“I, who have no sisters or brothers, look with some degree of innocent envy on those who may be said to be born to friends.” — James Boswell
I grew up in a house with two older sisters. Well, that’s partly true. Given our age differences, I guess I grew up about halfway in a house with two older sisters. They flew the coop before I hit the grand old age of eleven.
Both were so good to me. I remember sitting on Sandy’s lap and reading my first little book, which totally freaked her out because no one had taught me to read. (“Mom!!! Al read a book!!!”). I remember riding in Jacki’s yellow Volkswagen Beetle and getting to shift gears on our way to the nursing home to visit Miss Martha and Miss Jessie. The words “sibling rivalry” meant and mean nothing to me from personal experience. All I have ever known are sisters who love me. As Boswell jealously observed, I was born to friends.
Sandy and most of her family came to visit this week, and it has been great fun to have them here. It almost surprised me to notice how much I looked forward to their visit. It is always great to have people we love come visit, but there must be something extra special about those words brother and sister, at least in our case.
Our parents have been gone for years now, leaving the three of us at the top of separate family trees with both sisters now at the grandmother stage. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what happened with time, but I think a quote attributed to Clara Ortega says it best: “To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.”
That’s it: We live outside the touch of time. We don’t spend much time together anymore, and as special as it is when we do, time does nothing to or for the relationship. Our relationship is inviolate.
“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963)
Three years ago, I wrote an essay for the Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Journal titled, “From Integration to Multiculturalism: Dr. King’s Dream Fifty Years Later.” The essay questioned whether the changes in race relations in the United States in half a century signified actual progress toward Dr. King’s dream. The skepticism I expressed in the essay has not improved while watching the news over the ensuing three years.
And what exactly was the Dream? Although the terms equality and freedom and justice, words with a legal flavor, were prominently featured in Dr. King’s speeches, it is the family metaphor of brotherhood (with apologies for the non-gender inclusive language of the time) that stands out in the speeches as a better characterization of the Dream. As King famously stated, “I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.”
Check out the epigraph to this essay that closed out the Letter from a Birmingham Jail to see what I mean. Check it out again and tell me that we are in shouting distance of such a dream. I think not.
So has this all been a waste of time? Are we simply left with a new holiday? Of course not, but although there has been much good, it is naïve to think that we are anywhere near a world where we see one another as brothers and sisters across the various social lines that divide us. Watch the news. Heck, join me in taking a good look at our own hearts.
So what now? Well, I say that we keep dreaming. And keep hoping. And keep working. For equality and freedom and justice, sure, but climb up on the mountaintop and see beyond those lofty words to an even loftier ideal where we all live together as brothers and sisters.
That is some dream, and it is worth remembering today.
Posted in Original Essays, Uncategorized
Tagged brotherhood, brothers, dr. king, dream, equality, freedom, justice, mlk, mlk day, pepperdine, racism, sisters