Fifty years ago on this day, I was holding my first-born in my arms. I had married an Aussie and custom had it that women had to lie in for ten days. Wow, now all they get is a drink of juice and cookie and a bundle and hit the road. Ten days was dignified. My daughter had been born at 11PM on April 3. I was still quite new to the business of mothering. So here I was ten thousand miles away from my own country, trying to figure out breast-feeding and the business of mothering while half way around the world, disaster struck again. We didn’t have internet or tweets or any of the social media that gets instant gratification today. And so, I heard about it from an Aussie nurse who came in to check on me and my new bundle.
I held my daughter close to my heart and wept. We had already lost a president, and now a hero, Dr. Martin Luther King. I remember how I felt such loss, such betrayal, such agony. As a new mum, I wanted to promise my children peace and safety and maybe just a little bit of wonder. And here I was rocking and weeping and praying: “Lord make it stop!” The violence on the planet was escalating. Viet Nam was on fire and the streets of my own country were ablaze with protests. In the middle of it all, a courageous visionary was gunned down at a motel in Memphis.
Years later, that same daughter and I were on a pilgrimage across country. We were driving a beaten up SUV loaded to the gills. Our goal was to deliver her to a two year assignment in an all black high school in North Carolina. She would teach for America before she set off for a PhD at Yale. Wow, This same kid that I rocked so long ago was following the road of human rights.
So we made this road trip count. We veered off at Memphis and went to the museum there. The counter, the bus, the hangings, the marches, the black history that so few whites really knew was there before us. The museum ended at the site of April 4, 1968 at the very motel where a hero died needlessly. The toussled bed covers, the dinner on the plate had been frozen in time.
I’ve never forgotten that moment. I don’t think my daughter has either. She went on to teach and fall in love with so many of her students who struggled the race card. So many of those same students lost relatives to drive by shootings.
Now twenty-five years later, has anything changed? Sure. Our newborns are inheriting an even higher level of violence. Safety is a treasured word that means very little on a day of automatic weapons and crazies and anger piled upon anger. Have we learned nothing?
I’m in my seventies and I still won’t give up. In MLK’s immortal words: “We as a people will get to the promised land.” What did he see that night when he had been to the mountain top? I can but wonder.