I've been thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Dream of opportunity for all. My parents, Jews whose ancestors immigrated here not many generations before, believed in the American dream. There were no immovable barriers to seeking our personal fulfillment in work or in family life--just challenges that could be overcome. I too believed in the American Dream. I found fulfilling work--my children could, too. My marriage to their mother didn't work out--they could do better, or maybe I could in the future. There was always possibility, hope, and opportunity.

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Even if one got cancer, one could still live the American Dream--one could fight it bravely and, if necessary, die with dignity. In America there was always the opportunity to be somebody and to be yourself.

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Democracy--one person, one vote--is an expression of the American dream. It might be "logical" to vote in proportion to income or IQ but it would clash with the American Dream. We are not equal in IQ, but we are equal in something more important, and thus we can and should be equal in having opportunity.

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All my life I have been concerned about those left out of the American Dream (though my priority concern was the threat of nuclear war). In the sociology classes I taught, we studied the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his creative innovations in leadership. I never imagined that this stuff would personally apply to me, though. I would never be black and unable to sit at a lunch counter; I would never be gay and unable to get married; I'd never even be a woman and unable safely to take a walk at night.

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And when I was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I still didn't think Martin Luther King, Jr. had anything personally to say to me. Nature was to blame, not society--and wasn't society doing all it could for people like me? Just like it was "doing all it could" for a black kid who was advised to get a job as a janitor because he didn't even use the word "be" correctly--you can't argue with biology!

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But then I started learning about the opportunities for rehabilitation (at least occasionally) available to persons with other brain disorders, all kinds of brain disorders, as long as they weren't labeled "progressive" and "incurable." I reread King's magnificent "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," where he passionately spoke out about the indignities and terrors of being a southern black, and a phrase jumped out at me: "when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness...." What a perfect description of what we're up against! A classic book about us is called _The Loss of Self_ . A typical recent book by a caregiver is called _He Used to be Somebody_: "She shares the continuous state of mourning that transpires as she loses Tom in bits and pieces."

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The American Dream, which King died for, is that nobody deserves to feel "a degenerating sense of nobodiness." Everybody needs an opportunity to develop his or her potential to the fullest. We who have Alzheimer's can struggle for this Dream to become a reality. We can learn from King and his movement. We can boldly face the worst, and in the teeth of it proclaim we are still Somebody. Because of the Truth of Something beyond our losses. Then we can fight for an America where every disabled person can sit in the front of the bus!

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