A Mirror, a Choice and A Question for July 4

There’s a mirror at the end of displays in the Dr. Martin Luther King National Historic site, Atlanta, Georgia. As I learned in visiting last week, there’s a question next to the mirror. It’s quote from Dr. King, who won the Nobel Peace Prize. And just 1.5 miles away, at President Jimmy Carter’s Library, there’s a comment about choice. Each of these items, the mirror, the question and the comment, are relevant for July 4.

The mirror allows each visitor to look at her or himself.

The question from Dr. King offers his view that, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’”

The comment from President Carter reads, “God gives us the capacity for choice. We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes – and we must.”

Early in his Presidential Inauguration speech, Carter quoted one of his favorite public school teachers from Plains, Georgia, a woman named Julia Coleman who had a deep influence on him. She told him, and many other students, “We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.”

As the buildings honoring them make clear, neither King or Carter were perfect people. Each made many mistakes.

But they shared many things, along with Georgia as a birthplace. Among other things they shared a deep desire to bring people together, and to work for progress. They also agreed about the importance of not only individual rights, but also individual responsibilities.

So that brings us to July 4.

For many of us, the upcoming holiday will include time off from work, a picnic, and perhaps, fireworks. We do these things in part to honor the birth of our country. We also celebrate the courage and commitment of those who came before us. They helped to keep and expand our freedoms. All very appropriate.

After touring both the King and Carter Centers last week, I have another idea about appropriate activities for July 4. Isn’t it worth spending a little time reading and reflecting on the quotations above? And then, resolving to do something to help others in need?

These are complex, challenging times. As Ms. Coleman urged Carter, “we must adjust to changing times.” But as King pointed out in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Reader response:

Thank you for this grounding post. Both Dr. Martin Luther King’s words and those shared through President Carter are very important and grist for the mill as I reflect this 4th of July. “A mirror, a choice, a question.” Thank you. — Palma Cady