There was nothing symbolic about Martin Luther King being shot. No metaphor could capture the sting a community felt when yet another assassination tore at the resolve of folk who lived in their heads and dreamed of “some day,” and one day, a bullet … can punctuate a movement – but I don’t think about that day.
Not even when my son comes marching with images of the man embellished in crayon, and the kind of exuberance that only youthfulness and naivete can sustain. He wants to tell me about the dream Martin had. And the evil in the world that took it. He runs it all down for me, wide-eyed and mortified in these conversations with history where great men who dared to jut out were struck down; and the gross improprieties of it all; and the incredible immorality of it all; and the needlessness and senselessness of it all, can’t believe how damn ungodly we were.
He needs me to do something about it. To wrestle the past down into fairytales and attach “And they all lived happily ever after” at the end – but I don’t think about that day. Or the man … who steadied his hand, shouldered his rifle, and put Martin in his scope. A man who woke up that morning, and ate his eggs, and drank his coffee with a mission statement curdling his veins. A man who knew he would take a life that day. A big life. A bigger-than-can-be-believed life because all life is bigger than can be believed.
And how maybe he showered in silence, you know, feeling powerful and intentional. And whoever loved him, maybe kissed his cheek and said some not-at-all-epic thing to him as he was leaving, like, “Hey, don’t forget to pick up some milk on your way in,” and how he nodded and knew he would obligate history to remember him. Steeped in his own vast set of politics and platforms, he set his jaw against the hubris of history, and he squeezed – but I don’t think about that day. Or the one that preceded it, when Coretta must have felt something catching her back, that heavied her steps and pulled her lip down.
Must have gazed, as she did every morning, at the man she married and been struck dumb by how unlucky they were to be talking out loud about freedom and what happens when people start believing. And the women who hung the hopes they had for an entire generation on the sermons of a man Coretta married because he made her laugh. Not the tattered Bible, earmarked and underlined under his arm, but because he made her laugh. A deep and rolling laugh that moved her to girlishness and wet her mouth and smiles – no, I don’t think about that day. Or the one after it, when Coretta must have had locusts in her belly and could see neither mountaintop nor Promised Land over her children’s wailing.
Their small hands pulling at her skirt, needing her to fix it, to tell history it made a mistake. See, daddies are supposed to be forever; and bleeding out and leaving should never have been an option; and the gnashing of baby teeth; and the thunder smack of a nation’s grief – when all Coretta wanted was to remember what laughing felt like when Martin made her do it, and what dreaming felt like when Martin made her do it. And what faith felt like? And what hope felt like? And the moments that were replete with parable and possibility, and she still believed she could attach, “And they all lived happily ever after” at the end.
So now, for the gathered faithful. For the ones whose blood moves relentlessly on. For the ones who wish to be important and the ones who know they already are. For the ones who crane their necks over the sharp edges of midnight and dream their impossible lives can be fat with a sugared revolution: I know you. I know you’ve been keeping stars in your eyes, and I know daggers have been at your throats. I know you practice the forgetting of fear. To the ones who were never told that they are worthy of every good and perfect thing because maybe you don’t pray to the God you grew up with, or maybe you didn’t fall in love with the boy you were supposed to, or, in some cases, any boy at all. I know it ain’t easy. I know how hard you try.
To live a life with enough people in it who would look you in the eye and call you by your name. I know, you never meant to be so symbolic, so sacrificial, all of you, with your faith that all of this has been a rehearsal – some strange experiment and suffering lesson. You are not victims, not charity cases, not history’s bad-luck accidents. So to the holding-on ones, the soon, and very-soon ones: Just praise. Praise your body and the way you woke up this morning. Praise the miracle and the mess. Praise the language you were born with and the ones you are learning. Praise the opening of the gates. Praise the child you were and the adult you are becoming. Praise the becoming. Praise the journey.
Praise the fight. Praise the wherewithal. Praise the riding of wind without asking permission. Praise. Praise the universe – in your rib cage. Praise the trench that taught you about darkness, and praise the day you danced in the light. Praise the laughter that lives in your belly. Praise the gardens you can plant – in your bones. Praise the bamboo your spine can become. Praise the stories you kept – and the ones didn’t. Praise your resurrection. Praise your fists and the way you do not use them.