Monday, January 16, 2012

a prophet in the morning

Odd weekend this.

Mother Nature decided on Saturday night to remind me that Oregon is not Melaque.  For two days, she has sprinkled snow on Salem.  Not the kind of snow that the good folks of Buffalo know.  This was a mere dusting of confectioner's sugar.  As if we lived inside a bundt cake.

The kind of snow that makes the hot tub feel like a hot spring in the Cascades, rather than a mere good investment.

When it snows in western Oregon, traffic disappears.  They may be good rain drivers, but snow seems to paralyze Willamette Valley drivers.

My house is on one of Salem's major streets.  Usually, I wake up in the morning to an olio of traffic noise and pedestrian commuter chatter.  Weekends are a bit quieter, but I expected the symphony of commerce to resume on Monday.

It hasn't.  Very few cars.  The sound of the morning Amtrak passing through.  No state workers hustling by on the sidewalk.

Then it hit me.  It is 16 January.  Martin Luther King Day.  (And my friend Daurel Colony's birthday.  Happy birthday, Daurel.)

Like most American holidays (and I suspect most world holidays) established to honor people whose principles we strive to imitate, Martin  Luther King Day has simply become another three-day holiday for people to sleep in or to lure shoppers into stores for sales.

But sitting here in bed, I started considering what we have done to the good Dr. King.  Like most heroes, we have slipped him through the myth machine stripping him of his humanity -- or, at least, the flaws that make all of us human.

What we have left is an icon that various politicians trot out for their own use.  As if a prophet has no value other than as a prop in a political French farce.

Nothing symbolizes that better than the controversy over one of the inscriptions on the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC.  A memorial that was dedicated just this last year.

You undoubtedly know the details, but they deserve repeating.

Two months before he was assassinated, Dr. King delivered a sermon at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church.  Some people had referred to him as a drum major of the civil rights movement.  Like most people, he was subject to self-aggrandizement.  But, in that sermon, he took a course more in line with the teachings of the God he served.

"If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice, say that I was a drum major for peace.  I was a drum major for righteousness.  And all of the other shallow things will not matter."

A very powerful statement.

But the memorial architect had limited space on the memorial.  In a desire to include a portion of the sermon that Dr. King thought summed up his life, the architect edited the quotation to: "I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness."

You don't need to be a writer to realize the truncated version does violence to the original.  The very tone changes.

But isn't that what we have done to Dr. King's dream?  To create a country where race does not matter?

Before I start sounding like an ego-bloated New York Times editor (and I may be 60-some years too late for that), I will simply suggest we might be a whole lot better off trying to live our lives as individuals rather than sinking into the politics of groups.

Now I need to get out of bed and get on with my day.  Maybe living up to a few of the principles we honor in American society. 

Even if only in the breach.


Rick said...

Very nice post - have a great day.

Steve Cotton said...

And you, as well.

Karen McGivney said...

ps the Noble Pig is in Willamette valley establishing a vineyard if you care to sample some good red wines.

Steve Cotton said...

No sampling this trip.  I am soon to return to Mexico.  Two more days

Steve Cotton said...

I will leave that topic to writers with southern heritage -- like Felipe.  But I thank you for the compliment and the confidence.

Felipe Zapata said...

Never heard of Robert E. Lee day.

Felipe Zapata said...

I'm a big fan of the Rev. MLK Jr. Wish he were still with us, but that would be a totally different world.

Steve Cotton said...

So much for punting to you.

Steve Cotton said...

It would, indeed.

Karen McGivney said...

I am an IDIOT!!! Someone told me it was Robert E Lee day. I am mistaken but not a bigot. I'm sorry please delete my comment before I inadvertently start a war.  GAH. I rarely check the calendar, don't wear a watch and believe just about everything==== stupid. 

Karen McGivney said...

the holiday is shared in some states. google it.