Martin Luther King and Holly Berries
Sometimes it takes a long time for dreams to bear fruit.
We all know that Martin Luther King had a dream. It has been 50 years since he shared it with us.
In Just Blow It Up, I shared the story of speaking to an audience on Martin Luther King Day and having to follow an almost perfect rendition of the “I Have a Dream” speech. The moment when I took that stage, tears still stinging in my eyes and the iconic words still ringing in my ears, will always be one of the richest and most memorable moments in my speaking career.
I really didn’t know what I could say that would not pale next to that bright hopeful thing that was the dream he left for us.
Then I remembered a story of my own. One from when I was only two or three years old. That story is in the book – this post is not about that story.
Except that the story held the one thing I knew to offer - an honoring of the progress we have made toward making the dream more true. We still have so far to go, but the world I live in today is closer to the world he saw than it was when he gave that speech – about a month after I was born.
So together my audience and I honored progress – because dreams don’t bear fruit in only one harvest. They bear a little in one year. A little more in the next year. And more, and more, and more.
On a walk through the Missouri Botanical Garden a week ago (while out on an Artist Date which I wrote about in my previous post) I took a few pictures of a holly tree covered in fruit. (Isn’t she lovely?)
The picture I did not take was of her mate, the male and fruitless tree growing so close to the berry-covered female that you could hardly tell that they had separate roots.
But while the male tree seemed to be contributing little, its very presence was necessary to produce the harvest of berries born by the female. Without her male counterpart, the female tree would have flourished, but would not have borne fruit. (The holly is a dioecious plant – for the female to bear fruit there must be a male within about 30 feet or so.)
And so it is with dreams.
For every boldly stated dream, there are those who quietly stand in witness, in honor, or in less showy support, in order for that dream to bear fruit.
I’d seen it once before, in the theater, and every scene was emblazoned on my memory.
But it was worth going on that emotional ride again just to experience the final scene – perhaps the best example ever of leadership, of standing for your beliefs, of being true to who you are and what you know, of enabling a dream to bear fruit.
We watch as Todd Anderson, quiet, shy, sensitive, fearful, living his life in the shadow of his brother and under his parent’s thumb, watches Mr. Keating, humbled, humiliated, unemployed and possibly unemployable, but also possibly the only human to look into Todd’s face and see Todd as he really was and as he could be. The only person who saw the passion in his quietude, the beauty in his sensitivity, the courage that lurked behind his fears, leave the classroom.
And Todd stands on his desk, and says the only words he knows that will say everything he needs to say; “Oh Captain, my Captain.”
It stops time, those four words. And when time begins again, an unforgettable tribute is underway and the history of everyone in the room has been changed. Those who followed this unlikely leader’s example and those who did not, are forever aware of themselves in a way that they were not, before time stopped and started again.
The male holly tree. Hardly distinguishable from surrounding trees, apparently bearing no fruit.
But making fruit possible, just by the fact that it stands. Even when it stands on a desk.
Without the bold dreamers, the loud cries for growth, for change, for the fruit their dreams deserve to bear, our world would be a hard and lonely place. But without those who take those dreams and hold them in their hearts, they would never come to fruit at all.
Martin Luther King gained the attention of the world. Over 200,000 people showed up to hear him deliver the “I Have a Dream” speech alone.
Rosa Parks, an activist and the secretary of her local chapter of NAACP, had taken her bold stand eight years before that speech.
Nearly three years before, four black students staged a sit-in at a Woolworth’s counter. They were refused service, but not kicked out. Seeing the success of this peaceful demonstration, many more students staged similar sit-ins throughout the South. Six months later, the same four students ate their meal at that same Woolworth’s counter.
And about a year before that momentous speech, one black student enrolled at the University of Mississippi. One student. It caused such a ruckus that President Kennedy sent 5,000 federal troops to control the outbreaks.
They stood. They sat. They spoke their truth. And the dream has borne fruit. Harvest after harvest.
Whatever your dream – a cause or a business, a global shift or a personal accomplishment, your own success or the success of a friend, child, or stranger whose message you believe in – I offer the lessons of the holly trees.
Honor progress – celebrate every single fruit in every single harvest. It may take one season for your dream to come to fruition, it may take many seasons and many lifetimes. But celebrating the fruit that is now lifts our hearts to the task of tending the trees for harvests yet to come.
Be willing to “swing both ways” – sometimes you may be called to be the showy female, standing out from the crowd and getting credit for the fruit you bear. And sometimes you’ll need to be the stalwart male, with nothing to show for your “hollyness” than glossy edged leaves. They both experience the same sun and rain, both withstand the same storms and droughts, and, although only one shows the results of their partnership, both trees are essential to the harvest.
And I offer too my gratitude. To all who have stood, sat, and spoken from their truth. Because, although many of you have left this physical plane, and some of you were (supposedly) figments of someone’s imagination, your truth bears fruit that makes my world a richer place today.