Monday, January 15, 2024

"If I Can Help Somebody..."

It was Friday night, the beginning of a long weekend culminating with Martin Luther King Jr Day, so I decided to watch a movie.

I chose a documentary called I am MLK Jr, which celebrates Dr. King's career as a civil rights activist, starting with the day he happened to be in Montgomery, Alabama, when Rosa Parks was arrested because she refused to enter the bus, pay the fare, exit the bus, re-enter the bus's back door, and take a seat at the rear - the only section open to Blacks. 

The documentary shows news reels of the day Bull Connor viciously turned fire hoses and police dogs on demonstrators, many of them students. It highlights the day Dr. King stood in front of more than 200,000 people in Washington to tell them about his dream.

By 1968, Dr. King, who had been receiving death threats to himself and his family every day for years was so exhausted and so depressed he decided not to speak to the sanitation workers in Memphis who were fighting for their rights. His friends, however, convinced him to at least appear.

On the plane to Memphis, King, who had been beaten many times, stabbed, and threatened, told a reporter that in the past he had been so afraid that he had yielded to the real possibility and inevitability of death. 

When he spoke that day, telling his listeners it is the right of every American to fight for their rights, he was, according to Travis Smiley, one of the documentary's narrators, looking around, his eyes darting from one person to another because he knew "his days were numbered," King told the crowd he "did not know what would happen now... But it really doesn't matter to me now because I've been to the mountain top. I've seen the promised land...I may not get there with you (but) I don't mind (because) mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

And with that last word, and without finishing his speech, he turned and collapsed into the arms of his friend, Dr. Abernathy. 

By the next evening however, he was "jovial and clowning and free...He was in a playful mood."  He was  standing on the balcony outside his hotel room when someone reminded him he was expected at dinner soon. Dr, King called down to Jesse Jackson, saying, "It's time to go to dinner, man. Get dressed," When Jackson responded, "The prerequisite for eating is not a tie but an appetite," Dr. King laughed - and a bullet struck his body.

As I listened to these words of Travis Smiley: "We have no control over when we die, where we die, or how we die. All we have control over is what we die for," I listened too, to the words of a song playing in the background, the one about helping somebody, and realized that, although I am not Black and have never had to suffer the way any Black man, woman or child has had to suffer in this country, I have suffered and if I can use my suffering "to help somebody, then my living will not be in vain."     

And, that thing about helping somebody - it doesn't have to be something big. Sometimes just a smile will do.

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