I was born on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in 1969, the year after he was murdered in Memphis, so our lives never overlapped, not even a little. Despite that, I’ve always felt a kind of kinship to the man; for as long as I’ve been aware of him (and I learned of Dr. King very early, sharing, as I do, a birthday with him), I’ve felt that something about his energy and mine resonates; that I carry, even if only a little, some of his legacy.
When I was about 6 or 7, the family lore goes, I made an offhand comment to the effect that I was sad that I was born when I was; my greatest regret is that I wasn’t born in time to march with Dr. King; though several friends have pointed out that one can’t regret something over which one has no control – like the timing of one’s birth – the fact remains that the feeling I have is best described as regret, so that’s what I’m running with.
I am an empath; I feel, deeply and profoundly. I believe that others’ suffering – even if I have no tangible connection to it – makes my life less. I believe that we are less free when others are oppressed. I also believe that we are all made better when good is done, wherever and whenever it is done; that an act of kindness or compassion or mercy done anywhere makes us all a little bit better.
The last few years have been particularly difficult ones for empaths. Sandy Hook. Ferguson. Charleston. Beirut. Nigeria. Mali. Iraq. Turkey. ISIS. Boko Haram. Al Qaeda. Al-Shabaab. Al-Nusra. The Taliban. Angry, frightened white men and racist police in this country (and that’s not even talking about governmental policies in this country that are specifically designed to disadvantage particular groups of people).
Seriously; it’s enough to make some of us feel like withdrawing from life altogether. The amount of suffering we seem to delight in heaping on one another can feel overwhelming.
It occurred to me the other day, though, that I no longer have cause to regret being born when I was. I may have come to this party too late to stand with Dr. King, but there is more than enough opportunity for me to carry that legacy in the here and now.
There’s not much I can practically do, really; I mean, I can donate to ethical causes and I can continue to support my local community, but in terms of big, sweeping gestures, I’m pretty limited (though I am doing some preliminary research into how my family can foster an unaccompanied refugee; more on that later). Really though, the biggest things I can do are commit to my teaching practice and to continue to call out, unapologetically and loudly, all of the racist, xenophobic, jingoistic, hysterical bullshit whenever and wherever I see it. I will NOT allow my silence to be mistaken for my agreement; I will NOT stand by while my brothers and sisters – ANY of my brothers and sisters – are denigrated, dehumanized, or oppressed.
I am one little voice, but I will continue to scream. I am one little body, but I will continue to stand up.