I was four years old when Dr. King was killed, and I spent the ensuing days bombarding my poor parents with questions.
Three and a half decades later, when our son was four and our daughter was seven, we were sitting around the dinner table when my husband questioned them: “Do you know why you didn’t have school today?” They both knew it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “Who was Dr. King?” we asked, and our four-year-old responded, “He don’t want you to fight with people.“ We accepted that answer. We turned to the seven-year-old. Her answer started with Rosa Parks and a bus. She understood that the peace part had something to do with racial injustice.
My husband then looked at our children and told them that they needed to realize how very different their lives would be if it hadn’t been for Dr. King‘s dream and his work. They would not have Jewish friends who invited them to Hanukkah parties. Our daughter probably couldn’t have a best friend who was African-American, because what were the odds that she would even go to school with kids that look different than herself? So many things that our children took for granted were things that three and a half decades earlier were unfathomable for most Americans. The best part of the evening was when our seven-year-old got out of her chair and put her hands on her hips and said, “I’m sorry I just don’t understand. How could this be?!”
Today, as Americans pause and remember Dr. King‘s legacy, some of us will be doing exactly what Dr. King would expect of us—committing acts of service, or acts of peace, extending a hand to our neighbors, and taking steps to bring his dream a bit closer to reality. But for those of us who are not part of one of those activities today, could we pause and think of the classmate or neighbor, colleague, best friend, or person we love; who, because of Dr King’s dream, is now an integral part of our lives. Today, let’s think about the person we couldn’t dream of NOT having in our life. Let’s give thanks for an American with a bold desire for justice, a thirst for equality, and a conviction that all our lives would be richer working together rather than living apart.