Monday, January 15, 2024

#15 / I'm So Happy That You Didn't Sneeze

The last speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is titled, "I've Been To The Mountaintop." Dr. King delivered this speech in support of the striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968 — the day before he was assassinated.  If you will click that link, above, you can read the speech in its entirety. Here, I am providing a little excerpt from the speech, including a story, told by Dr. King, that is touching in its sincerity:

You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, "Are you Martin Luther King?" 
And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that's punctured, you drown in your own blood—that's the end of you. 
It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states, and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I've forgotten what those telegrams said. I'd received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I've forgotten what the letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I'll never forget it. It said simply, "Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School." She said, "While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I'm simply writing you to say that I'm so happy that you didn't sneeze" (emphasis added). 
All of us were blessed by the fact that Dr. King "didn't sneeze" after that assassination attempt in New York City. We celebrate this day, as a national holiday, as a recognition of our debt to Dr. King, and to the entire Civil Rights Movement that he so powerfully helped inspire.

Sometimes, as The New York Times reported, a sneeze might end a life. But - even if a sneeze is not life threatening, and surely we have all experienced this - a sneeze powerfully interrupts whatever it is we're doing. It really does that! Whatever we're doing, it knocks us off track!

So, let me just say something about "interruptions," sneezes included, of course, but really thinking about all of those various things that sometime simply take us away from where we are, and what we're doing, and that distract us from whatever task or activity in which we may be involved. Sneezes are something that might do that. And assassinations, too. Even more so.

Our national movement for racial, and social, and economic justice was interrupted by the assassination of Dr. King in Memphis - powerfully interrupted. Today would be a good day to think about whether that statement rings true, or not. I think it does.

Let us decide and determine - and today would be a good day to do it - that the interruption caused by Dr. King's assassination has caused enough distraction and delay. On April 3, 1968, Dr. King was in Memphis speaking to the need for economic justice. He had been speaking out against the escalating war in Vietnam, as well. We can't have racial and social justice without economic justice. We can't have any kind of justice while we participate in and perpetuate the horrors of the kinds of war still raging, and that are on our minds, today. Dr. King knew that. He said that. And that message has been interrupted. 

We need to return to the work that Dr. King was doing when he was struck down. He was on the "mountaintop," but not yet in that "promised land." We're not there, either. 

Today would be a good day, don't you think, solemnly to resolve that we will leave behind all the distractions and delays that have kept us from completing the work in which Dr. King was engaged, including the fight for economic justice and and his insistence that we bring an end to the horrors of war?

It would make us so happy if Dr. King were still here to lead us, and to inspire our efforts to accomplish all that he was striving for. But, as we know, he is not, except in our memories - in those memories we return to today. 

Come, memory! Recall us, individually and collectively, to the work in which we were engaged before we were interrupted by the assassin's bullet that ended the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Take us back to the work and the tasks that Dr. King told us we simply must accomplish. Doing that, renewing our commitment to the work in which Dr. King was leading us, is the thing that can make us happy, once again. That is the work that can make us proud of ourelves, as we renew, with increased effort, and with the whole of our lives, our focused, tenacious, and unstoppable work for justice and peace.

An assasin's bullet ended the life of Dr. King. It has not ended ours. 

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