Sunday, August 27, 2023

"If I Had Sneezed..."


Nobel Peace Prize Archive, 1964. This image is in the Public Domain {{PD-1996}}

Sixty years ago on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech. He called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism, addressing a crowd at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC that was estimated at 250,000. The speech still has a special power. 

But so too, differently and at times more intimately, does his speech I Have Been to the Mountaintop. This was King's final speech, delivered on April 3, 1968 amid threats to his life, with a sense of foreboding, the day before his assassination.

King illustrates with a sweep across history some milestones pertinent to the realities of his day to encourage sustained efforts to advance civil rights. He encourages commitment to a "dangerous unselfishness" with love for all peopleand extends a call for unity and determination through non-violent protest.

The refrain "If I had sneezed..." emerges toward the end of the speech, when King recalls the time almost a decade earlier, when he was stabbed by a "demented" woman who nearly took his life. The surgeon at Harlem Hospital, who operated on King after this event, commented that the blade of the weapon lodged in his chest so close to the aorta, the main artery, that a single sneeze would have caused his death. 

As King notes, "once that's punctured, you're drowned in your own blood, that's the end of you." He references the surgeon's comment to relate the significance of one message among the many that he received from around the nation and the world, expressing care, concern, and good wishes for his recovery. 

The letter was from a nine-year old white girl, who expressed sincerely and simply how glad she was that he did not sneeze. After quoting this letter, King repeats the refrain "If I had sneezed..." to engage listeners with remembering important advances for the civil rights movement that he would not otherwise have participated in. This progressively becomes a catch cry, punctuating his recollection of the progress he has enjoyed with his listeners, simply because he did not sneeze. 

With this personal story, King enjoins listeners to sustain the movement's progress and offers hope to reach the promised land without him. He exemplifies the courage, wisdom, and prudence required to seek the fairness and honesty of equal rights.

Excerpt Link: 

Complete Speech Text:

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Le Tour Nouveau

Demi Vollering, winner Tour de France Femmes 2023
by Hugo LUC is licensed under CCA-SA 4.0 International 

Once again during July, many millions of fans and followers were devoted to the three-week spectacle that is Le Tour. Beyond entertainment, this annually anticipated event reliably spotlights fitness, endurance, courage, skill, ingenuity, competition, cooperation, camaraderie, and more.

The animatedly rich commentary of Phil Liggett, Bob Roll, and others distill excitement and ever-changing fortunes in play. And along the way are sweeping views of Europe's bucolic landscape and historic architecture, as well as informative remarks on cultural significances, mixed with a continuous flow of anecdotes on cycling performance and previous accomplishments. 

Then Tour de France Femmes advances the televised spectacle similarly, followed by Vuelta a España. Cycling enthusiasts are attuned to appreciate the exceptional. Even the sponsorships plastered over bicycles, support vehicles, roadside signage, cyclist jerseys, and other paraphernalia integrate as an accepted backdrop. Prime attention is focused on capturing remarkable efforts of endurance, strategy, teamwork, and speed.

Yet it was less than a decade ago that the exceptionalism was stained with the distortion of cheats. It took a comparable persistence of the sport's associations, sponsors, and government interventions to purge unacceptable behaviors. For nations now dealing with analogous behaviors of pseudo-populists defrauding voters, the challenges will be at least as great. 

Perhaps "Le Tour nouveau" and similar can help inspire the commitments and courage required to purge the outrageous from public life.