A Dream Deferred?

MLK at Wash. DC

Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963

Fifty years have passed since the historic oration given by King in the summer of 1963. In the years of torment that embroiled the childhoods’ of many Boomers (and the first Gen X-ers), a voice of peace spoke to the masses gathered in Washington DC on that hot August day.

As  a child of 1 Boomer and 1 Quiet, I was raised with a focus on seeing people for who they were, not the characteristics that defined them. This could have had as much to do with my diverse urban environment as my parents and teachers consistently guiding me to value people as people, and not lose myself to quick judgments. Stereotypes may have been helpful when determining snap judgments for survival like food and predators in early times, but in society today it remains an issue rooted in much of the conflicts we face.

We cannot blame stereotypes for all of society’s issues. When lack of knowledge leads to fear and fear leads to hate, no one receives the dream that King envisioned and that so many have struggled to make real. Racism still holds an insidious grip on the hearts of many in this world. It could be much less pronounced, often seen as “inappropriate,” but it still seeks to divide people. It may not be possible to eliminate all snap judgments (again, our brains saving energy and taking shortcuts rather than thinking), but people around the world need to see a shared community that takes the lead over smaller divisive issues. If we see ourselves as part of the community, even disagreements and tough feelings can be addressed effectively.

In preparing this post, I read Langston Hughes’s “Harlem” and thought about the progress that has been made over 50 years. Hughes wrote the poem more than 12 years before the historic march, but the imagery is deeply prescient for today’s society. The poem questions what happens to a deferred dream, and over the years I believe there have been moments to match each description. We have entered the crust stage as people try to sugarcoat the issues of racism claiming to be in a “post-racial” world. The issue is still there, only our treatment has changed. The same could be said of the equally insidious problem of poverty in this country when so many work and can’t reach financial equilibrium because the system won’t allow it.

Millennials may focus much on the inner self, but when it comes to the suffering of others, we don’t think it appropriate to sit by and do nothing. To be frank, we feel it’s the right of every individual to achieve the level of personal development that the individual wishes, and things like racism and poverty aren’t helping that process. As trials and legislation flash through the 24 hour news cycle, we must try to see the issues from all perspectives and find ways of balancing justice and amending the habits and the hurts of our past.

In order to make King’s dream a reality, we need to see ourselves as the people of the dream. We must embrace our neighbors, respect all people as they are, and live as part of a larger community. No great accomplishment or terrible wrong was ever achieved by a sole agent. If we are to remove hate and discrimination, raise families with a means of self subsistence, and make peace happen, it will be because we said “NO!” to division and “YES!” to working in unity for a better future.

_____________________________________________________________

A question to my fellow Millennials: How do you see King’s dream being made a reality? What things are preventing that reality, and what can we do to overcome them?

He Kindly Stopped For Me

We laid my uncle to rest today. As I continue to consider deeper questions on life and existence, I am brought back to reality by the spring air and flowers dancing in the breeze. For life in the North East, the return of spring heralds much promise. And though sadness is upon my family, the joy of such renewal reminds us that the bitterness of cold, or the decline of health, does not last forever.

The thoughts in my mind turned to matters of faith today. For some, faith/religion can become such divisive issues, that to even mention the most subtle hint of discussion stirs great controversy. If I mark the trend in Millennials, that many do not ascribe to being members of an organized religion, perhaps I would be best to avoid any mention thereof. — Fair warning, I think meaningful and hot-button issues don’t require boxing gloves, rather a comfortable table with calm, respectable, and tactful discussion.

Just because someone does not believe, act, or worship a certain way, does not mean that they are without faith or having belief in something. I am a bridge builder, and it is not my place to say what is the supreme and unequivocal answer to everything. Also, I don’t believe anyone alive today can honestly say they know the answer. To do so would have people fighting over the answer as they have done for ages. I’d like to think Gen Y is ok with forgoing proving points and claiming who has the answer in favor of finding the right questions:

“Why do people suffer?”

“What can I do to help?”

“Where am I needed most?”

Representing such diverse visions, I can only say what I feel shows respect to those whom I seek to represent. I know that I know not. I seek knowledge, and I live according to the faith that I have developed through my life. And the only certainty I have is to live with love. Measure life with love. Judge your actions by love and the love they bring into the world. Beyond this, I think people will find their own expressions and beliefs; perhaps love will have the strength and care to cradle all the beliefs together.

