Remember the Dream

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and none of it was planned.  The night before, King asked his aides for advice about the speech, as to whether he should use the “I Have a Dream” line, which he had used a few times before.  His advisor, Wyatt Walker, said, “It’s trite, it’s cliche.  You’ve used it too many times already.” The next day, King did not plan to use it.  He wanted something as powerful as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address but just couldn’t seem to nail it.  When he reached the podium, it was almost 90 degrees and the crowd of 250,000 people had been standing in the heat for hours.  King was 16th on the program, almost at the very end.  As Norman Mailer wrote, “there was… an air of subtle depression, of wistful apathy which existed in many. One felt a little of the muted disappointment which attacks a crowd in the seventh inning of a very important baseball game when the score has gone 11-3.” King delivered a rather staid address, reading from his notes, but it clearly wasn’t as passionate as other speeches he had given in the past.  As he neared the end, Mahalia Jackson, who was behind him, having sung earlier, cried out: “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!” King paused, put down his notes and decided to preach like the Baptist minister he was, and the rest is history:

“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 the table of brotherhood…I have a dream that my four little 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 that…one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” (The Guardian: Aug 9, 2013.)

Over 50 years later, some of the dream has come to fruition, like having a black president in the White House the past eight years, but racial tensions continue, with white cops killing innocent blacks and blacks retaliating.  Most recently in the news, there was a very sad and disturbing story of four angry black teens kidnapping and torturing a disabled white teen to seek revenge on all white people.  The ordeal was videotaped by the teens and posted to social media because I guess getting noticed for their hatred was far more important than not getting caught.  Still, it makes me so sad and angry that all these years after the Civil Rights Movement, there continues to be more racial hatred and violence.  Dr. King would be so disheartened to see this, and yet I’m sure he wouldn’t be surprised.  Racism is taught at home and anti-racism has to be taught as well.  Children don’t just grow up knowing the importance of not judging by the color of one’s skin. It has to be taught.  Children aren’t born racist.  Babies love all colors; they love people who play with them.  It is adults who teach them to be mean and judgmental and afraid of people not like them.  And we should be ashamed.

My family is fortunate in that we can afford to live in a town that is very racially and religiously diverse, with 30% Jews and many Asians and African Americans.  My son’s classroom last year was 50% non white, his teacher was Indian-American and his aide was African-American.  The year before, his teacher was Costa Rican. My daughter’s school is an international school with 75 countries represented. At her birthday party, half of all the girls spoke another language as their first language.  My husband’s best friend is Japanese, and our kids have grown up thinking that “Crazy Uncle Dave” is somehow blood related, even though we are pale white people.   My kids know that discriminating against people because of the color of their skin is like choosing friends because of the color of their tennis shoes– it’s pretty random and unfair. But not all parents teach this.  Some white children are taught to hate and fear blacks and visa versa, and that’s sad, because the cycle will never end until all of us learn and teach the right thing.

As you begin this new year, committed to finding and living your world stage, remember the brave preacher that one hot August day, who had a dream that someday black children would be equal to white.  This is also a man who took a chance, against the advice of his aides, and put his speech down, knowing he had no other words to read from, and followed his heart in order to inspire a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people looking for direction and hope.  Remember to ask yourself how you are helping Martin Luther King’s dream to live on in the way you live your life.  And ask yourself what your “I Have A Dream” speech is, and what would happen if just once, you lay down your notes and spoke from your heart.  You might just make history too.

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All is Well

I’m on vacation right now in Maine enjoying the last days of summer with my family. I’m sitting on the deck of my parents’ summer house in Maine looking out at the lake as the sun is newly rising. It is completely quiet and it’s one of those moments when all feels right with the world.

It’s so easy particularly when not on vacation to find a million things wrong with the world, whether it’s ISIS and random terrorist attacks, continued racial and religious strife, or a political year that is frustrating, uninspiring and a bit scary. People seem more rushed and rude and entitled than they used to. It’s easy to feel that things and people were better before. That’s why it’s so helpful to read some history to remind oneself of even more terrifying times. Right now I’m reading about JFK’s presidency, and even though it all took place before I was born, it is helpful to know that the crises then were far bigger. By 1963, Americans had fought or were fighting in three major wars in less than twenty years, from World War II to the Korean War to the Vietnam War. The Cold War with Russia was a huge national threat and the Cuban Missile Crisis had put America on the verge of nuclear war. The Civil Rights Movement was just beginning, and blacks were regularly being lynched for daring to be treated equally to whites. Vietnamese children were being killed by bombs in their villages and Buddhist monks were setting themselves on fire. It was a very scary time.

Today we have Islamic extremists trying to spread terror throughout the world and we have many people so disillusioned with our country that they are willing to vote for an erratic business mogul with no understanding of foreign policy, just to make a point. And there are tens of thousands of children being killed in Syria every year. But the Berlin wall was taken down in my lifetime, we have a black president, and we may very well have our first woman president by the end of this year. That’s good news.

Right now, as I sit and listen to the sound of early morning birds and watch the sun dancing on the lake, I remind myself how lucky Americans are to be free and to be able to determine the course of their lives. There is certainly no better time or place to be a woman than in America in 2016, compared to many women around the globe who are sadly still oppressed, without access to education or other basic freedoms.

But today on this lovely morning in late August, I am grateful for the brave souls who came before us and paved a better world: for Abraham Lincoln, who changed the course of history, standing up for a united group of states that would no longer tolerate slavery; for the early suffragettes who insisted that women have the right to vote; for all the brave soldiers who fought in all the wars of the 20th century; for JFK who stood up to the Russians and forced them to turn around their ships in Cuba, averting a nuclear crisis; and to Obama, who helped all black children realize that something great was possible for them if they worked hard and dreamed big.

In finding our world stage, even though it’s important for us to ask what isn’t working in order to create something better, it’s also important to notice all the things that do work in our lives and in our world, so we don’t get lost in unnecessary despair. Reading history helps to give perspective about the world, and being in nature reminds us of life’s basic perfection. When you start to feel frustrated or sad, remember that the world is unfolding as it should and that all is well.

Here is an excerpt of my favorite quote, called Desiderata, which means “desired things” in Latin, and was written by Max Ehrmann in 1927:

“Go placidly among the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence…be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should…”

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This is a picture I took of a bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan.