Monday, January 17, 2011

The Drum Major Instinct.

 When I was fifteen years old, I got in trouble for doing something that I had no business doing. While I do not remember exactly what it is that I did wrong (I did a lot of stuff back then), I do vividly recall the "punishment" issued in its response.

"I want you to sit in your room and listen to this speech. Then I want you to write me an essay about what you learned."

Wait, huh?

That's what my dad said to me that day. Not "you're grounded." Not "you can't watch television or you can't go to your friend's house." We were getting older and dad was looking for a remix on the discipline. Spanking a tenth grade girl was probably just a little weird, and because his nerdy kids liked reading so much, being grounded did nothing but give us an excuse to finish the next book in the V.C. Andrews saga.  So the folks had to get creative. His latest resort during this time?  Playing Martin Luther King sermons for his teenage kids. Uggghhh.

Oh yeah--and making them write essays afterward.

So. . .on the day to which I am referring, Daddy had me listen to one called "The Drum Major Instinct." I think I rolled my eyes so hard that day that they nearly permanently lodged in the back of my eye sockets. But. . . I finally sat down, opened up the case with the cassette covered with Dad's all caps handwriting, and sulked my chin into my palm.


Then he started speaking. . . .and wow.  The day I heard that wobbly tape playing from the boombox in our bedroom remains one I will never forget.  The words. . .those words. . . they shook me to my core.

By this time, I'd heard "I Have a Dream" several times.  In fact, I even knew several parts of it by heart. But this one. . . it never came on during television broadcasts or was included in our school productions. Yeah.  "The Drum Major" -- who?

The Drum Major Instinct essentially says that within everyone lies a desire to, at some point and in some way, march out in front. To be first. To lead the parade.  He explains that  whether we admit it to ourselves or not, praise feels good.  Yet this instinct has much to do with all that is awry with the world.  He also rounds up the message by charging the listener and also himself to never let go of your "Drum Major Instinct" -- but to instead push to be a "drum major" in the ways that matter most:


I was deeply convicted by those words that day. They made me want to be better. To try harder. To love with zeal. And to strive to achieve my own kind of distinction.

I never forgot those words. Twenty five years later, they still resonate with me and move me in the deepest parts of my soul.

Every year on the MLK holiday, I listen to "The Drum Major Instinct." Today, I hope you will, too.

Thanks, Dad.


Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.  You were a drum major, indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the clip of the speech. I had not heard it before, though I was living in the city when it was delivered. Knowing that he was a preacher, I knew there must have been many more moving sermons than just "I have a dream", and you have proven that right. Thanks for sharing.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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