Today was MLK Day, but yesterday was the day I cried.
I was driving to a TransitMatters work event in Everett, my Honda Fit loaded with wayfinding signs ready to be sorted and assembled. I turned on the radio as I was passing through Oak Square, and my car stereo was already set to WBUR. It was a Sunday morning, so what came out were the dulcet tones of the Reverend Doctor Robert Allan Hill, the Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University. I don't usually listen to the Sunday service, or go to church at all - I'm an agnostic. But today, the sermon was built around Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail, and I felt a sort of obligation to listen.
I didn't tune in at the beginning of the broadcast - I started listening somewhere around the fourth paragraph or so - but I listened through the entirety of the remainder of the service. I think that there was some gap in me that, at that moment, that sermon filled. Both in its beautiful words and in its meaningful counsel. But really, the words that were doing the filling were those of Martin Luther King, written in 1963 from a cell in Alabama.
I am ashamed to say that while I have perhaps at one time or another read the Letter, I did not remember its contents. It is not a text that I know by heart - few are. But the words carried such force, and so clearly addressed our time, that they rang in my head as if they had been verse that I had committed to memory over hours of study and months of meditation. The words of Dr. King are not just words for the past, but also words for the present, and they will be words for the future, too, until the hard work of progress is done. Is it any surprise that I cried while listening? First out of a sense of overwhelming sadness, that these words are still necessary, and then out of a determined hope that the vision embodied by the Letter and espoused by Dr. King may yet come to pass.
It seems somehow fitting that the Inauguration should come so close to MLK Day. It is fitting that this day of remembrance of one of the greatest moral, political, and spiritual leaders this nation has known should come so close to the day that we as a nation bestow immense power and responsibility upon another leader. It should be a reminder of what has been done and what must be done - a reminder of how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.
This year of all years the call to justice of Dr. King seems fresher and more urgent. I realize, of course, that this is an expression of my privilege - the call has been just as loud since the day enslaved Africans were brought to these shores, and the 400-odd year history of oppression has been present for my entire life. I am not proud to say that I did not until this year fully internalize, somehow, the immense injustice that sits on this land like a backbreaking weight. I hope now to never lose the sense of urgency that 2020 brought us, and that rings in the Letter.
There is more that I should write, and more that I should think, about this, but I don't have the time today. I hope that, in 2021, I am able to make the time to think, to work, to more fully understand the Great Problem and bend my efforts toward fixing it.