Love letters are to the Heart what Swiss army knives are to my backpack. No other life form on the planet does what we Humans do when we pour out our feelings for another onto a page, put it in an envelope and send the packet off with a kiss and a prayer.
Lucky am I to have some of my Uncle Paul’s love letters, written from France during WWII. An avid letter writer herself, I love my Aunt Alice for having the forethought of leaving instructions with her kids to pass his letters on to me after her death.
Her thoughtful act came into sharp focus this past week. You see, I was in serious need of some good old-fashioned white-haired counsel when I remembered the packet of love letters sitting in my desk drawer. While intellectually, I know neither of them is here to hug me anymore, reading such love in my Uncle’s own hand instantly transported them back to my side.
The more I read, the more I heard their sage counsel whispering in the ear of my Soul, closer than my own breath. Spooky, but then again, not at all. It floors me how such power is held resident in a flat piece of old paper! In the words of those social philosophers Bill and Ted, it was “most excellent”.
At first, I wasn’t sure where this week’s Swiss army knife reference came from, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Love letters are versatile. They come in all kinds of forms and serve a host of purposes. They can be 7-page masterworks like my Uncles as easily as they can be a paragraph or two I’ve inscribed inside the cover of a birthday card.
Whatever the form, their content is what gives them their splendid character.
In writing them, we document the ache of absence as surely as we stoke the fires of dedication and passion. In committing our very Souls to the written page we defy the odds by declaring our conviction to something distant, close, but not yet seen.
When we reread them, we invoke some kind of time travel to try and bring us as close as we can be to them without actually being there. But all is not lost. For that kind of magic, you have to read them out loud. Read them that way and the words take on new and powerful costume as we imagine the sound of that Voice; the look in those Eyes; the love in that Heart. In that moment, we are there.
Earlier this week, I was taken by surprise when I overheard a lady in our local diner talking about the upcoming 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King‘s ‘I have a dream’ speech. Oblivious or just jaded, she kept going: “I’m telling you. I have had it up to here. Why does the Press keep stuffing the guy down my throat. I mean really, it’s not like he’s god or anything…”
Once I picked my jaw up from my plate, two things dawned on me. 1) Her opinion was hers to have and 2) it had been a very, very long time since I’d read Dr. King’s brief remarks made as he stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on August 28th, 1963. Suddenly, reading them again became very important to me. Not much later, I did just that.
In 19-minutes, King called us to meet the challenge of weaving the struggles of one group into the larger fabric of our whole as an ever evolving more and perfect Union. In the 19-minutes it took to deliver it, his speech joined a very small and select group of speeches that have defined and guided our struggles to grow as a nation of ‘everyone’. The more I thought about it, I wondered if it isn’t even simpler than that.
As I read what Dr. King wrote, it dawned on me for the very first time that maybe, just maybe, what he was really doing that hot August day was reading us a love letter only a fellow traveler could write.
We have each come so far. We each have so far to go. But what gives me hope our experiment in democracy will succeed are all the letters. Washington wrote them. Hancock signed his in a big way. Jefferson read them and FDR spoke his from a wheel chair. As a People, I know we’ll be fine as long as we each keep finding new ways to hammer out what a more and perfect Union means. This week, I’m particularly grateful for the love letters signed by Abraham, Martin and John.
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.
But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
READ MORE ABOUT IT:
Gary Younge, author of The Speech: The story Behind Martin Luther King’s Dream delivers a fascinating look into the back story behind the writing of Dr. King’s speech in the day and hours before it was delivered.
More to know at: http://www.garyyounge.com/?p=1667
You can also visit: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm
If you’d like to jump to more about Aunt Alice,
here are two wonderful exit ramps for your reading pleasure:
Brand New Me
Impressed at what Alicia Keys has been doing with her time in advocating for woman and children over the past few years, her latest track may well be another anthem in the making.
Click on the album cover and enjoy another form of a love letter.
Let the music play. Live your life your way this week. Sign it “love”.
PHOTO CREDITS and ATTRIBUTIONS: Banner Coastal Redwood Forest by Eric E Photography is used with permission. Visit Eric and see his other work at: http://www.ericephoto.com or http://ericephoto.wordpress.com/
sak1-600×400: http://thenewartemis.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/sak1-600×400.jpg Photo by Chris Penny (http://www.flickr.com/photos/clearlydived/) from “HOW TO INTRODUCE YOUR CHILD TO POCKET KNIVES” by Joe Gelman; Bill and Ted: http://www.jaunted.com/story/2010/9/30/123324/298/travel/’Bill+and+Ted’+to+Take+a+Third,+Excellent+Adventure ; angry-old-lady: LIKE YOU’VE GOT SOMETHING BETTER TO DO (A WordPress blog): http://lygsbtd.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/ ; MLK and LBJ: http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2010/06/audio_47_years_ago_today_marti.html; S8208-lg MLK in front of Lincoln: http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/media_detail/467/ ; MLK begins to speak: http://www.hrea.org/index.php?doc_id=948; Preach: https://top-ten.readthedocs.org/en/latest/_images/preach.png ; Kingspeaks: http://www.garyyounge.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Kingspeaks.jpg; After the speech: http://imgick.oregonlive.com/home/olive-media/pgmain/img/oregonian/photo/2013/08/-366e6d1f10b58d9d.JPG; Peace Dove: https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQBjgDx3DQUQ7sJpBKYk-Y42AZP3tZeoBS8L164jwxvw2ifyjfl; Gary Younge Header: http://www.garyyounge.com/?p=1667; alicia-keys-brand-new-me-400×400: http://idolator.com/7263712/alicia-keys-brand-new-me-listen-stream ; MLK and Coretta Scott by Bernie Kleina: http://www.sfae.com/index.php?pg=303550&c=23 and http://www.sfae.com/index.php?pg=600126
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