Millennials have come into a world that has more information available than any point previous and it suits our nature as learners. By keeping our minds open we allow growth, and by being people of love, no one needs fear persecution. Science and faith will find ways to coexist, and respect and tact will grow connections in the face of different perspectives. Our greatest challenge will be to remember to love, even during the hardest moments. Forgiveness and mercy bring healing, and love is the thing that carries it all. Don’t let certainty of fact make you immune to an open heart and open mind. Remember that the Earth was most certainly flat and the center of the universe at one time.

In closing, and because creativity helps in times of sadness; here are some stanzas inspired by Emily Dickinson’s poem on meeting death:

Because I could not stop for death
He kindly stopped for me
And drew about his cloak of silk
The veil eternity

“Good friend” said he in somber tone,
“Your hour is now at hand.”
“So come and go with me,” he said,
“To that far distant land.”

“But think you that it early yet,
for my departure now?”
“I’ve things undone,” I pleaded there,
“To stay, I pray allow.”

“No mortal flesh can linger long;
Souls shed weight they carry.
 Away we must to myst’ries all,
Rise dear one, don’t tarry.”

The hand out-stretched as one to guide;
Intention he made clear.
One journey through, and one to start;
There was no cause to fear.

I followed leaving all behind,
 Of trials ev’rywhere.
Unburdened from life’s sinew hold,
And free of all my care.

The flowers waved in lilting form,
Winter’s hold was over.
Returned in whole the ring of time,
‘Midst fields full of clover.

Our time with limit someday ends;
We make our journey home.
 In peace and myst’ry long to dwell,
Eternal Heaven’s dome.

Post, Post-Script — Note to self: take a few extra moments to review work before posting for spelling, etc. even if the subject matter is multi-layered and interesting. Clear and correct posts are classy. Don’t let desire to share affect overall image. Haste makes waste.

Because I Could Not Stop for Death

The recent passing of my great uncle has left me thinking about the theme of life and its counterpart. For Generation Y, most of us are probably still healthy and living normally without intense focus or concern by necessity for our health. To those in our ranks who have passed from this world, you are missed, and we shall persevere in your memory.

My great uncle was a humble man, but it was his humility that made him a great man. My uncle was blind from a time in his 30s and lived to be 94. I can’t be certain if medical science could have changed things if he had received better care, but a combination of earlier childhood infection and later issues took his vision completely. Still, out of many people I knew, he could probably see more clearly than most. As a young child, I remember visiting him and my great aunt and being given attention like a person. I say this because children are sometimes preferred “seen and not heard,” but I was included in our family.

As I would later learn from my godfather, my uncle endured a life outside of normal person-hood when people would ask my aunt if my uncle wanted more food at a formal gathering while he was sitting at the same table. Only his eyes were affected, but his hearing, his heart, and his mind were fully active. It was from this experience that I think my uncle chose to open his heart, and be a better example for including those who are often excluded. Learning from my uncle, I think Gen Y should see that just because someone has a visible impairment, illness, or even an unseen health concern, it does not make them less of a person, make them incapable of strong ideas or emotions, or put them in a circle of exclusion. All people need love, and by working towards inclusion, we help everyone find a better balance in managing life, and whatever challenges they face.

Speaking medically for a moment, I have lost a few family members after some drawn-out illnesses. For Gen Y, it with our parents and grandparents that we are learning about end of life concerns, and seeing the resulting sandwich generation issue. I don’t want to denigrate any of the many wonderful, skilled, and dedicated medical professionals in our workforce, but the system has left much to be desired. In some ways with my aunt, who passed a few years back, as well as my uncle, we had to fight to get the care they needed. Seeing how this happened, I’m better prepared when I become the caregiver in the sandwich, but I am holding hope that things will change. More people are moving towards needing end of life care, and we should not ignore the need to reform the industry to handle the population growth.

My uncle slipped in and out of lucid thought as he neared the end, and to my knowledge, he was not in any great pain. The pain is felt by those left behind, and even harder when the person we love is still alive, but the spark of their life no longer registers in their words, or in their body. Now that he is at peace, those left behind will honor his legacy.

A few days ago, a man passed from this world. A man who loved others, sang his faith in service to his church, and could see more clearly than most. We cannot be certain of what is to follow this life on earth, but my uncle is not dead. He lives on in me, and his example of seeking a loving and inclusive world is the example I will try to carry all my days. To any living in sadness now, I offer my love, and life will continue. Life is a journey, often with struggles and hardship, but we grow better and stronger from all that we experience.