You already know today is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This day always makes me both proud and saddened. Proud that my country celebrates the life and impact of an all time hero of humanity. A man made larger than life as the courageous leader, symbol and martyr of a movement of love and justice. He was an architect, with so many others, of a new system being born while helping an old one into hospice. A person all of us can look up to and be thankful for, no matter what color or creed or culture we call our own today.
It also bubbles up emotions of dark and sadness thinking about the prejudices and hate that were real in Dr. King’s time, before him, and still today in too many ways. It always gets me reflecting on my own prejudices and blinders that are part of me and the way I see the world through the filter of my own worldview and mental models. And, I suppose that is the immortal nature of Dr. King’s message and life–to continually question and challenge my own ways of seeing and being with others in this world.
I had the privilege of meeting and spending some time with the Executive Architect of the recently opened Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial this past October. Dr. Ed Jackson came to Sioux Falls to give the opening keynote at a convention for South Dakota architects that I had organized. How he got there was interesting: I heard him as a guest of Melissa Block on NPR’s All Things Considered (listen to the interview here), defending a design decision that paraphrased a quote from Dr. King instead of carving it verbatim on the memorial’s granite. Something about his demeanor grabbed me, and I thought he might be able to share an architect’s perspective on honoring a national hero in a way that no one else could. So, I googled his name, found a phone number in Washington, DC, and dialed… And he answered! He was so gracious, and said yes to my proposal right there on the phone.
The fact that Dr. Jackson kept his commitment to speak at our little event was remarkable, since that following weekend was the Dedication Ceremony for the new memorial! I enjoyed spending a little time with Jackson, and even walked around Falls Park with him for 15 minutes on our way to the airport. The paraphrased quote issue hasn’t gone away, and in fact the feds have now required it to be changed, somehow. As Ed laid out in his keynote that October afternoon, the decision was not a quick or lite one. It came after consideration and consulting with historians, advisors and Dr. King’s family. His dedication to making this project real–a twenty-plus year effort–is very inspiring. And his bold design decisions are too. Thanks Ed, for influencing me and for building a new landmark to honor a true hero. Congratulations on a masterpiece. I so look forward to walking through the memorial grounds with you for a tour as soon as I get to DC.
You might not know that today is also Marcella Bartmann Day. It’s Grandma’s birthday, and there is no bigger hero in my life. It’s about time I let her know.
I think a big part of what makes someone a hero is the things they practice and what in their being is something you want to be. Probably no one outside her family or friends thinks of Grandma as a hero, but for those of us with her in our life, it’s no question. She’s one of those subtle, solid and grounded heroes. She’s a rock. I love you so much.
She Said it Without Words Be quiet courage and strength, day after day after day. Care for their messes of all kind, prepare the food that gathers them, lead by being love, not loud. Deepen faith, in god and each other. Make it your constant practice. And question it all with power and grace, stand up to find real meaning in ideas and relationships. Live concrete in values, and open yourself to what is different. Seek out the meek and ragged, hold them like they are yours. Be the glue for those you love, and the conscience in the room. Give selflessly so they may find joy or peace, Make music of your sorrows. Find pride in humility, and rugged work. Know the impossible isn't, and the worst lives somewhere else. Make these prayers of contentment and gratitude: the dishes, the clothesline, the muddy floor. Enjoy the art of staying put, and believe in letting go. Watch over the land and lives, as a trusted steward and gardener. Know that what nourishes is scarce, what's beautiful is temporary, and all is becoming something else. Love.