This past weekend, my family made our umpteenth trek through the nation’s capital.
We picked quite a day for it. It was nearly 100 degrees. And the humidity! Let’s just say it was the type of heat that would make Satan knock on your door to ask for a glass of iced water!
Our plan was simple. The children would see each and every thing they wanted to see. If time allowed, I could do the same. Which was a good thing, since the only thing I hadn’t seen a million times was the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial.
We spent many hours walking and talking. We spoke of the American spirit and discussed inventions that changed the world. We debated which famous American was best, in his/her respective field. I had to referee the occasional brotherly skirmish. In other words, it was your typical garden variety family day-trip.
It never dawned on me that I would learn anything .. from my children.
Let me remind you: It. Was. Hot. My asthma was trying to take center stage. I had four (somewhat spoiled and over-indulged) boys in tow. By the time the kids were satisfied that they had seen all they wanted to see, I was exhausted. And, sure, trying to ensure the satisfaction of four boys can make me a little cranky. My overall mood was not great.
The more we walked, the less oxygen I seemed to take in. I was stopping every ten feet to catch my breath. I wanted to give up on the journey. I was urged to give up and “just see it next time”. But I have lived long enough to know that there may be no next time. And to be perfectly honest, that stubborn Mommy part of me was determined that if I had been walking through an inferno for 7 hours, I would damn well see that exhibit. Or pass out trying.
Not understanding, my oldest son remarked: “Mom, I know you want to see this thing, but it’s hot and you can’t breathe. Maybe we should forget it. Is it really worth all that?”
[Enter visions of cotton fields, torched houses, protests, jail cells]
To which, I responded: “That is why I must keep going. Men and women, like King, got sick. They kept going. People told them it wasn’t worth it, but they kept going. Heat wasn’t the only thing beating at them, but.. They. Kept. Going.”
So…we kept going. I was dizzy, light-headed, and wheezing. But I kept going.
Finally!! We were there! At that moment, my fatigue vanished. My initial joy was not in seeing the monument. It was in pride that I made it without collapsing. It was all about me.
Once I realized that, I took a step back. I removed myself from the equation. I remembered how grateful I am for those – like Dr. King – who removed themselves from the equation, daily, so that we all might have a better quality of life. I read his words on the Inscription Wall, and I felt humbled. And small and petty. My small accomplishment of “making it” paled in comparison to the type of endurance he needed. Every day of his life.
After having splashed my face and arms with water from the waterfall, I turned to the faces of my children. Observing me.. and my humility.
Initially, I was a little embarrassed. They, then, did something I will never forget. They, too, splashed their faces and arms.
At that moment, a lesson was driven home. Children need to observe humility. They need to see adults continually fighting for what is right, fighting for a more perfect union.
Sadly, it isn’t hard for me to imagine Dr. King’s America.
An America of fear, prejudice, and hatred. An America where equality is privilege.
True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice. MLK 1963
An America of poverty. An America that excuses bad behavior and ignorance. An America where workers are treated poorly.
I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. MLK 1964
An America at war.
It is not enough to say “We must not wage war.” It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace. MLK 1967
I can imagine it, because that is MY America, to a lesser degree. We, as a society, have become complacent and selfish. We rationalize this by saying we have come pretty far from King’s America. Well, I say we haven’t come far enough. I say there is always work to be done.
Wouldn’t you agree?