buried and forgotten. Does this light represent an innocence that has long been forgotten? Can one return to innocence? As I pull myself from the trench and wipe myself clean, is something enlightening and magical invigorating itself? Is the world presenting herself in a new light? I believe, yes, and that's why so many are crying. It's relief. It's hope. It's happiness. It's…

It truly feels like the end of a battle. After a battle, there is more work to be done. There's a lot to clean up. If we ride this wave correctly and if we work together, like a community should, it won't be so bad. The bubble doesn't have to burst. It can sustain. We can pull each other up. Each day, the door opens a bit further letting a little more light through. As the strength of the light grows, the strength within each of us grows. The dark days are over.

Last year, we mourned the 40th anniversary of a great civil rights leader and visionary, but as the nation honors what would have been his 80th birthday, we witness the pinnacle of all that he stood for rise from the ashes.


* "because segregation demanded it" There are two ways I can interpret that line. One way to interpret that line is to say that segregation demanded segregation. I could have been making a remark that hotels and motels were segregated. MLK, even though a PhD, had to stay in a segregated motel. No segregated hotels were available in Memphis (at that time). The Lorraine was a drive up motel with the cars parked in front of the rooms. Another way to interpret it, is revealed in the next few lines. As many Americans, blacks were more affluent and could afford travel. Because blacks had to stay in "blacks only" motels/hotels, there was a market for high end "blacks only" motels hence the king size beds and private baths in each room. The victims of segregation demanded, within their own realm, to be treated with dignity.

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