One Night in Memphis

Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky.
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride.
– U2 – “Pride” (In the Name of Love)

Sitting in traffic this week, as most of us do more often than we’d like, the popular classic rock song “Pride” (In the Name of Love) by Irish rockers U2 was playing on the radio. At the conclusion, the announcer noted that it was 50 years ago this week that American civil rights hero, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

50 years. Half a century. More than half our nation’s population wasn’t even born. Yet ask anyone who is Martin Luther King, Jr. and they’ll know. They’ll surely know.

Along with the Nathan Hale’s last words of “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inaugural address where in the depths of the Great Depression he proclaimed, “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself,” Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” is forever etched in our hearts and minds as Americans.

King was devoutly committed to the battle for civil rights. For him, the battle–the war—was a nonviolent one. Many called for more aggressive means and more rapid action toward equality, but King rebuked them, most notably in his magnificently written “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

While King emphatically resisted violence, ironically, he was murdered for it. Perhaps, almost prophetically, he knew it would happen. In his last speech, delivered in Paterson, New Jersey, on March 27, 1968, he said, “I’ve seen the Promised Land – I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will reach the Promised Land!”

The reality is, in human history, there will only be one Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His life left us with challenges and examples of what we all can be. His own words reflect this sentiment: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Dr. King’s life and words have significant implications for each of us.   To our family and friends, our lives leave indelible impressions and memories that will live on far longer than we do ourselves. We may not change the world, but we have the opportunity to change the world in a positive way for those around us. Things as simple as being a thoughtful neighbor, a mentor, a coach, a friend who lends an ear, one who serve a meal to those in need — all these things make a profound difference.

It is those things that make us unique and create those memories that compel us to honor and celebrate a life lived.

How do you want to be remembered?