Jan 17 2011

Drummajor Instinct

Today I took to heart the concept of “a day on” instead of “a day off” and volunteered my time on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Portland-area universities coordinated a day of service with more than forty projects going on throughout the region. Stasia and I helped paint, clean and decorate a school for very high needs children. It was a fulfilling day and hopefully sets the tone (for myself and the other 1200 participants) not just for a single day of service, but for a year of service, and then a lifetime of service.

There’s a lot of good energy around the holidays and then on MLK day for volunteering to help others, but the risk with playing it up so much as an event is that it deemphasizes the important work that always exists. For people in the Portland area who are interested in service, check out Hands on Portland which is a searchable database to connect volunteers with opportunities to help in the Portland area. You can search by schedule, location, or type of opportunity. It’s a very nice tool for connecting up distinct community needs with people’s skills, resources or labor.

The best part of the opening session was one of Martin Luther King Junior’s speeches that I had never heard before, called the Drummajor Instinct. They played a recording of Dr. King delivering the following (the end of the sermon) and it set exactly the right tone for the day:

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don’t think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, “What is it that I would want said?” And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to live his life serving others.

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.

The full sermon text can be found here along with an audio recording of Dr. King delivering this sermon on February 4, 1968 just two months before his death. The excerpt above is from the very end of the piece (starting at 35:07 on the audio recording).

I agree with Dr. King, that a better thing could not be said about any of us than that we lived a life committed to serving others. I’m sure working on it.

Now off to the Portland Plan workshop for a different kind of engagement (far less direct, but hopefully not less meaningful).

Jan 16 2011

Biking: You can do it!

Honestly, I don’t have them very often, but today was one of those days that I just did not want to get back on my bike. I assume all bike commuters have these from time to time. I had already done an hour long ride through the rain complete with all manner of road debris (on account of people using snow tires when there isn’t any snow) to get here. Now that it was several hours later and my event was over, I was finally feeling dry and did not look forward to getting back into my rain gear and doing another hour in the rain, this time also in the dark. I had even been offered a ride home, which I was very close to taking.

As it got closer and closer to leaving time though, I kept thinking about this presentation that Stasia and I saw yesterday by Tara Goddard on biking in Sangju (a city in South Korea)(presentation can be found here). The main thing I was left with at the end of the presentation, was how even the elderly biked in South Korea. By Tara’s recounting, biking was the primary form of transportation for nearly everyone over 55 in Sangju. We had even seen slides of 75 year old women on their bikes zipping through town. How could I not be willing to do what little old ladies in Sangju had been doing for their whole lives?

The other part that I was thinking about was the whole “be the change you want to see in the world” piece. Many people in the U.S. don’t think of biking as a viable form of transportation because they can’t picture themselves out there doing it. Showing people that they can do it (and that it’s not that big of a deal) is inherently valuable. If we want to create a society where biking replaces other more resource-intensive forms of transportation (and we would certainly like all of the economic, environmental and human health benefits that come along with that) then it’s up to each of us to be riding whenever possible.

So I finally sucked it up and got on my bike. As always, it wasn’t that bad once I got started. I made it home a little wet, but with my principles intact. Bikes are not a lesser form of transportation!