“Grant us peace, Your most precious gift, O Eternal Source of peace, and give us the will to proclaim its message to all the peoples of the earth.” Reform Judaism blessing
Marjorie, a vibrant and thoughtful 97-year-old friend of my mother gave me this poem. It is by Alfred Duckett. Marjorie knew him while he lived in Brooklyn, where he was born in 1917.
Mr. Duckett collaborated with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on a book and speeches, including Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech for the 1963 March on Washington. He also co-authored Jackie Robinson’s 1972 autobiography, I Never Had It Made, which gives a candid account of what it took to be the first black man in history to play in the major leagues. Mr. Duckett died in 1984 at the age of 67.
I provide the dates of his birth and death in order to put his poem into context. He lived during a time of great, necessary (and long overdue) upheaval in black and white relations.
However, his poem is as timely now as it was then. I would like to share it with you.
First of the Year Letter
by Alfred Duckett
I did not send out Christmas cards this year
with fat, white Santa Clauses or white snow.
I did not hang the holly, did not dress a tree.
For it has occurred to me
that Christmases of days gone by
no longer need to be.
I did not search for Christmas cards
with Santas tinted black or brown
or satin maids with Afro braids
sent into the ghetto to enrich the folks downtown.
I did not send out Christmas cards
to advertise my trade.
Or to advertise my love
for the few, true friends I’ve made.
I gave a party for a child
and other children came.
I visited a friend in jail
with a number and no name.
I sat in meditation and came to realize
that part of being truly black
is refusing to tell white lies.
And so I think of things that are
and things that should not be.
And the Christmases of days gone by
are nevermore for me.
The biggest white lie is “peace on earth,”
for peace on earth is not.
And another is goodwill toward men
which mainly is forgot.
And as long as there are hungry babes,
and as long as there is war,
I mean to find some other paths
than I have trod before.
I mean to find some ways to make
Christmas become more true.
And neighbor, I would like to ask
what do you intend to do?
Today, we know that the lie of “peace on earth” comes in every color. And the lack of goodwill toward humankind and the continuing (and unnecessary) reality of hunger seem to become more prevalent with each passing year.
Each of us will answer the poem’s question in our own way- and in our own time.
I wish you peace, joy, good health, and much love and laughter in the new year.
May your learning be sweet.
Laurel Learning Tips will resume on January 9, 2018.