Friday, December 28, 2007

From the Fatigue of Despair to the Buoyancy of Hope

In full holiday, high logistics mode, spending a good part of yesterday shuttling car-less family from out of town--I didn't hear about Benazir Bhutto's assassination til this morning. Musically my first thought was "Alabama" by John Coltrane, his deep river lament on the assassination of four little girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama September 15, 1963. Googling a bit on that song made me want to listen to King's eulogy for the martyred girls cause I'd just read a line from Martin Smith, the author of "John Coltrane: Jazz, Racism and Resistance" where he suggested that Coltrane "patterned his saxophone playing on Martin Luther King's funeral speech. Midway through the song, mirroring the point where King transforms his mourning into a statement of renewed determination for the struggle against racism, Elvin Jones's drumming rises from a whisper to a pounding rage." To me Elvin Jones is not so much raging but embodying "the buoyancy of hope," King talked about in his speech. King preached that the four martyred girls have something to say to religious leaders "who have remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows." The girls have something to say to government leaders who feed their constituents "the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism." The girls have something to say and King, Coltrane and particularly Elvin's drums let those freedom voices sing and swing and call us to be "concerned not merely about WHO murdered them, but about the system, the way of life and the philosophy which PRODUCED the murderers," and call us once more to "substitute courage for caution."

This all resonates so close to me as I process Benazir Bhutto's death. I know very little about this woman. I read a moving, frank, personal commentary about her this morning in the LATimes by a classmate of hers, Amy Wilentz (,0,4296745.story?coll=la-home-commentary) and a few other posts that just gave me a chill that the hard times, particularly in that region just got harder, "as hard as crucible steel" King would say. But King would also say and did say in the final minutes of the eulogy, "...through it all, God walks with us. Never forget that God is able to lift you from fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transforms dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace." From Alabama to Rawalpindi, be it MLK or Jesus, John Coltrane or Elvin Jones, somebody knows our trouble and can lift us buoyantly to our deeper sense of humanity, our deeper commitment to justice, peace and freedom. Glory hallelujah.

"Goodnight sweet princesses. Goodnight those who symbolize a new day. May the flight of angels take thee to thy eternal rest."

I wonder about the just buried Bhutto now as I listen to those final words of King's eulogy where he paraphrases Shakespeare's Hamlet...I wasn't clear about her currently or historically enough to know if she was anyone's "princess" or a symbol of a "new day", but I feel determined to become more aware and with that awareness stay steeped in the buoyancy of Elvin's swing and King's and Coltrane's call to courage.

(I invite you to check out the 7cd collection "A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." and also the must have collection: James Melvin Washington's "A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr." You can find "Alabama" many places, today I grabbed "The Gentle Side of John Coltrane" cause I thought I might need a little John C/Johnny Hartman too after all this.)

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