Maybe it’s a bit late to ponder Martin Luther King Jr. into the wee hours of the third Monday on January.
It is, of course, a cliché to say Martin, Dr. King, is a great hero of mine. But I’ve heard late evenings on federal holidays are a good time to overstate the obvious.
I was a school teacher for a decade, working alongside one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever known. She experienced the Civil Rights Movement, marching on campuses and demonstrating in the nonviolent methods embraced by Dr. King. Each year in our classroom, we would spend a month digging into terms like prejudice and segregation. She would read this great chapter book about Martin. It started when he was a kid struggling to understand why he couldn’t play with his white friends anymore, and walked life with him through the garbage workers strike in Memphis. When she retired, I took the baton with less real world knowledge but an equal amount of reverence. On MLK Day each year, our school had all kinds of events and they were great even if I did sometimes find myself wondering what effect we were really having.
I changed careers last year and so today, MLK Day, I worked in my new role as an insurance agent. I kept wondering why I couldn’t get anyone at my companies to answer the phone, only to realize it was a federal holiday.
Around lunch time, in the midst of cleaning leaves off the front walk, I wondered what Martin would think. So many had taken the day off, staying home with the kids or serving the community in some way, giving a little back. And here I was, carrying on as usual, raking leaves and helping people better understand insurance. Should I have done something different?
Maybe I could find some answers considering the choices people made during the Civil Rights Movement.
Most people went on working during the Montgomery bus boycott. Cars would go around picking some folks up to take them to work others walked for miles. That went on for over a year. Can you imagine? Each one of those hard working people chose not to step on the easiest form of transportation, for over a year, and they still made it to work.
Others took days off of school. The children’s march is one of the most beautiful/ugly/storied moments in the Civil Rights Movement. Birmingham, Bull Conner, the heart of segregation in 1963. Adults couldn’t protest for fear of losing their jobs and an important moment seemed to be lost. But James Bevel, with the help of a local radio DJ, rallied the kids and, even in defiance of Martin himself, kids from ages 4 to 18 marched, got arrested, were freed, and marched again. Those scenes with the dogs, the hoses, that was to stop a bunch of kids who were peacefully marching for equal rights. That was their day off school.
And plenty of people took time off work too. How many people experienced the “I Have a Dream..” speech on a Wednesday? Plenty of them must have missed work to get on those buses and head for Washington D.C.
So maybe everyone has their own way of doing the right thing. Maybe I am serving in my own way and the point is to be ready when the moment, whenever it is, presents itself.
I’m sure Martin appreciates a day in his honor, as he well should. And with hindsight I think I’ll make a different choice next year. But whatever you did today, whether you wrote a protest song, brought home a little more bacon, or played Chutes & Ladders with the kids, I hope you took a moment, like you do everyday, to consider the little things you add to the world, your community, your family, and just you. If you did something amazing today, great, keep it up. And if you went to work, I don’t think Martin minds.