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Blackbird singing in the dead of night, so addressed the poet/musician Paul McCartney to this harbinger of spring, with its rich flute-like trills. Then, he unleashed his response to police forcibly removing a black woman from the white section of a New York restaurant in 1968. Moving back from his hotel window across the street, he continued writing.

A close look at the words chosen for this song-poem evidenced Paul’s artistry: This was not your usual blackbird; in the UK, the words bird and girl were used interchangeably, so the victim in the fracas morphed into blackbird whose spirit sang, no matter the violence fraught with death. Years of such bludgeoning no longer mattered and spawned more protest marches.

Only visionaries intuit patterns for critical change, and McCartney’s revolutionary paradoxes sought to fulfill this purpose:

Take these broken wings and learn to fly.

Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.

The mandate to receive these gifts, despite their uselessness, and learn different ways of empowerment and vision was clear. Precisely in their woundedness, they would find healing, through their imaginations. It would be their experience.

Indeed,

All your life/you were only waiting for this moment to come.

That moment has come and gone. Not much has changed, or so it seems. Ensuing betrayals and tribulations have scarred hearts, that is true, but more learning to fly and see continue among us.

And the mandate still holds:  

Blackbird fly/ Into the light of the dark black of night.

Within that paradox, LIFE abounds … and always has.

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.

A chance hearing of a symphonic biography stirred memories of our country’s racism in the 1960s: riots, maiming, burnings, beatings, deaths, looting, torture, imprisonments, hospitalizations, bombings, and KKK villainy. Snarling attack dogs, fire hoses, tear gas, riot protective gear, and batons were prominent in the evening news.

Of the voices of protest none was more charismatic than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Baptist preacher and magnet for the Civil Rights Movement. Despite his 1968 assassination, his dream breathes on in the work of many, including the composer Joseph Schwantner and his symphonic biography: New Morning for the WorldDaybreak for Freedom (1982).

A narrator stands before the symphony orchestra and within the colorful and bombastic strains of this twenty-seven minutes piece melds ten excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches and essays. Referenced are the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott; the 1958 “Stride Toward Freedom;” the 1963 letter from the Birmingham jail; the 1963 “I Have a Dream speech” delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; the 1965 Selma march for voting rights; and King’s “Mountain” speech, the night before his death.

Each excerpt strikes dissonance within the instruments of the orchestra and scrapes festering wounds; yet, winds complement the depths of King’ vision, its crucifying tension sustained by prayer.

Although it’s possible to isolate salient characteristics of the 1960’s devastation in our cities, the nasty scourge of racism still whips the divide between rich and poor, gouges the social fabric with mistrust and animosity, and incites more blood-letting. Infections and fevers run rampant. In my perception, unwellness pervades the air.

Yet, I cannot be silenced. Just as Spirit buoyed Dr. King through harrowing trials into eternal life, just as Spirit moved Joseph Schwantner to compose New Morning for the WorldDaybreak for Freedom, to honor his vision, just so will Spirit enlarge our fearful hearts to rejoice, despite setbacks of any stripe. This, too, will pass.

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