How did you tell it?
Yesterday, Martin Luther King Day, coincided with the second inauguration of President Obama.
And most stations I watched and heard told the story just about like that.
But there’s another way to explain yesterday…
This story starts in 1811, though in truth every story’s beginning is arbitrary.
Imagine living 200 years ago.
Can you hear her voice? “At last, it’s over and our dear little one is gone from us.”
No, let’s start even earlier…
She was the seventh of thirteen children. No one would have expected her to become the most famous of her time.
Her mother died when she was only 5, so she knew the anxiety and insecurity that must accompany any motherless child.
As a girl, she had wanted to be a writer, but after marriage and 6 children, she barely had time to think, much less write.
Money was scarce. Her husband had taken a summer job out of town, so she was caring for all 6 kids by herself when the cholera epidemic struck.
Cholera is a terrible disease, especially in 1849, before antibiotics; the afflicted lost all body fluids, convusling from the dehydration, suffering terribly.
“I could not help, nor soothe, nor do one thing to mitigate his cruel suffering…do nothing but pray he might die soon.”
Loss is ever too frequent a companion, but it is still incomprehensible to a parent watching their child die without being able to help in any way.
She called him her “summer child,” little Charlie: “My Charlie, my baby. So loving and sweet. So full of life and hope and strength now lies shrouded, pale and cold, in the room below.”
Charlie, who was only 18 months old, died in her ams. She did not even have her husband close to console her, to grieve with her. Despair would have been understandable.
She said Charlie’s death helped her understand the helplessness and pain enslaved mothers must feel when their children were taken from them to be sold. She could imagine the terror the child felt being ripped from his mother’s embrace.
Her loss, of both a mother and a most beloved child, hollowed a space in her broken heart that she filled with empathy and activism.
Her words would fuel the passions of millions, leading to the Civil War, during which more Americans were killed than in all of our other wars combined. The cause for which it was fought would claim perhaps our greatest President as one of its victims.
He, too, had lost a son. He, too, had lost his mother.
But their words, the eloquence each of these broken souls found within their personal grief, would change our country, and the world, forever.
And lead, though the path was longer and more troubled than could have been foreseen, to what we witnessed yesterday.
Yes, America has its share of problems. Yes, partisan pettiness and rancor win too often on both sides.
But yesterday proved, once again, why our nation is so great.
That is the story I know. That is the story I wish had been shared.
America, America, God shed His grace on thee,
and crowned thy good, with brotherhood,
from sea to shining sea.