Giles: Remembering Dr. King

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This coming week marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Our contributor Nancy Giles needs no reminding...

How can it be 40 years since Dr. King was murdered? It's still so tragic and so depressing, but it's a fact that can't be changed.

And I still wonder: if he just hadn't gone out on the hotel balcony, if he stayed in Atlanta instead of going to Memphis, if there were no such thing as guns …

It's the same loop of thoughts I get every November 22 about President Kennedy, made worse by the film footage of what were the last minutes of his life. You know what's coming, but somehow you keep hoping the car will stop to change a tire and the timing's different and nothing bad happens.

It's frustrating because I only have vague memories of Dr. King when he was alive: seeing his face, his little mustache, and hearing his booming voice on our big black and white TV.

What I remember most is his funeral. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I was fidgeting, and kept looking outside wanting to be out there playing. But Mom said something like "You're all watching this - it's history," and that was that. We all sat inside and watched. I looked at his children and couldn't even imagine what it would be like if my father wasn't there anymore.

Martin Luther King was only 39 years old when he died, but seemed so much older. Or is it that most 39-year-olds these days are self-involved slackers?

He packed so much into his life it's embarrassing. There he was, preaching, planning, writing, marching, spending his 20s and 30s changing this country, while I spent my 20s and 30s paying off college loans and looking for acting work.

He was a legend, but he was also a man. A guy who saved things - his report card from theology school (he got a "C" in public speaking!); the bank deposit slip from his Nobel Prize money; the telegram inviting him to President Kennedy's funeral. His speeches: typewritten with handwritten corrections. He was a reader. A thinker. A man of change.

And he's gone. But his work must live on.