Monday, January 21, 2008

Honoring Dr. King

I really like what the Brian Lehrer show does to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy. They ask listeners to do a little homework and call in or post a one-minute reading by/about any other ethnic group than their own. Read some postings here.

I have two readings to share. The first is a passage from a book by one of my favorite authors ever, Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison's language is music for me; her words strip my own from reach, and quietly, nonconsciously sink down into my chest and make my eyes swell.

From Beloved:

"Something in the house braced, and in the listening quiet that followed Sethe spoke.

'I got a tree on my back and a haint in my house, and nothing in between but the daughter I am holding in my arms. No more running- from nothing. I will never run from another thing on this earth. I took one journey and I paid for the ticket, but let me tell you something, Paul D Garner: it cost too much! Do you hear me? It cost too much. Now sit down and eat with us or leave us be.' ...
Her back was to him and he could see all the hair he wanted without the distraction of her face...
'What tree on your back? Is something growing on your back? I don't see nothing growing on your back.'
'It's there all the same.'
'Who told you that?'
'Whitegirl. That's what she called it. I've never seen it and never will. But that's what she said it looked like. A chokecherry tree. Trunk, branches, and even leaves. Tiny little chokecherry leaves. But that was eighteen years ago. Could have cherries too now for all I know.' ...

Oh! I wish I could type out a few entire pages from this passage for you. The tiny details of the scene are so important to receiving the full weight of the story, the nuances of the interaction between Sethe and Paul D. Please read Beloved if you haven't already. I think I'm going to start re-reading it tonight.

Here's one other thing to share. You've probably heard it before, but it's so powerful that it's another one that merits re-reading. It's by the German Pastor Martin Niemöller:

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

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