Jan. 15 is the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. He would have been 87. Some readers may know Dr. King is one of the stars by which I chart my course, and every Jan. 15 I mentally wish him a happy birthday. I even have a tattered birthday button I used to wear this time of year until its remnants were relegated to a box on my dresser.
Another ritual was calling my friend, Cobby, to wish him a Happy Dr. King’s birthday. He’d always reply, “But that’s not till Monday, Trish.” And I’d always say, “Yes, the holiday is Monday, but today is his actual birthday.”
This ritual started out as a random thing too many years ago to count. That first time, I reminded my friend that Dr. King was born the year before he was, and besides the fact that they were both black, they were also both Depression-era kids. It was like flipping a switch.
My friend broke into stories about the late 1930s and his grandfather who had been a slave and died when Cobby was 9. He talked about being a little kid when so many Americans were struggling, about the different jobs he did as a child even though his family was relatively comfortable compared to others at the time, and about being a teenager as World War II was raging.
He associated his experiences during the Depression and WWII with his desire to serve his country, prompting him to convince his mother to agree to letting him join the Navy at 17. I hung on his every word as they came together to create this incredible, living audio history book.
I tried the same thing the next year to the same effect, and Dr. King’s birthday week quickly became a special time of the year that I associate with my friend. In that vein I’d like to propose something new to think about during this holiday weekend.
Of course it’s important to honor Dr. King’s legacy, especially as it pertains to race. Our nation is having difficult conversations about our progress since Dr. King’s untimely death. There’s more to Dr. King’s legacy than just race, though.
Dr. King was a humanist. He believed in people and their power to come together to build a better present and future, and I’m hoping his memory can inspire readers to think in terms of coming together. It can start small.
Like, pick a friend, a partner, a child in your life, or a relative and have a different conversation. Ask a deeper question, probe a memory and listen. Try to learn something from that person that helps you see the world in a different way, and then share back.
That intimate sharing may just spread to other areas in your life, helping you to see more and more things through a different lens until you realize that we humans are more alike than we are different. That weirdo outside the store or that person you hate to deal with might just have a story that could change your perceptions.
I’m not suggesting you walk up to someone you think is a weirdo and strike up a conversation, but I am suggesting that deeper interactions with each other can enlighten the way we view everyone around us. Dr. King said:
We see men as Jews or Gentiles, Catholics or Protestants, Chinese or Americans, Negroes or Whites. We fail to think of them as fellow human beings made from the same basic stuff as we, molded in the same divine image.
I would add: rich or poor, crazy or not, nice car or not — our list of labels and designations is long. Heck, even if we were the same color, I swear humans would still be differentiating and judging each other on other superficial measures.
Dr. King also warned us 40 years ago that, “this may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.” I worry that we still choose chaos too much and that our 24/7 high-demand digital lifestyles make us more susceptible to that choice. Celebrating the weekend by slowing down for a moment to appreciate someone you love or care about in a new and deeper way would be a good first step toward choosing community.
Endnote: When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day finally rolled around, I’d call my friend and say, “Happy (insert pejorative term for a black person) Day to my favorite (insert same word again)! Every time, he’d let out a big laugh, and we’d make arrangements for a holiday visit and more reminiscing.
This year is the third year I will say it to the air, but since this blogging thing is the result of his pushing me to write again, I’m going to include the sentiment in this post. I hope my inappropriateness makes him laugh extra hard in heaven. We loved to make each other laugh.
Happy N Day to my favorite N wherever you are! I miss you.