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Ever since our trip to Illinois last week, I’ve been thinking of three men who made an indelible mark on our country: Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King Jr., and Abraham Lincoln. While traveling, we visited sites that filled our minds with facts and an increased sense of appreciation for their gifts and perseverance.
We arrived in Tupelo, MS just minutes after the museum chronicling events in Elvis’ life closed. No problem. The grounds were lovely, and we were able to take as much time as we wanted to see the small two-room house where he was born, the church where he spent many Sundays as a child, a huge statue of Elvis as a teenager, and a brick inlaid time line of major life events. It was all fascinating, but I think what captured my attention and awe was just how humble Elvis’ beginnings were.
Elvis’ music touched people all over the world. From the Graceland tour in Memphis, I learned that his Hawaii concert was viewed by one and a half billion people in forty countries. So no, he didn’t fight for human rights or lead a country divided by war, but his impact on others remains. I’ll always remember, “Another little baby boy was born in the ghetto, and his mother cried.” Powerful song.
While I got a real sense of Elvis’s personality and heart while in Graceland, I felt more sad than glad there. He worked hard, played hard, loved hard, and died far too young—right there in Graceland.
While in Memphis, we visited the Civil Rights Museum, an awe-inspiring collection of photographs, artifacts, movies, news clips, and dioramas that teach and inspire at the same time. The main part of the collection takes part in the Lorraine Motel, the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was felled by a single bullet. There’s a wreath on the railing where he was shot. Inside, the rooms where he and some companions stayed are preserved as they were on that day in April 1968. He was an extraordinary man on a mission to improve life for African Americans and all people who were marginalized.
I know he was no saint. But still, when I ponder his role in the Civil Rights Movement and remember King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I can think of no one who did more to move equal rights for all forward.
And finally, there’s Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. As all school children know, Honest Abe, also known as the Great Emancipator, spent much of his young life in a log cabin in Kentucky. He mother died when he was nine years old, and his father remarried about a year later. He was basically a self-taught man whose education is estimated to be a total of eighteen months. He worked at a variety of occupations, including rail-splitter and shopkeeper, before entering political life when he was elected to the Illinois state legislature in 1834.
In Springfield, the facts from history books came to life as we toured Lincoln’s home, ambled through his community, visited the Lincoln Museum, and walked through the old Capitol. In the museum, I learned more of his angst about the war, the slavery issue, and the nation’s economy. I began to see him as a “real” figure, one who loved his country, his wife, and his four boys. Three of the four sons died before reaching adulthood.
Assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln also died too young. He rose above all manner of issues to become one of the most popular and respected leaders of the 19th century.
Elvis and Abe came from lowly beginnings; one became a performer who charmed and entertained people all over the globe, and the other became grew up to hold the highest office in the land. Although his family wasn’t poor, MLK had his challenges and struggles too. Regardless of their inauspicious beginnings, all three men seemed destined for greatness.
Seeing evidences of their lives up close and personal makes me ponder for the hundredth time (or more): What makes some people rise above obstacles to fulfill their potential and become instruments of progress, fairness, civility, and yes, entertainment while others do not?
For the last several nights, I’ve braved the frigid temperatures to go outside and cover my Sago palms with cloth. In years past, I’ve been a little slack about protecting them from the cold and frost, and their green spiky fronds have turned brown and sad looking. A kind friend once told me that she thought they looked gold and hence added a unique and upscale look to the landscape. Yeah, right.
When I went out to remove the protective cloths from the palms this morning, I glanced at my pansies. Yellow, purple, garnet, and white, they were gorgeous. Their pretty little faces seemed a tiny bit turned down, and yet they were still so lovely and so alive. How can it be that something that appears to be so delicate and fragile can be so strong? Through snow, ice, sleet, and below freezing temperatures, their pretty little faces are upturned as if to say, “Bring it on. We can take it.”
I’m probably stretching things a bit here, and yet I can’t help comparing the pansies to some people I know. While they may appear frail, they’re really tough, resilient, and hardy. They’re like steel magnolias. At the same time, the Sago palms look robust and tough, but they’re really not…at least not in cold weather. A cold snap and their fronds are dead and brown.
In years past, we’ve cut the dead fronds and are always thrilled to see the new green life emerging at the base of the plant. I guess there’s a lesson there too (pruning and growing), but today I’m thinking about those pansies and their lesson. If something as lovely and delicate as they are can withstand winter’s worst, so can I.