“The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.” As we celebrate Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday and legacy, I pulled up some of his quotes. His Dream Speech is one we know and hear but, as is the case with people, he was a lot more than one moment. Dr. King’s commitment to service and justice are examples to live by.
When Dr. King was alive, he was not always popular but he kept on because, as he said, “When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. ” Doing what he felt was right was often very hard for Dr. King. When I say hard, I don’t mean hard like when someone, like me, who is not a morning person, wakes up before the chickens in order to get my morning run in before my workday. I mean hard like if you decide to stand up for what is just, it may lead to the imprisonment, harm, or death of you and maybe even some of your loved ones. Dr. King, and those who he worked with, made unimaginable sacrifices in the service of others.
Sometimes, the thought of action can be so overwhelming that it keeps you in the thinking (and maybe watching videos about it) phase. When I first started running long distances, the furthest I had run was around four miles and I was spent at the end of those miles. Even though I watched New York Marathoners run past my block and they looked like regular folk, I believed they must be exceptional beings because, as far as I was concerned, regular folk couldn’t possibly run further than five miles without collapsing. I met a woman who urged me to start with trying to complete a 10k race and see how that went. Then she suggested a half marathon. You should have seen me at the end of that half marathon! You’d think I had found the answer to all life’s problems, that’s how elated I was. I then decided to tackle the marathon. As I had conquered each mile, I believed more and more that regular old me could be one of those running down Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, on my way to completing the New York Marathon. It took the little things to get to the greatness of the marathon. To get to that though, I had to inch from under the massive shadow of intimidation and inch slowly to 26.2 miles. It wasn’t always steps forward; I have lost count of how many times injury and illness have taken me back to mile one. However, I do know now that not even trying is so much worse.
Dr. King knew that service is not an easy thing to dive into and often we are so overwhelmed by all that needs to be done that we end up doing nothing. We don’t have to save the world all on our own. If we all do what we can, together we can do amazing things. In the words of Dr. King, “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve… You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Even during this pandemic, there are opportunities every day to serve and you don’t even have to figure it all out on your own. Organizations such as Americorps can help link you up with opportunities and there is an incredible range of ways in which you can serve, from sending card and letters to those who feel alone, to donating to food and clothing drives. You can also welcome and encourage service in others. When someone does something good for you, even if you don’t need it, show your appreciation and resolve to pay it forward. When someone holds a door open for you, it’s not because they think you don’t know how to open a door, it is a way of showing, in a small way, that they see you and want to do a nice thing for you. That a great thing. Don’t limit yourself to just the one day. May the National Day of Service be a reminder of the value of serving every day. Each of our small acts will bring positive change.
There are books, films, a podcasts about Martin Luther King Jr. I wouldn’t know where to start in recommendations. What I can say is that each time read, watch, or listen to something on Dr. King, I learn something new. I learn more about him, about the Civil Rights movement, and about those around him. Part of the Civil Rights movement is path to a place where more voices are heard and valued, and one marvelous gift that comes with hearing more voices is that we get to see and learn history through different sets of eyes. There is the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Each blind man felt a different part of the elephant and came away believing that they knew what an elephant was. They argued with each other, each believing that they knew the elephant. Yet, the full picture of the elephant could only come through their collective knowledge. So take the time to find a new facet of the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr. and understand not only the impact of the good he did but also the remarkable challenges he faced throughout his life to his early passing. Celebrate Dr. King’s legacy and “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right”.