We took our kids to the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in our community Monday. My husband and I.
We packed up the 10-year-old, who made it clear he didn’t want to go. We packed up the 6-year-old and the baby, and we drove the 20 minutes into “town.”
We had the day off. No school. No work. And I’d decided it was time we did more on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day than relax and fold laundry.
So we got there – City Hall – and joined a group of about 50-75 others, gathered together for the same reason. A young man handed us a picket sign, made of cardboard with a color picture of Dr. King printed on one side. I looked around – I recognized the mayor, the police chief, the sheriff, a couple local media personalities and several community members.
We stood in a circle, the baby on my back, and listened as the host welcomed us and a local high school choir sang. Before long, we started the walk, a slow, steady march from City Hall to Main Street to a small two-room chapel. We were an informal parade of old and young, confident and unsure, recognizable and not.
We walked past the grocery store, along the highway. Cars honked and saluted.
“Why are they honking?” my daughter asked.
“They’re showing their support,” I said. And I grabbed her hand as we kept moving, eyes ahead.
We arrived at the chapel, and organizers handed out bottled water, as we slowly filed into the small room. The big kids and I scrunched into a pew, while my husband and the baby went to the back overflow room. Again, I looked around at the community we were a part of.
And I listened as several community members spoke about why they were there. Because of Martin Luther King, Jr., yes. But also because of the other faces in the room and beyond. Because they had chosen to care about their community and to be part of it.
A couple speakers recounted growing up here, living here in the early 1960s – one noticed the racial tension, the other did not.
There were songs and prayers and encouragement and hope.
Hope, that too-elusive sliver of something better around the bend.
We got all that Monday, at this tiny chapel downtown, surrounded mostly by people we didn’t know. We got all that because we showed up. Because we chose to participate. Because we chose to pay our respects to a great man we never knew. Because we chose to care about our community.
That. That last sentiment – that we chose to care – if you really think about it, means everything. What if we all chose to care?
As we were leaving, I asked my kids: “What did you think? Did you listen?”
The 10-year-old said it had been hard to follow. The 6-year-old, I knew, hadn’t really paid attention. She’s 6, and that’s OK. What I cared about the most was that we were there, that some pieces of the experience might sink into my babies’ pores and shape who they someday become.
I summarized what I most wanted them to know:
- In every situation, consider how you can help someone else. Decide how you can make the world a better place.
- Stand up for what is right. Speak out about injustices.
- Do it all with compassion, kindness and peace.
I felt really good about the whole experience.
And then my daughter lost her shit.
There had been cookies, you see, after the ceremony at the chapel. And I’d grabbed two chocolate chip cookies for the big kids, and a frosted one for the littlest, in an effort to make a quick, graceful exit. The 6-year-old, though, saw the frosted one and needed one of those. Go get one, I said. And she did and we left and all was well.
Until she realized I still had two chocolate chip cookies and one should be hers.
No, I said, one cookie is enough.
“But Mom!” she protested. “I just want a little taste!”
No, I said again, still calm. And it just devolved from there.
At the end, she kicked her brother and yelled and tears streamed from her eyes. She claimed we all hated her. You know, that sort of thing.
And the 10-year-old, he really just wanted to go out to eat for lunch. In fact, on the car ride home, after his dreams of restaurant food had been crushed because of his sister’s behavior, he said the only reason he’d been so respectful and well-behaved at the MLK ceremony was because he’d been hoping to score a lunch out.
AWESOMENESS right then and there.
How do we teach selflessness? How do we teach our little people to not be so self-centered?
The silly emotional outbursts especially stung after the event we’d just taken part in. Didn’t they get it? I wondered. Did they miss the whole entire point?
Can their behavior be explained away by the fact that they are still children, still very much learning and growing and trying to figure this whole world out? That at our core, we are all ego-driven and it’s only as adults we can truly learn to be selfless?
I don’t have the answers.
And so I parented the whole thing as best I could, and then I turned back around in the front seat and looked at my husband, who was driving us home.
Here’s what we know:
We were right to take our family to such an important event. We felt proud to be part of the energy in that chapel, on that sidewalk. We are right to care about our community.
And we can only do the best we can.
Onward from here. Today and tomorrow and as long as we get to continue striving for change, for better days, for true love and strong children and healthy places to call home.