Today is Martin Luther King Day. It is also the day that the United States celebrates the inauguration of Barack Obama as its 44th president. The significance of this timing is lost on no one. As strident as the lamentations of bipartisan deadlock in which we find ourselves are the reminders of Dr. King's proclamation that 'hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that". For me, the duality of the occasion reflects my current preoccupation with the idea that as much as we crave the order of left and right, love and hate, there are no absolutes. There is no hard and fast. Life is one big grey area.
I'm not sure how this realization escaped my notice. (Yes I am. I've spent my life to date comfortably ensconced in the refuge of the black and white.) Lately I find myself dwelling daily in ambiguity, a word which translates directly from the Latin for 'to wander'. Indeed, my mind wanders 'round and 'round: Am I doing right by my family, my friends, my community, my self? Should I give more of my time, my energy, my emotion? Am I thinking too much? Not enough? Would it be easier to eat this avocado toast with a fork than with my fingers? Extend these questions beyond my personal life to the challenges that face our world at large and my brain coughs, sputters, chokes like a manual transmission at the hands of a fretful student driver.
Yet with connection comes comfort, and my brain can't stop seeking both. At a not-so-long-ago inauguration ceremony, when Martin Luther King Jr. still lived and when the entering electee faced a country severely divided—he'd won by even more narrow a victory than President Obama did last November—the poet Robert Frost recited his poem 'The Gift Outright'. It is a compact piece of verse. Sixteen brief lines embody the American Revolution, its unfinished story, its uncertain legacy. The President who asked Frost to speak at the inauguration would be dead less than three years later, his own legacy a mix of unfinished stories and uncertain character.
The chorus of patriots and pioneers, poet laureates and Presidents tunes my clamorous thoughts to a single quiet note of solace: These celebrated scions of history didn't have the answers any more than I do. Their ambiguities, though manifested on a more grand scale, were no less grey. So even when the fog seems most thick, we must never stop wandering. Wondering. Coming 'round to the words of Dr. King: “Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”