Toni Morrison, the renowned writer and recipient of the 1993 Noble Prize in Literature, once wrote: “When spring comes to the City people notice one another in the road; notice the strangers with whom they share aisles and tables and the space…. It’s the time of year when the City urges contradiction most, encouraging you to buy street food when you have no appetite at all; giving you a taste for a single room occupied by you alone as well as a craving to share it with someone you passed in the street. Really there is no contradiction—rather it’s a condition.” The Ghanaian founder of Smart Youth Volunteer Foundation, Lailah Gifty Akita calls spring: “A season for the soul to regain its strength.” And Reba McEntire, the country western performer, summed up her feeling on the season, saying: “It’s a second chance.”
It’s no coincidence that Easter and Passover are spring holidays. The renewal of nature that comes with spring amplifies the promise of redemption embedded in the historical events being commemorated by both religions.
Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus and His victory over death. Around the same time---and often overlapping--Jewish people celebrate Passover, the holiday commemorating the Hebrews' exodus from slavery in Egypt. In both festivals, nature and history converge with a resounding message of hope. Both holidays are about delivery from a state of despair. Easter assures the individual that life is eternal. It offers a way out of a world beyond repair. It celebrates a religion that provides comfort to those who had lost faith in the gods of Rome. It spreads the message that the death of one has the capacity to save many and the resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate affirmation of life. Passover summons Jews collectively into the world to repair it. The message of Passover is that a tyrant-like Pharaoh could be overthrown. A nation as powerful as Egypt could be defeated. Slaves could become free men. The oppressed could break the shackles of their captivity. Anything is possible, if only we dare to dream the impossible dream. It was the biblical record of the Exodus from Egypt that enabled the spirit of optimism to prevail for the followers of Martin Luther King in their quest for equal rights, because they were stirred by the vision of Moses leading his people to the Promised Land. In fact, the historic speech that King delivered at the Mason Temple in Memphis where he went on April 3 in 1968 to support sanitation workers protesting their meager wages of $1.65 an hour and deplorable working conditions, had the prophetic line in it: “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” He was assassinated the next day.
It was ironic that many of King’s supporters, aides and confidants had urged him against expanding their focus and leaving their comfort zone to take on new causes, such as the Poor People’s Campaign which he was pushing. King would have none of it. Instead he urged the sanitation workers to go on strike telling them: “You have to escalate the struggle a bit.” And he countered the containment argument of his allies with: “We have moved into an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society.”
The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is similar to the lessons of Spring. Without hope all will be lost. Even the history of America's official seal, suggested by Benjamin Franklin in August 1776, echoed this belief with the dramatic scene described in Exodus where Moses divided waters of the Red Sea. The history of our nation has a message that is clear: The impossible can happen, it just takes longer.