I’ve probably heard it a thousand times now, Martin Luther King’s “Mountaintop” speech. He gave the speech in Memphis, TN the night before his assassination. It’s haunting. Especially the end where he specifically talks about having “been to the mountaintop.” And then it’s another thing to actually watch the video of the speech. To this day I still shudder when I watch it.
A few thoughts go through my mind every time: 1) He’s such a great speaker, every word he spoke was essential; 2) He led an incredibly brave life; 3) I obviously can’t say this with certainty, but I think he knew what was coming. I feel it in the words “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that tonight we as a people will reach the promised land…” I feel it in the emotion behind those words. I see it in his eyes, in the way he storms off the stage after his final words, embraced by the men standing behind him. That look on his face: Fearless, charged up… ready. I shudder every time, and I think to myself, “it seems that he knew something… someone was coming for him.” Maybe I’m wrong, but at the very least it’s safe to say that Dr. King was willing to die for what he believed in.
I often ask that question of myself.
At times in my life the answer has been yes, but it’s become harder to answer now that I have a family of my own. I see injustices everywhere I turn, and I’ve dedicated a portion of my life and career to addressing them in ways that will hopefully build more bridges than walls. That being said, I find this present world we live in to be a dangerous one for many reasons. I am not inclined to hide under covers, but I’m also not inclined to become a martyr for justice without hesitation. The first time I acknowledged that to myself was difficult and confusing. I questioned if it made me a coward. After all, Dr. King had a wife and children too, and he still went to Memphis…
I was eventually able to answer my own question: no, I’m not a coward. I control my future, yet at the same time it is in God’s hands. I’m okay with that, but at the same time, as Dr. King says in his Mountaintop speech, “I would like to live a long life, longevity has its place.” For me, that place is in the hearts of my family and community, locally and globally. That’s a blessing, but make no mistake, as the character of George Washington says in the musical Hamilton, “Dying is easy, young man, living is harder…”
Dying for what you believe in is actually a very difficult, profound sacrifice. I am in eternal admiration and appreciation of those who have died for the rights of humanity. I cannot acknowledge that and not in turn stand up for what I believe in… and so I do. It’s worth noting that I’m willing to die for my family without hesitation… but I would rather live for them.