On Martin Luther King Day I participated a Mussar retreat. Mussar is a Jewish spiritual practice developed in 19th century Eastern Europe. It is intended to open a space within to look at living your values; a spiritual wake-up call about walking a moral path in life. It was a great way to celebrate MLK Day because Martin was my Mussar teacher.
Martin helped me look at my truth and face my fears, he was the stimulus for taking a Greyhound bus to Richmond, VA, in1958 where I sat at a segregated lunch counter in the terminal, and felt lucky to get out alive. I was physically OK, but it had a profound emotional impact on me, I felt how much this man sacrificed in the pursuit his dreams.
When Martin was assassinated in 1968, I was a first-year resident in psychiatry and working on an inpatient unit at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, situated in the mostly black, inner city of New Haven. We were all devastated by the news, and anticipated a deluge of psychiatric emergencies but that didn’t happen. In fact, the patients seeing the staff in such despair took care of each other, and the community came together as well. Martin Luther King was such a potent figure of hope and reconciliation, that even in his death he found a way to bind us together in community.
I spent MLK’s day feeling his Mussar, and the next night saw the movie “Selma”. Over the past weeks I keep hearing him in my brain… get out there, share your truth… do what you can and do it now, you’re not going to finish the job… what matters most is leaving a light for those who follow.
Joseph Campbell, was the world’s foremost authority on mythology, in his celebrated classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he said that in the end the heroes journey was never about the aggrandizement of the hero, the ecstasy of the fame, rather it was about the wisdom and the power to serve others.
It’s important to celebrate MLK’s day every year; a hero who helps us believe in dreams.