‘we must be as pure as the ends we seek’

3. Martin Luther King, Jr., a civil rights act...

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Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For many, it was just another day off. Not for me—journalists don’t get days off for many holidays.

But I took the time today to read King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and it was as eloquent and moving today as it was the day it was written. If you want to join me in reading it to commemorate King’s life, it’s here.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

everything will never be ok

My recent birthday was an anniversary of sorts. My 21st birthday five years ago was the last one without chronic disease. I guess that’s kind of a morbid anniversary, but it’s there nonetheless. Five years seems like a long time to be sick, and it is. Five years is the difference in being and undergrad and working in the “real world.” It’s the difference in being happily single and happily married. It’s the difference in knowing I wanted to be a journalist and realising that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

But, looked at another way, it’s not very long at all. It’s taken me almost all of these past five years to come to terms with the fact that chronic illness means forever. That, unless something changes over the course of my lifetime, I will have psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis for the rest of my life. If the average lifespan is 77 years and I’m 26, I have (God willing) at least 51 years left if I hit the average. In that span, five years doesn’t seem like all that many.

In the last five years, I’ve accomplished quite a bit and experienced many changes — getting married, moving eight (!!) times, getting two degrees, adopting a dog and then a cat, coming out of remission, the ups and downs of trying new drugs — and I expect the next five years will hold so many things I can’t see now. I guess the point is this: Life doesn’t stop — for me, for my loved ones, for the rest of the world — because I got some bad news. It may have taken me most of the past five years to accept that things will be different for me from now on, but I don’t think that means giving up. I will live life with as much gusto as I can manage — or fake — for as long as I can. I’ll keep trying and re-trying different medications until I find the combination that works best for me. I’ll take care of my physical body — with exercise and good food — as well as my spiritual life. I will keep experiencing
the things that make life so full and good: the laughter of children, curling up with a good book, seeing the beauty in things great and small, the sound of my husband’s voice, the joy with which my little pup Otis takes in everything and so much more.

I am lucky and blessed in so many ways. It would be a shame for me to dwell so much on the negative — on what I don’t have — instead of loving what I do. Lindsay posted this great quote that sums up so much of what I’m feeling that it seems right to end with it:

The psychological war with illness is fought on two fronts: on the battlefield of the mind and in the depths of the heart. Emotional strength must be learned. I am a better person for that struggle. Attitude is a weapon of choice, endlessly worked. … Self-pity is a poison. There is no time. I need a future and refuse to become a victim. Too often we become oblivious to our own prisons, taking the bars and high walls for granted. Sometimes we construct them ourselves, and the barbed wire goes up even higher. Too many of the limitations placed on us are an extension of our own timidity.
– Richard Cohen