“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., murdered Apr 4 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee
Today is the observed holiday commemoration of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta (as Michael Luther King, Jr.), four days back and 75 years ago. I’m sure there’s some esoteric reason why this couldn’t fall last Friday, but whatever. A holiday’s a holiday, no arguing with that.
No holiday for me, though. At my Day Job we get either Martin Luther King Day as a day off, or Columbus Day, which lands in October. We can have one of them, but not both. Every year this puzzles me. It’s an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, rolled up in a tortilla, served with a DayTimer on the side.
Choice is a funny thing. We love the idea of it, if not the reality. Coke or Pepsi, Britney or Xtina, MTV or VH1. Choice is a blunt instrument most days of the week, a handy device to mash possibilities flat rather than explore them. Coffee vs. Vanilla Hazelnut Pistachio Peach-Velvet Extract Decaf Essence de Java hot beverage; Budweiser vs. Coors. Something you might care about ponied up against something convenient or overdressed, or two equally poor options and no way out. False choices discourage depth and knowledge, and proper ones encourage thought.
“Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.” – M.L. King, Jr.
If your choice is Britney or Christina, for example, the correct answer is probably Julia Darling. Or Amy Speace. Or Tricia Scotti, who doesn’t even have a website any more but was the best pop-rock voice you never heard, hands down.
In David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), a warped, twisty, uncomfortable road fantasy equal parts Elvis and Wizard of Oz, Nicolas Cage defends his unusual wardrobe by saying, “This snakeskin jacket is a symbol of my personal freedom” (I paraphrase, I’m afraid, it’s been a while). Americana in a druggy nutshell: give me the appearance of choice, or give me death.
Every year I’m briefly torn. I’d like to take Martin Luther King day as a holiday. Of the few individuals we honor each year, King is closest to my world. I would like to think about him over a late cup of coffee, at the start of a quiet day spent home working or in aimless wander. Columbus? They have nothing to do with each other, and the juxtaposition is silly and faintly insulting.
But work is a pragmatic realm, and when push comes to shove I’ll take a free and footloose day in sweet October, when New York has its best weather and I’m usually desperate to be out in it, over dark and frigid January. So Columbus it is, and apologies to the good Reverend Doctor.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – M.L. King, Jr.