The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., perhaps one of the only people ever to live up to the grandiosity of their own name, was shot on the balcony of a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, forty years ago yesterday, where he had gone to show solidarity with a sanitation workers' strike.
Gary is a great admirer of Dr. King. Yesterday, during the staff prayer time, he played a video of the "Mountaintop Speech." It was King's last important public address, given the night before his assassination. His voice was as powerful as it has always been, in the many recordings I have heard, the unquenchable vibrato of an African-American preacher, roaring in deep like ocean tide. "I've been to the mountaintop, and I have seen the promised land," he said. "I may not get there with you, but we, as a people, will get to the promised land." The crowd was roaring and amen-ing as he looked from right to left, scanning their faces, hands clenching the podium as though to keep his compact, muscular body upright. But I was arrested by his eyes. In his eyes there was the frantic blinking of a man trying to hold back the force of his tears, of a man who, if he stopped what he was doing for a moment, would break down weeping with the weight of the love that all at once bore him down, propped him up, and pushed him onward.
We could do with more Kings.
When I look at my life, at the small things with great capacity to bog me down, I wonder how it happens. We look at the great lives, the lives of the Kings and the Wilberforces and the Mother Theresas of Calcutta, real people whose struggles and words are known to us, who knew the same empowering God I know, who are working with the same basic human stuff as I, whose legacies are heaped with eulogies fair and bright enough to light a new galaxy, whom I readily assent should be imitated, and wind up still with the pale and tawdry substitutes for the abundant life.
The surety of heaven is a grand thing, a thing to lift wearied and despairing hearts, to comfort the grieving, to give steadiness to the short-sighted. But this resurrection would be but a partial salvation if it did not also animate our lives on earth, if it did not invite us into a sort of torrential life, where the miracles of mercy and justice, peace and forgiveness, regeneration and victory are everyday realities. My great joy is that if Christ is to be believed, it does. My great hope is that I shall let it.
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