Martin Luther King, Jr. closed his letter from the Birmingham jail with the words of a man who is fully awake. To the religious leaders of Birmingham who had tried to keep him quiet, orderly and sedate in the face of blatant injustice he wrote these stirring words. I want to be awake like this:
I wish you had commended the Negro demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer, and their amazing discipline in the midst of the most inhuman provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, courageously and with a majestic sense of purpose facing jeering and hostile mobs and the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman of Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride the segregated buses, and responded to one who inquired about her tiredness with ungrammatical profundity, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” They will be young high school and college students, young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’s sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.
I’d like to say that I am awake now. I’d like to say that I am awake now more than I ever have been to what my black and brown fellow human beings have been struggling with. I’d like to say that I am awake now more than I ever have been to what members of the LGBTQ communities are struggling with. I’d like to say that I am awake now to the struggle of the immigrant, to the struggle of the very poor, to the struggle of those caught in cycles of abuse.
I realize increasingly how much I’ve missed, how much I have to learn, how much homework I have to do, how much there is for me to grow. I want to act and speak, but I don’t want my acting and speaking to be a lot of noise made by a man who just woke up from a long sleep.
However long I have left on this earth, I want to use my good sense—whatever good sense I have—and my life’s experience, not only to be awake but to engage all the arenas of human life and learn from them. I want to learn how to be an ally for all my fellows, with all my fellows, and allow them to be an ally for me. This is the mutuality of the Muses in us.