Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 81 today

Friday, January 15, 2010

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law. Martin Luther King Jr.

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall – think of it, always." Mohandas K. Gandhi

On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. met his end at the hands of an assassin’s bullet at the age of 39. Today, he would have been celebrating his 81st birthday. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi another apostle of non-violence met his end on his way to morning prayers at the hands of an assassin’s bullet murdered sixty years ago at the age of 79 on January 30, 1948. Steven Bantu Biko, nonviolent student leader and anti-apartheid activist, was brutally beaten to death by South African police on September 12, 1977 at the age of 30. Benigno Aquino Jr returned to the Philippines on board a commercial jet from exile to carry on his struggle for democracy in the face of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship only to meet with an extrajudicial execution by government forces at the airport on August 21, 1983 at age 50.

All of these individuals made choices living out moral and ethical principles in their public lives that despite their deaths continue to have positive consequences in the World. Every day we have choices to make. Shall we act out of despair or hope; hatred or love; selfishness or self-sacrifice. These are choices we make everyday, and every decision is like a rock dropped into a lake with ripples spreading out across the water’s surface. Some rocks are bigger than others and leave a bigger wake, but all have an impact from the smallest to the largest. Vaclav Havel in 1969 in the midst of the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia wrote a letter to one of the deposed communist reformers Alexander Dubcek in which he expressed a profound and often overlooked truth that "Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance." Twenty years later they would meet and embrace as communism ended nonviolently in that country.

Clare Booth Luce said that "no good deed goes unpunished," but many forget that she also said: ’In the final analysis there is no other solution to man’s progress but the day’s honest work, the day’s honest decision, the day’s generous influences, and the day’s good deed." The Baptist Minister born in Atlanta Georgia understood this as did the attorney trained in India, as did the South African student leader and Philippine journalist and political activist. Doing the right thing does not guarantee safety, security, fame or wealth but it does guarantee something infinitely more important: peace of mind. The ability to sleep soundly at night and the growth of one’s soul through the obstacles and real suffering faced.

On April 3, 1968 Reverend King, gave his final speech I’ve been to the Mountaintop. He made biblical references to Moses who had served God’s purposes, but due to his own inadequacies would only be able to see the Promised Land not actually get to it. He spoke of the attempt on his life early in the Civil Rights movement when a demented black woman attacked him with a letter opener plunging it into his chest fractions of an inch from piercing his aorta, which would have led to him bleeding out and dying on the spot. He went on to describe the one letter that he could still remember among many sent to him as a convalesced in a Harlem hospital. They had opened his chest to remove the letter opener lodged so near to his heart. He did not remember what the letter from the President of the United States said, or that of the Governor, or the numerous other famous people who wrote to him, but a little school girl who said that she had read how if he had but sneezed that letter opener would’ve pierced his heart and he would have died. She was glad that he had not sneezed. He shared her sentiment, and went to list all that he would not have experienced if had died that day, but completed his summation of all that had been accomplished saying that he feared nothing because he had been to the mountain top and was a servant of God with references to longevity being something positive but not necessary.

It was because Reverend King believed as a man of God in a universe which is morally transcendent and "that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."

The next day he was gone, but you reading this are still here. Will you be the change you want to see in the world? Will you do the good deed even if you know that the consequences will not benefit you personally but to the contrary cause you pain? You should ask yourself that question everyday. It isn’t easy, but no one ever said life was going to be.

Happy Birthday Reverend King.

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