Saturday, April 19, 2014

MLK Memorial Reflection: The Uncarved Block

Our most powerful works of art far transcend pictures taken of them. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is one of these for me. On this sunny day in DC with nothing in particular to do, I thought I'd go check it out so I would know where it was when I come back with my kids in June. I didn't have anything in particular on my mind except for a pleasant walk on the mall in the sunshine. So, maybe I wasn't really prepared for the power of this monolithic, but somehow dynamic force I'd find staring sternly down at me. Nor was I prepared for how some of the quotes rang so personally true for me. Had I heard his quotes as a student or other places and internalized them without knowing who said them? Or had I come to some similar conclusions by different paths?

I tried to reconcile the stern visage of the statue with the MLK presented in the children's book "My Uncle Martin's Big Heart" by Angela Farris Watkins, which I've read to my daughters many times. That book paints a tender and loving picture of the legendary man through the eyes of his young niece. Ultimately, I know he must have been multi-faceted like all humans and I know that both visions of the man are likely to be true. While the book celebrates his great love, this statue clearly conveys a lasting impression of his strength and immovable will.

I think my favorite thing about the memorial is the intentional unfinished nature. A stone is unmoving, but it seems like we have caught the artist unawares and in the motions of carving a continuing work. But we know this work is finished and this man has been laid to rest long ago. More is the sadness, but great is the glory of the what he had become for us in the time he had. Might that uncarved stone also be partly a metaphor for the unfinished work on injustice left to do? Maybe that's stretching it. Yet because of the inscription - "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope" - we know that we're at least meant to know that this positive, strong image was able to emerge from, in spite of, and even because of the darkness of inequalities.

Being a Christian who believes in a creator of our souls, I also fancy the imagery of G-d as the artist shaping this man from the history before his life as well as the years he lived. I walked away quiet, pensive, and wondering...

What will I look like when my maker is done carving me?

My own life-journey is taking me quite a far distance from the life I envisioned for myself when I was a high school student touring Washington D.C. for the first time and I hardly knew what to hope for in myself, long before could imagine committing myself to the "noble struggle for equal rights." I seem to be half-way there, but will I truly be able to make a career of humanity? (If I use a metaphorical interpretation of the word "career" and take it to mean I don't have to actually draw a living wage doing it, then the answer - I think - is yes)

And as I sit waiting to board my plane to head back to the welcoming kisses of my children, I wonder what broad strokes or fine chisel work the creator is using my hands for in the shaping and molding of my daughters?

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