In one of George Eliot's lesser-known novels, Felix Holt, we are given a stirring and enigmatic line: "Those old stories of visions and dreams guiding men have their truth: We are saved by making the future present to ourselves."
This week, as I've thought of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, I've found Eliot's words recurring too.
I've a seven-year-old son, and I often wonder how I can convey to him something of the great debt we owe Dr. King for a dream so movingly woven in the fabric of America's experience. How can that dream become a part of his present, and his future? How can its truth come home to him?
Together, we will watch the climax of Dr. King's speech, given a little less than six months before I was born. I will tell him how grateful I am that he and I can watch that film footage together. Timeless eloquence has its own music. I want him to hear lines from the song Dr. King gave the world. They should have a place in his heart.
I will tell him too of how Dr. King's legacy came home to me in my college years. Over the years, many people have written about U2's song, "Pride (In the Name of Love)." I can only say that for me, when the song invoked the refrain of, "free at last," from Dr. King's speech, something changed. Then I heard, "They took your life/They could not take your pride/In the name of love." Three lines -- and Dr. King's dream -- something I'd only ever read about -- became a deeper reality for me. I will always be grateful.
A song came, and helped Dr. King's timeless eloquence live anew. I want my son to know that such things happen.
Last of all, he and I will listen to "MLK," the hauntingly brief track that closes U2's album, The Unforgettable Fire. It has a refrain that is at once an elegy, and a benediction.
"Sleep, sleep tonight/And may your dreams be realized."
I've often thought too, that these words are a prayer.