A few months after graduating from university, a friend of mine and I embarked on a holy crusade, of sorts. She was heading to do her PhD in American studies at Notre Dame and had been awarded a research grant to study landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement. I was unemployed and looking for something to inspire me beyond wine binges and Godfather marathons with my best friend at the time (and eventual husband....).
It was a road trip in that grandest sense of the word. We had both been inspired by the Movement - having read about it and written papers about it for the better part of 2 years- and we were still young and impressionable enough to believe that the history that we'd read about might move us beyond the dates, times and places that they represented. So much so that we knocked on the doors of the very people we'd read about in books and they let us in, sharing, eating, laughing and praying with us and enriching our lives beyond measure. It was powerful, life changing stuff.
One of my favorite moments of the entire trip was going to listen to a speech at Morehouse College in Atlanta, given by John Lewis. It was at the tail end of our trip and we had a choice: dinner at Denny's with our last few dollars or the speech. For once, I didn't let my stomach do the talking.
Mr. Lewis was then - as he still is - a Congressman for the State of Georgia. He'd spoken at the March on Washington of 1963, addressing the same crowd that heard Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. A few months before that famous speech, he'd been beaten mercilessly on the Freedom Rides that crisscrossed the South to desegregate bus travel and been arrested more than 40 times in his efforts to fight for civil rights for his community. And yet what I remember most vividly about that warm summer day in Atlanta 20 years later, was that he spoke without a single trace of bitterness. I can still hear, like yesterday, the pride and conviction that resonated as he emparted his efforts to make his country a better place.
Last weekend, while on the way to vote on the Health Care bill, Mr. Lewis was forced to walk a gauntlet of angry Tea Party protesters. He was spat upon and called a nigger. He said later, after the vote passed by a slim margin, that though he was happy the bill had passed, that it had come at a price. It wasn't the words that hurt so much, he said, but the venom with which they'd been spoken. Like he hadn't heard in more that 40 years since I stepped off that bus.
Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true, he'd said all those years ago. What a price to pay, is all I keep thinking.