“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
Today is Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.
Of all the civil rights leaders I’ve been fortunate to learn about, he is one of my favorites; his message about the power of Love and Forgiveness has always deeply touched me. To have been as courageous as he was to preach forgiveness and nonviolence against white people, especially in that period when racism was a brutal, physical, reality, and still persist in his benevolence… I can’t even imagine it. And, sometimes, admittedly, I don’t.
I have a dream: Imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. as human.
Rather than the prophetic force he’s been eulogized to be, imagine Martin Luther King Jr. as just another man walking down the street, or sitting at a bus stop looking down at his knees, pensive… wondering whether or not he was doing the right thing.
Imagine him in his broken moments — frustrated, angry, irritable, and unleaderly, and pray he had someone to love him when he was weak. Imagine him in solitude, right before he met with his council, willing himself to breathe… willing himself to be what he needed to be to inspire *others* to keep going. Then pray that he had someone to lean on.
When we think of our heroes, our idols, we often think about how much they touched *us*, how much they gave *us*. We rarely think about what they reaped in return–what it was like, for instance, to step off the podium after delivering one of the most riveting speeches ever given: I Have a Dream.
What nightmare did this dream, so powerful, so vast, and so specific, come from? When Dr. King was tired from the constant wrongs against his people, who helped raise him up again? Who heard his confessions, then? What would he have given to be seen, plainly, as Martin?
I believe that the beacon of light heroes often become in our eyes is strenuous, draining, and often enough, misleading–a double-edged sword. I believe our thirst for inspiration robs *heroes* of the right to be as imperfect as they are– as we all are, and consequently, the right to believe that we, too, are powerful. For instance, do we truly marvel at how great Martin Luther King Jr. was, or do we, as children right before bedtime, let our thoughts entertain the fantastical nature of heroes as permission to go back to sleep?
By making a *choice* to constantly describe the brave acts of everyday people as “divine”, aren’t we simply absolving ourselves of the responsibility to do what is right, in real time? In our eagerness to edify, we rob ourselves of the right to dream as heroes dreamed, to lead as prophets led… for how can any of us live up to such a hero as Martin Luther King? How can any of us be as glorious, shine a light as luminous as he did?
This is why we must imagine heroes as human, and we must imagine them, too, as weak. We must see ourselves in their light; walk the paths they walked, and imagine the human sacrifices they must have made, to discover that we, in our mundane capacities, make similar sacrifices every day.
So today, I honor the memory of a man I never knew, whose words–perhaps written from dark, lonely places I struggle with too–inspire me to choose Love as my Revolution. I celebrate the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., by imagining him as a man who wasn’t so tall, that I may follow in his footsteps, walk that Divine path of Love, which, I believe, is human after all.