You’ve heard the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Maybe you didn’t know that the most powerful parts were delivered off the cuff.
“The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.“ tells how he finished the speech on the morning of the March on Washington in 1963. He was up until 4 a.m. refining it. If you closely watch the video of the speech, you see him read from the script at the outset.
It’s a beautiful and inspiring speech. But roughly halfway through, the Rev. King was inspired to say something else, something that wasn‘t written on the paper in front of him.
As he put it, “This thing came to me.“ He had used the phrase “I have a dream” in a speech in Cobo Hall, Detroit and at other places. He decided to use it again as he stood in front of the statue of Lincoln and looked out over the massive crowd.
“I used the phrase, and at that point I just turned aside from the manuscript altogether and didn’t come back to it,“ he said.
It became the most powerful and memorable part of the speech. You can see him looking out at the crowd the entire time, pausing on occasion to try to find the right word. It’s amazing to watch the speech knowing that he was essentially writing it as he went along.
I imagine it came to him naturally not only because he was a great orator, but because it truly was his dream. He was speaking directly from his heart. He’d thought about this dream often. He was committed to making it real, even if others would have to carry on the struggle long after he was gone:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character …
“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers …”
That was his dream. What is our dream?
Do we even have a dream? Are we just trying to drift through life dreamlessly? Are our dreams only about ourselves? Do we dream of something more? For instance, do we dream only about raising our own children without dreaming about the world in which we are raising them or how other children are being treated?
Do our dreams go beyond our narrow self-interest and expand to include all God’s children?
Whatever we dream tends to become our road map. Our dreams direct us, either outwardly toward a greater good or inwardly toward a narrow existence.
In a sense, the Rev. King leaves each of us with a challenge: How do we complete the sentence?
“I have a dream that one day …”