Today, our country honors the birth, life, and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Recently, I had the opportunity to take my mom to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. We observed social distancing and mask wearing. While the weather may have been chilly, the atmosphere was filled with warmth and with hope.
Mom and I walked through the Mountain of Despair to the Stone of Hope and read many of the phrases chosen by a special “Council of Historians” to reflect Dr. King’s life and teachings of justice, democracy, hope and love. I was grateful that someone who is such a giant to me and so many others all over the world held perch as a monolith overlooking the Tidal Basin, facing the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial, with the Washington Monument in sight. I was most struck with the rendering of Dr. King’s gaze, which looked not out at the monuments to great leaders, but directly towards the people milling below the statue – looking at those left to continue his legacy.
This is a special place for contemplation and reflection. Dr. King’s words, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope” seem particularly relevant today as we move through the global COVID-19 pandemic. There are many reasons to despair – economic problems, health challenges, and loss of loved ones. As Director of the National Library of Medicine, I often think about how we can keep our scientists and society strong by serving as a stone of hope. NLM provides high-quality information to help researchers advance their understanding of the SARS-COV2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19), and discover new vaccines and treatments. We provide relevant, evidence-based, and actionable information for the public to guide their everyday health behaviors.
As I read one of the inscriptions, I was struck by a parallel to contemporary expressions about how to overcome the consequences of the pandemic and the role we can play to advance change. Dr. King said in a 1968 speech that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” While not specifically speaking of the moral universe, how many times during this pandemic have we heard about the importance of bending the curve of new coronavirus cases? I was struck both by the visual cue of a bending curve, and the idea that caring for the health of the public, through information and individual action, aligns well with the concept of the moral universe.
I take pride in the fact that NLM and its research and information services – at their core —are of service to the public. I hadn’t quite thought of our efforts as part of the moral universe. Thanks to an inspirational visit honoring a beacon of light, I have found new meaning in the work that we do for science and society.
What inspires you? What broader purpose have you found in your efforts?