Monday, January 16, 2012

Reflections on Dr. Martin Luther King: Freedom, Dreams, and Dental Work.

Nothing sheds light on the relativity of life like a little reflection on Martin Luther King. While his immeasurable gifts shed hope for many -- and still incite anger in some -- they continue to inspire and intrigue me. I often wonder how Dr. King managed such compassion in the face of such adversity and hatred.  I wonder how he found the strength to face violence with peace and meet ignorance with words.  His glorious speeches and graceful delivery of concepts so simple, so basic - love one another - move me every time I read something he wrote.  Or, better yet, hear a recording of his resonant tenor voice sailing high above earthly distractions and stating something real and true and incredibly brave.  And always, let us not forget, risking his own life for the possibility of a better, stronger, more peaceful world.

After the manic commercialism of Christmas and the relentless resolution-obsessed New Years (Hello crash diets and weight loss goals, won't you come in?) it is comforting to have this day, Martin Luther King Day, as one of reflection. I try to dedicate it to thoughts about issues other than my own microsocmic happenings and to an examination of struggles bigger than my daily difficulties.  That is not to say I believe in dimishing my own reality simply because Dr. King's seemed more worldy.  Neither do I practice "comparative pain" because perhaps my problems aren't likely to lead to assassination attempts or threats of global violence.

I just try to put things in perspective - and I think that is always a useful - albeit challenging - endeavor.

I am always inspired by those brave men and women who have risked their own individual lives to save the lives of others.  Who have taken action in order to save the life of a whole country.  I have never done either.  At least not to my knowledge.  It doesn't make the fact that I am facing deadlines and health concerns and family worries any less real, but it does give me the perspective I need to place each of my challenges in its own category and remind myself that as long as I am alive, as long as I am a thinking, feeling, functional being, I am ok.  And, as Sharon Salzberg so wonderfully insists, whether or not I worry, or persevere, or  give up entirely, "Something will happen."  I don't use Sharon's wonderful mantra-esque message to avoid responsibility  - after all, inert objects will certainly not "happen" without some diligence and movement on my part -- but when worry and struggle and self-inflicted pain begin to usurp the things and events and needs they pretend to be about, I think it's time to let go of the things themselves, let the feelings detach and wash away, and then reengage with the moments, and the people, and the meanings of things, rather than the day-to-day administrative functions we often confuse with living our lives.  It is time to stop.  Look.  Listen.  And dream.  And if anything, I am now starting to think, after 38 years, that it is the dreaming that makes us big. And brave. And unstoppable in the face of adversity and conflict.  The dreams Dr. King allowed himself changed the world, even though, when he dreamed them, they seemed larger than life to some, laughable to others, and impossible to all.

In addition to the power of Dr. King's vision and the strength of his spirit, Martin Luther King Day has always had a secondary meaning for me -  on this day in 1987, my othodontist removed my braces.  I was 14 years old, in ninth grade, and had had my braces (which I referred to with the dramatic hyperbole of a typical teenager as "dental shackles") for two years.  My parents, ever diligent about my school attendance, scheduled the orthodontist appointment to cooincide with a day off from school - "a holiday that wasn't really a holiday" to me.  Not back then, anyway.  While any other day at the dentist would have filled me with the typical angst that only a day off school would even begin to assuage, this particular appointment was a welcome visit, any day, any time.  A ceremonial separation from the wires and brackets of my junior highschool years and an unveiling of a new smile.  A straighter mouth.  A changed version of myself.

I have always been a little embarassed to associate the magnificence of Dr. King with something as banal as my highschool orthodontics.  But now, of course, I see the symbolism of freedom and change, the discomfort I had to endure in my tiny little microcosmic sphere in order to reach the end of a journey (in my case, two years of mouth sores and jaw pain).  And this is where the relativity factor comes in - some would argue that a teenager living through braces has nothing to do with civil rights and slavery and assassination, and I wholeheartedly agree.  But, boiled down to its most basic premise - the dream of a different, better world (whatever that means for every individual within the larger whole) -- there is a connection.  And I no longer believe I am diluting the enormity of Dr. King's message or his work by drawing it clearly here:

"I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream."  (Dr. Martin Luther King's  "I Have a Dream" speech, Aug. 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington, Washington, DC.) 

Below is the framed picture of Martin Luther King that sits beside his "I Have a Dream" speech at the top of my stairs.  I look at it every morning and every night, and it certainly gives me hope for better today and a brighter tomorrow:

In freedom and peace - whatever that means for you,
~~ Hasky

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