We suppose that relatively few people spend much time thinking about how they want to be remembered after their deaths. But in the case of our nation's most prominent historical figures, it's safe to hazard a few guesses.
We can safely assume, for example, that George Washington would be appalled to know that his birthday has become synonymous with retail clearance sales.
But there has been a marvelous effort, nationwide, (as there should be on all national holidays marking birthdays), to preserve the integrity of the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. And King told us how he wanted to be remembered. That message was prophetically delivered in the last sermon he delivered before his assassination in 1968.
The same sermon provides timely guidance for anyone wondering how they can honorably mark this day.
King did not want to be remembered for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. "That's not important," he said. He didn't want to be remembered by the schools he attended, or for his studiousness, even though he was a college valedictorian who earned a doctorate in systematic theology.
Did he want to be remembered by the "I Have A Dream" speech he delivered at the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, at the time the largest civil rights demonstration ever in the United States and the largest gathering in Washington?
The answer is no. He simply wanted to be remembered for having tried to help people who were in need.
"I'd like for somebody to say that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody," he said. "I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked . . . I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity."
King was also quite clear on the kind of legacy he wanted to leave.
"I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say. If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cure somebody with a love song, if I can show somebody he's traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain."
Emulating those words is one way to ensure that this day will not pass in vain.