He spoke on those hard steps in August of ’63. It would be four years later that I was born and many more years before I knew of Martin’s voice. My grade school friend was James, a boy with skin black like night. He wore a corduroy jacket on his back year ’round and Wallabees on his feet. James was strong and fast. I was thin and average. But we both were born gentle and that was our meeting ground. Most mornings I sat beside James on our yellowed bus, neither of us cognizant of how much had or hadn’t changed since Martin thundered. As James and John we were ignorant of the status of funds in the bank of justice; we had no sense of the urgency of Now. We were ignorant but not entirely innocent. When Sundays came I would attend my father’s church filled with white people beneath a white steeple. James went to his church in another section of the small Texas town that sits 33º North and 94º West. So the singular place that could have been more than a banquet table for brothers was not. Our friendship could only travel so far, beyond that lived the hidden wound. It would be years later before I knew of Martin’s voice, and still more before I realized how little I knew of the life of my friend with skin as black as mine was white. Back then we were two gentle boys struggling against the high plane of the playground in our special and separate peace. The rude awakening from the dream awaited us both. Now, having put away childish things, I am most certain James was startled awake many years before me. I often think of him. I can see his smile like it was just yesterday. I do not wonder if he is still gentle. But I do wonder if he is still strong.
*The phrase the hidden wound is taken from Wendell Berry’s book by the same name.