“Tell them about the dream, Martin,” she said.

I’ve always wanted to stand with a congregation on the National Mall, ever since the first time I saw Forrest and Jenny wade across the reflecting pool with Lincoln watching.
But also to look back in order to look forward, as they say. To help sit on the arc that’s bending towards freedom.
Somehow, I got a job in DC this summer, and this Wednesday fifty years from 1963, I was sitting on the lawn, under a tree that shed leaves and raindrops.
We said a morning prayer of which I forget the words but have kept the peace, and we sang freedom songs. “I woke up this morning with my mind, stayed on freedom,” began Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor. And I was so happy I could sing with the elder folk, because I’d heard it all before in a documentary.
A gospel choir cleared the drizzle but it came back some.
I learnt that MLK Jr was a frat bro and that Bayard Rustin was a Quaker.
I caught a whiff of weed in the air, made me smile.
“How many seas must a white dove sail /Before she sleeps in the sand?
The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.”
Peter and Paul jammed to the cameras in their own sweet way. Pardon my lack of vocabulary, but when they talked between verses they reminded me of the pink and blue unicorns in Charlie the Unicorn.
The lady sitting in front of us lost her phone and found it back at the security check. In the radius around her we were all glad there was no unrighteous thieving.
A speaker announced that Jamie Foxx was here and I flipped.
He began by saying that he wasn’t gonna look at the teleprompter, just gonna speak from his heart. He looked at the crowd and gave us a great anecdote introducing Harry Belafonte, voice imitation and all: “Mr Belafonte, what were you doing at 19?”
“I was coming home from World War II, and when I got back to America, I wasn’t allowed to vote. I love my country, I love America, but I realized I had more work to do. So myself, Al, Jesse and Martin, we marched.”
“And I said, wait a minute man, you sound like you’re naming a boyband group. What do you mean? Who are these guys’ names?” 
His message was for us young folks to respect our elders. Palms together, asserting. After his speech, some people shouted thank you.
Reverend Al Sharpton is a genius: “Jim Crow had a son called James Crow Jr. Esquire.” Crowd went wild. Everything he said, I wanted to sew onto a pillow or repeat to little kids. “[God] brought us from disgrace to amazing grace”; “We made it this far not because of what we had in our pockets, but what we had in our hearts.” Amen.
The First Family arrived, and John Lewis spoke towards community and the world house, powerful as always. “Find a way to get in the way.”
MLK Jr’s children spoke, as did his sister, who sported an amazing Sunday-best-hat which she had earned completely.
At 3PM, I couldn’t hear them where I was but church bells all over were ringing.
Then Obama spoke for 30 minutes, and across the water on the opposite side from us a lady was yelping out to him “Yes!” and other extended sentiments I couldn’t catch. According to Limyi, this is called having a conversation with the President.
At the end of it, Carter, Clinton and the Obamas took their obligatory photograph standing together on the Lincoln steps and waving. I’ll do the same when I visit Lincoln.
Outside the Mall, there was more peddling of super combo MLK-First Family paraphernalia and Trayvon Martin T-shirts.
I hung out downtown for a bit longer before heading back. When I got off the bus on H Street & 3rd, it started to pour. I just kept walking.


Everything can be justified in hindsight (II)

One night in spring of freshman year, I met a wise man who said, “Second year is the time when your grades drop and your balls grow bigger.”

A curse and a blessing; that’s the order in which it happens. You begin the year with a quarter that bumps .2 of a point off your GPA, and after that you can do anything. It’s your own micro near-life experience. Because when you did your time in the Regenstein and got not much to show for it, justifying that to yourself requires perspective.
Perspective is lying on the ground to look at rain.

Whatever mix of classes you take next, you know it doesn’t get worse than that.
And that is how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. It’s not strictly a second-year phenomenon, but I guess in some ways it had to be. Because it’s only after first year flew over me while I was scraping deadlines and drawing outlines but never achieving as much as I’d hoped that I really sat up and said, what the hell?

When you are young your dreams are never urgent. But the gift of being at college in a vast land for a brief while made me see otherwise. College is one of the last times when you can be gloriously unemployed without being guilty; when the weekend is no more than a proletarian concept, if you schedule your classes wisely. You can keep your own time. You can say, “Today will be a halcyon day.” Then go and have a halcyon day. You can do your homework in your free time. Make it a hobby.

I’ve always wanted to drive into the sunset, get burned a little bit. To make a Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, wherever that is. I wanted to cruise from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again, with the soundtrack of American Graffiti muffling the dying noises of our beloved crummy car.

Of course, this isn’t what happened exactly. Mostly we just made day trips or two-day trips on sunny days and snowy days and days I felt like my world was getting too small. But that’s OK because most of what I learnt I learnt from my friends rather than any particular qualities of the land. Like how I learnt that everything is more fun when you have a big ego, or that you can actually get pulled over from driving too slow.

And always that indigo hour of the highway when we’re all peering out our own windows but listening, really listening to each other, so carefully you can hear a smile or a frown. Just a bunch of kids sweeping through the cornfields, heading towards the same home; all the rest of the world’s just light flares and rushing air.

And once I understood that it’s people not places that make a journey, I began to see that wisdom wouldn’t come from rushing fearlessly into the many possible hearts of the world, collecting bruises on my shins. I could never figure everything out all by myself. Wisdom is more than the sum of new experiences in the raw. Sometimes, you have to sit down and really think about things. The things you’re regretting and forgetting at the same time, the things you didn’t do. And it helps if you have a friend to think aloud with. Or just a friend to make you sit your ass down in the first place, and look at you disappointedly in a way that makes your heart wake up.

I’m a third year now. In the haze of May, bits and pieces of quarters past stick around in my head like a trashy catchy pop song about climbing up rooftops and shouting over tabletops; the idiocy of landlords and the kindness of strangers; unread books, dodgy P-sets, bad ideas and cunning plans.

I’ve started to worry again. The word “fucked-up” has lost half its humour and all its enigma for me. Now I do a lot of thinking, being and feeling. One Saturday night I sat on the toilet for a long time, ears throbbing, heart racing under a sky I just realized was blue. And I think I saw everyone else, worldwide on the Southside, laughing or crying or hurting, waking up or still asleep in their beds or the wrong bed or a stairwell. I closed my eyes and said a prayer to God or a feeling, a feeling of love. Then I remembered that they were the same thing, God and love. And I knew that my heart had aged.

In fall, a wise man asked me my age. “21,” he said, “is a good age for learning things.” I’m not sure what he said was true, but it was kind. Hell, this time last year I still had that cynic’s confidence that extraordinary things only happen when we switch off our brains. I remember reading Fitzgerald’s stuff on the Jazz Age and thinking wow, it could be 1920 or 2012 and nothing changes. A lot of talking from the surface of our hearts and kissing till our lips bleed, except perhaps the tunes were less scurvy then. And I appreciated that college will be the one time it’s acceptable to be blind, and I liked the poetry of how I didn’t understand myself at all; but now it’s all just old music I can’t remember. I don’t know if that makes me happy or sad.

Anyhow, life goes on. In happiness or sadness, or both at the same time; so that when you finally learn the difference, you’ll have known it by heart.