Under the Black Blanket

04/04/11

In Memoriam, MLK: "Longevity has its place."

April, 4, 1968, RIP.

I do remember where I was when I first heard the name, Martin Luther King, but he was already gone.

It was a warm spring afternoon in San Francisco. I  was in second grade, playing at a friend's house. Suddenly her mother burst into alarming sobs, much like the alarming sobs of my own mother four years before, on another dark day in the 1960s.

Halfway across the continent, a man whose birthday would be celebrated by my children decades later, had been shot dead.

On this warm rainy spring day in New York, we can still listen to the amazing, last speech that MLK delivered the night before he died, to striking workers in Memphis.

It's uncanny, moving, and worth hearing. He seemed to know his time was up. 

From the final few lines:

"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

Whether you believe in an afterlife, as he apparently did, or not, the lesson of MLK is that our time here is limited and should be put to its best purpose, every day.

"Longevity," he said, "has its place." There were - and still are -  other, more important goals than long life, ease and comfort, for people with the courage and conviction to defy bigotry and savagery.

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