We were living in Vicenza, Italy when I participated in a ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event was held at the American school on the military base, and part of the celebration included students from the two sixth grade classes reciting portions of Dr. King's historic I Have a Dream Speech.
All the students were terribly excited. Not only were we part of an important event, but the American television station would be filming the ceremony and then broadcasting it that evening on the news. Teachers began assigning lines, and every student raised their hand in the hopes of being selected. One by one lines were assigned, one by one hands went down as one student and then another was picked, and there I was, still sitting there with my hand raised.
Finally, much to my surprise, my name was called and I discovered I would be delivering the very last line of the speech, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
A few weeks ago Joe and I took the boys to visit the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, and there, next to the eternal flame across from his tomb, I told my family this story. They had never heard it before.
"Why were you picked to recite the very last line?" asked my son. "I mean, that's one of the most memorable lines from the speech."
Believe me, I have often wondered the same thing; after all, wouldn't it have been more fitting to have had one of the black students recite the line (like Chris, who was tall and had a booming voice)? Maybe I was picked because my teacher liked me (and he did), maybe he felt sorry for me (I was a mousy, timid thing), or maybe, in his wisdom, he knew that those words transcended race, gender, ethnicity and religion; that the speech was bigger, truer, and more far reaching than any person who delivered it.
Of course, I didn't understand the scope of his speech as I delivered those lines with all the passion of a timid, sixth grader; in fact, it wasn't until two weeks ago as I was exploring the museum with our boys, standing in the pulpit where Dr. King used to preach, seeing his Nobel Peace Prize, and walking across the bridge alongside the life-sized statues depicting the march from Selma to Montgomery that the memory even surfaced.
But I'm glad it did. In my own small way I had been able to participate in something bigger, truer, and more far reaching than I could have possibly understood at the time, and two weeks ago, standing with my family next to that eternal flame across from Dr. King's tomb, we talked about how we are all part of something bigger, truer, and more far reaching.
It isn't until we realize this fundamental truth can we be truly "free at last".
|The eternal flame accross from the tomb of Dr. and Mrs. King|
|Dr. King's casket was placed on a simple farm wagon and pulled by two mules.|
|Joining in the march from Selma to Montgomery ...|