He has inspired me a lot lately, but I am going to go ahead and write about the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I read a collection of his sermons this month and I felt stirrings in my heart many times over. This man rallied people together – in a way that has arguably been unmatched since – eloquently using a fiery language of love, speaking on complex issues still troubling our country today. He nudged people out of crippling complacency and coaxed them out of blinding rage, citing the fiercely compassionate teachings of Jesus Christ and Gandhi. I highly recommend reading this collection, aptly entitled Strength to Love.
Even in the face of beatings and bombings and despite being followed by the FBI, MLK rose again and again to stand up and speak out against injustice. This does not mean he was never frightened – how could he not be? He admitted his recurrent fears and feelings of discouragement. He could have easily abandoned his prominent role in the Civil Rights Movement, especially at the endangerment of his own life as well as his family’s, and not many would have thought much less of him. Why didn’t he simply retire to a little church in a quiet town?
Because he couldn’t. The burden of ignoring truth is greater than suffering for truth.
I thought about this today as my soulsisterfriend, Ali, and I talked about the difficulty of living in a world that feels incongruous with our ideals. For example, it is quite a challenge for me to work in a severely overpriced, corporate-run steakhouse in the middle of billboard-ridden Times Square, as someone who is extremely conscious about the choices I make – everything from what I eat (I’m a vegetarian) to where I put my money (a small, labor union bank) to media I read (not much) to people with whom I spend my time (others who want to create a real change into the world). Sometimes, it seems so hard to find communities of people like that without going to live in intentional communities that focus on this kind of living. It also feels difficult to personally stay true to these kinds of ideals when surrounded by a lot of people who, through direct or indirect means, pollute the air or water or streets with garbage and chemicals or their brains and hearts with fear-mongering or mind-numbing television. (I’m not saying all TV is bad or that living in intentional communities are a perfect solution. I’m saying that complacency is has an extremely negative impact on our world.)
Making conscious choices often feels exhausting. Sometimes, it feels like the impact I can personally make in the world will never be enough. So, why try? Why not find a decently stimulating job that pays enough for some nice vacations and Netflix and quit worrying about changing the world? I deserve to have a night in and some fun, right?
Even writing that in a hypothetical sense makes me feel uneasy. I’ve tried to ignore what I know and it took a lot of booze just to get through each night. It was literally painful to me to try and pretend like everything is right and in balance in this world, to pretend that my actions would not have some sort of impact on the world at large.
I think that Dr. King knew he couldn’t just sit back and give emotional support to the protestors in the ’60s. It wasn’t his role to do that. He grew into a role of spokesman and leader and, even though it was a scary road, not taking that path felt untrue. He listened – he kept listening – to something deep in his heart and ended up revolutionizing the world.