"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Thursday, August 28, 2008

That Dream. This Day.

The morning light at 5:55 a.m. was different than yesterday. The sky was pink, casting a rosy reflection onto the still lake. It was beautiful, unphotographably so, and rich with promise.

After feeding the beasts I switched on the radio and headed back under the blankets, fully expecting to doze off to the drone of NPR as I usually do. But I didn't. I mentally outlined the scene I'll be writing today and mulled a revision of an earlier one. But my concentration was impeded by reports of last night's political activities in Denver, and previews of what will unfold this evening.

As one who experienced the officially post-segregated South, I was formed and shaped by the civil rights movement. As a lifelong member of a denomination devoted to social justice, with its own civil rights martyr (a New Hampshire native) issues of race and equality and opportunity have always been before me.

What touched my soul early this morning was an atypical review of that great event of 45 years ago today, the 1963 March on Washington and Martn Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. As the interviewees described the alarm and uncertainty running through the capitol city, I wondered what my grandparents--who lived there--must have been feeling. Because they were products of their particular time and place, they most likely shared the concerns of the white establishment. It was an aspect of the event that I never imagined when confronted with black and white footage of a vast crowd standing before the Lincoln Memorial listening to one man's soaring rhetoric and distinct vision.

On my way to maturity I pursued relationships with persons of all races, ethnicities, and classes, sometimes provoking negativity, and my life has been the richer for it. I carried into these friendships more than a little baggage--my underlying awareness that many of my planter ancestors in Colonial Virginia and the Carolinas and Georgia were slave owners. I can't help that, any more than I can being descnded from English lords whose manors were worked by serf labour. To my enlightenened and critical 20th/21st century eyes, both systems are heinous and regrettable. However, I'm not steeped in white guilt, which in my view is utterly useless. What is more important--and necessary--is action. When called upon to "do justice!" I give it my best shot and always shall.

During my years in the Atlanta area, the late Dr. King was very much a local hero. His influence and impact could be traced on a daily basis, as blacks rose to positions of power in government and industry and society. And the challenges could be found as well, in the blighted, impoverished neighbourhoods and struggling schools.

Later, when I lived in Colorado, I witnessed fresh fruits of the civil rights movement. As in the South, the minority population had gained politcal power and prominence: the major city's mayor was Hispanic and was succeeded by African-Americans. Someday, I felt certain, the nation would catch up to the cities and states.

This Presidential campaign has seemed endless--remember, here in New Hampshire it started up 3 1/2 years ago!--with many twists and turns. It's left me exhausted, cynical, and frustrated. But as this day dawned, a strange peace stole over me.

I remember with perfect clarity a moment four years ago, when a young man of mixed race appeared at the podium and started articulating some of my very own thoughts and expectations. I nearly fell off the sofa in surprise and delight.

I'm not one to be won over by words alone, or persuaded by hype and excessivly choreographed imagery. Which is why I'm grateful for the opportunity to meet and assess my longstanding nominee of choice live and in person, in a small forum without a single member of the press, and at a gathering at the home of an aquaintance. I can't claim to know the candidate from talking with him and looking into his eyes and hearing his answers to some tough questions. But I was impressed by him and his potential and continue to be...I say that as one who has know numerous impressive people in public and private life.

Therefore I'm willing--and eager--to give him the chance to build on his assurances of a progressive and prosperous future.

I suspect it's a generational and situational response more than a partisan one. And partly professional. I'm an author, how could I not incline towards the candidate who established a literary reputation and bestseller status by actually writing his own books, all by himself?

But mostly, my preference is driven by those words uttered 45 years ago today.

This is the anniversary of a speech that took place in Washington, a world within a world to which I am closely, intimately connected. The man who gave that speech is most often associated with Atlanta, a placed in which I'm also rooted, known in civil rights days as "The City Too Busy To Hate." I am here on the shore of the same lake where precisely 40 years ago Coretta Scott King brought her children immdediately after Dr. King's death. And tonight in Denver, where I spent 11 happy and productive years, a symbolic descendent of MLK will ascend to a position the civil rights leader believed possible but didn't live to see.

Perhaps I'm overly optimistic, but I like to think that persons of any political view or preference, and even those with none, can recognise that this is a wonderful and momentous development.

The circles of my life and my experiences are colliding in fascinating ways. That's why my heart and mind--and yes, my eyes--are overflowing this morning.

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