A Prayer for Leaders from Dr. King.

I do not know what a prayer is, though I have recited my fair share. I know it is more than a wish, or hope, or thanks. It is outward — a conversation with the universe. And inward — uncovering an intimate truth.

P-R-A-Y. Pop of lips, rip of air, long sigh of an open mouth. Pray. Move the air with your breath in the direction of another being. Will they even know you’ve done it? Can a prayer shrink a tumor? Bring success? Repair a country?

Why pray?

Pray because words exhaled together may shift something too cosmic for our animal brains to know or understand.

Pray because sometimes it is all you can do — when you are not the one who wields the scalpel or sews the sutures or bathes the infirm; when you are not the one placing a hand on a Bible swearing to lead a country out of chaos; when you are on the periphery of your friend’s pain, and it means something to her that you promised to do it.

Pray not because it changes the world, but because it changes you,” my rabbi’s answer. Pray because it focuses your intention. Propels your next steps. Rebuilds your strength. Restores your equipoise.

Pray because it is a love offering. Because nothing is wasted. Because it couldn’t hurt. Pray because it is your impulse and that is reason enough.

This week, pray to fulfill the words the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke 65 years ago:

To do this job we have got to have more dedicated, consecrated, intelligent and sincere leadership. This is a tense period through which we are passing, this period of transition and there is a need all over the nation for leaders to carry on. Leaders who can somehow sympathize with and calm us and at the same time have a positive quality. We have got to have leaders of this sort who will stand by courageously and yet not run off with emotion. We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity. Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the pressing urgencies of the great cause of freedom. God give us leaders. A time like this demands great leaders.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Aug 11, 1956, “The Birth of a New Age” Address on the Montgomery Bus Boycott

I do not know how to pray. I cannot proclaim that I believe in its power. I pray anyway. For so much.

Change the World, Yes You.

With Martin Luther King Day (a National Day of Service) on the near horizon, it’s fitting that I’m in the middle of re-reading The Lightning Thief with my son. Lightning Thief

The book gets under my skin, asserting that  the Greek myths aren’t myths at all, but true and at work as we live and breathe — gods and monsters, alike. Earthquakes and thunderstorms are the result of gods at war, the entrance to the Underworld is near the Hollywood sign. (Cheap shot.)

The first time we read the book together, I fell so deeply into its world, that I came to suspect everyone. I wondered if the friendly waiter at Fritto Misto was really a monster in disguise. I strongly suspected that all the “super-humans” over the ages, from Marie Curie to Jackie Robinson to Sarah Chang, were demi-gods, like the book’s 12-year-old hero. What else could explain their legendary accomplishments?

On the one hand, it’s a healthy delusion: if they’re demi-gods, I have an excuse for not yet achieving any world-shaking accomplishments.

On the other hand, in the unlikely event that there are no demi-gods, that the book is pure fiction, that Martin Luther King and Einstein and Picasso and Tallchief, were mortals, I’m screwed.

I have no excuse. We’re all potential all-stars. Uh-oh.

I once heard a speaker say, “Everyone in the history of the world has only been one person.” Clearly not a believer in demi-gods. His point was a retort to the oft-asked, “I’m just one person; what can one person do?” Everyone in the history of the world has only been one person. Each of us has something to offer, some gift to give. We don’t have to inspire masses to engage in civil disobedience and help change a nation, but we should recognize that we have the potential to do it.


It’s daunting to realize you have no existential excuse for hanging in the background with a box of cookies and a good book. I, for one, am daunted every day. But the flip side to “daunted” is “inspired.” I might write myself a note and stick it on my wall: “If she could do it, so can I.”

Not knowing what your gift should be can induce a case of paralysis. Indecision is a tough flu to kick. It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to start somewhere. Just pick something.

Okay. On Monday, MLK Jr. Day, a school holiday to honor not just a man, but a movement for equality and justice, I’m going to do it. I will pick myself up off the couch, wrest my boys away from their new Kinect game, fight the forces of inertia that conspire to keep us all in pajamas, and we will do SOMETHING. Volunteer at a beach clean-up, or serve a meal and gather warm, clean clothes for homeless men and women on skid row, or even host a lemonade stand for a charity. Something. Because each of us has something to give, and the world still needs a lot of stuff done. And none of us has an excuse. Damn you, Percy Jackson! I knew you were too good to be true.

(The worst/best part? Now that I’ve shared this I have to stick to it. Oy. Quick, tell me what you’re going to do for our National Day of Service, and you’ll have to stick to it, too.)