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It seems that monuments honoring notables with charismatic gifts leave larger-than-life impressions upon viewers. Such is the experience studying photos of the thirty-foot sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr., commissioned by the Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin and erected at the West Potomac Park next to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This was in 2011.

King’s star flamed with his nationwide support of the Montgomery bus boycott, in 1963, but sputtered with his blood-stained shirt on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in 1968. For fifteen years, his biblical passion interfaced with racial segregation, poverty, human rights violations, and the Vietnam war—enhanced by his bass voice trained in oratory. Thousands joined sit-ins, marches, even suffered killings, burnings, beatings, and imprisonment. Deep was the hope for peace that swept our country.

Most remember pieces of King’s story, influencing the nightly news during those years.

But what did happen? In my perception, the MLK sculpture suggests a clue. Standing erect in suit and tie, his eyes piercing off into the future, his arms folded, his right hand clutching a sheaf of papers, he seems bound to the stone from which he was chiseled, his lower legs, unfinished. Seen from behind, the stone also casts a shadow; in the analytical psychology of Dr. C. G. Jung, the shadow symbolizes the undesirable aspects of our unconsciousness. That Dr. King was not immune to such aberrations is obvious. He had his enemies.

And grief spilled upon cracked sidewalks, just beginning to flower that April evening.

“Young men, never give up!” so said Winston Churchill on October 29, 1941, to the Harrow graduating class, his alma mater from which he almost flunked out. Then he turned from the podium and sat down. After an interval, he returned to the microphone and in louder tones, repeated,” Never give up!” Then, returned his seat. Still another interval passed and the admonition voiced in even louder tones, “Never give up – never-never-never-never-give up!” Again, he resumed his seat on the platform with the dignitaries. He had no more to say.

The mood in that hall must have been uneasy, given the likely expectation for more consoling words from their Prime Minister. Yet, they were sparse, stringent, intended for high school boys already experiencing the horrors of World War II. That this commencement address should still be remembered says much of Churchill’s reading of the times.

Our times, too, are harrowing, with Covid 19’s continuing menace. Who could have imagined global losses of life and health, of income and business failures, of the shuttering of performing arts and sports venues, stressed families, and the 24/7 possible sting of infection, even with recommended protections. True, vaccines are reported in the near future, but grief has had its way with us: The wound still weeps.

That we are all changed is certain—more resilient, mindful, even compassionate toward others. But how and when shall we begin formulating fresh ways to view ourselves as individuals and communities? Incorporating what’s been useful from the experience and moving on? Will another Churchill rise from the ashes for our times—perhaps from our own resources? Is he/she already here?

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