- At the Desert Retreat House -
I was in New York over Christmas, visiting the newly opened 9/11 memorial in lower Manhattan. The place was literally packed with people from all over the world come to pay tribute to those who died when those two towers came crashing down, and to view first-hand the tragic effects of terrorism.
I remember one particular conversation I overheard as I stood there on that holy ground of the memorial. Observing the hordes of people as they stood silently and tearfully before the twisted girders and pile of rubble that once was the mighty twin towers, she looked up at her daddy and asked, "I don't understand why this place is so special."
My first reaction to what that chid said was incredulity- of course this is a special place, it is holy ground. But then I realized that this little girl wasn't born yet when the events of 9/11 happened. And that is precisely why a museum and a memorial such as this are so important- to remind us all and teach our children about what went on that day in September 2001, so that they can carry with them a vivid picture of what happens when violence and hatred hold sway.
On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day I recall that conversation last month in that memorial. Many people today weren't even alive when Dr. King preached and wrote and marched - that's why we need this annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Day - not only to keep his memory alive but to keep his dream alive.
I am old enough to remember that day when Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking out at the national mall teeming with people from all across the nation- people of all races, all sizes and shapes, ages and beliefs. I remember his booming voice announcing his prophetic vision- his powerful hopes and dreams for the unity of all human beings:
I have a dream that in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves
and the sons of former slave owners
will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood...
And so let freedom ring from every mountainside..and when we allow freedom to ring..
we will speed up the day when black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles,
Protestants and Catholics,
will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual,
Free at last. Free at last.
Thank God almighty we are free at last.
I recall hearing that speech all those many years ago. There wasn't a dry eye in the crowd as people thundered their approval. It was all so breathtaking, as if somehow Dr. King had tapped into the mind of "God," painting a picture of how everything is meant to be - a perfect harmony with equal dignity for everyone.
My guess is that had he lived long enough, Dr. King may well have expanded his dream to include not only Protestants and Catholics joining hands but Muslims and Buddhists, Jews and Palestinians, Gay people and straight people all holding hands together, all in harmony with the world of nature.
When I think about Dr. King's dream and look at our war-torn world of violence and division, when I think about how we have torn apart the planet and abused the world of nature, I am tempted to think that his dream was little more than fantasy. Yet, "deep in my heart I still do believe" that Dr. King's dream is indeed "God's" dream for us. It is the vision of Jesus and the vision of the Buddha. It is a dream about who we really are and about all we are yet capable of becoming.
So I hold up that dream this day and pledge to do my part to make it a reality.
I am reminded of a proverb in the Hebrew Scriptures:
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
Today is a day to keep the dream alive until indeed we are free at last, free at last!