Taking time out to remember why Monday is a holiday
Updated: February 13, 2012 8:41AM
Sometimes it seems as if there is no America, just fragments of America that are in opposition to each other. It can appear that we define ourselves by what divides us rather than what unites us. That is especially true in an election year.
There is red-states America versus blue-states America.
Rich America versus poor America.
Native-born America versus newly arrived America.
Right-to-life America versus right-to-choose America.
Black America versus white America.
There are a great many hyphenated, oppositional Americas.
In spite of this — or maybe because of this — on Jan. 16 we honor a man who worked his entire, and too-brief, life to create a single, united America.
“All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said.
He insisted there should be only one America, one that is true to its ideals for all its people. He reminded us it is up to each of us to help create that one America, to look beyond out own selfish interests and become good neighbors to our fellows.
“The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers,” Dr. King said.
Jan. 16 is not just a day off from work or school. It is a day for us to ponder what we are and who we are as a nation.
Are we one nation with liberty and justice for all, or a jostling conglomeration of competing interests? Are we e pluribus unum — one people created from many — or is it every man for himself?
Are we brothers and sisters?
Dr. King thought so. He devoted his life to that belief. He died for that belief. This year, he was recognized for it with a memorial on the National Mall.
And he was right. America can only be America if we embrace that network of mutuality.
Through his life’s work, and through an eloquence matched only by Lincoln, Dr. King showed the way to the true America. We’re not there yet. But getting there is the real American dream.
It is the dream Dr. King spoke of on that August day in 1963 in Washington D.C. when he ended his great “I have a dream” speech with this vision for our country:
“... when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”