Easter is different this year because it's all here at once. Spring normally arrives piecemeal. First red camellias appear, then as they depart the azaleas come. Then they drop and others emerge, dogwood, what have you.
Not this year. A longer winter has brought a simultaneous eruption of flowers and our town is alive with color. Purple wisteria hangs like bundles of fragrant grapes. Dogwood's alabaster, the pink, purple and fuchsia of azaleas, every wild hue in the botanical palette paints every glance. Spring arrived late and Easter came early in a rainbow seldom seen.
At Easter dinner I listen to relatives banter. There's no mention of a church awash in scandal, in pedophilia and cries for their leader's accounting. They gather in ostensible recognition of a legendary character whose life was example, who showed the world what he meant when he said to forsake the material, to love thy neighbor as thyself. And for that adherence he was slain.
To them, he arose from death stronger than before though too few of his eventual followers would reflect his example in their own paths.
Amidst the fortune of our full table, I wander the tales of my childhood, to the stories of another who walked among the poor and "practiced what he preached." In Birmingham, the name Brother Bryan
carries a heavy legacy, a Princeton grad who came to the rough-and-tumble steel town and became an outspoken supporter of racial healing in a state that had surrendered to Jim Crow. The Presbyterian minister was most famous for frequently and literally giving the clothes off his back to the unfortunates he passed in the streets. His legend that grew after his life ended showed my youthful mind that the famous Nazarene's code was possible.
Unavoidably, Easter's date also brings my thoughts to another legendary character whose life was example, who showed the world what he meant when he said to forsake the old ways, to love thy neighbor as thyself. And for that adherence he was slain.
He, too, walked the streets of Birmingham. He also slept in its jail and penned a famous letter from behind those bars. This man was as brave as anyone I ever heard or read about and as revolutionary as they come.
He stood for the downtrodden and in doing so stood even for those who hated him. He realized true freedom eluded us all.
And 42 years ago today, his death set the world on fire, not unlike the Nazarene.
I think back to another riotous April, a day in 1992 when I watched the voices of the disenfranchised rise on the smoke billowing up from South Central Los Angeles. It began with a beating then ignited with the acquittal of the assailants.
I watched in horror as another innocent, a working man driving a truck was dragged and assaulted with deadly force on the asphalt of an intersection merely for having the wrong skin color. In that moment, a stanza from the above song rang in my head.
"Will the murders never cease?
Are they men or are they beasts?
What do they ever hope, ever hope to gain?
Will my country fall, stand or fall?
Is it too late for us all?
And did Martin Luther King just die in vain?"
And on this April day, this Easter Sunday that should center forgiveness and redemption, we are surrounded once again by hatred threatening to engulf our nation, by prejudice coalescing into deadly thoughts and actions. At a time when we seem closer than ever to the dreams of the Nazarene, of Brother Bryan, of Dr. King, the ugliness within our national soul is bubbling again.
So I look at the natural wonder converging around me and think of the possible beauty that others could glimpse if we only opened our eyes and saw ourselves in abject honesty.