As we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, we are a nation still in shock and still mourning for those killed and wounded in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8.

On a day set aside to remember a man of peace who was taken away from us through violence, we are again confounded by the loss of good, decent people struck down by a cold-blooded killer.

From our leaders we hear calls for civility. We hear calls for petty bickering to give way to constructive dialogue. As of this writing, the cease-fire in the standard political war of words was still in place. Let's hope it holds.

Just as Dr. King has inspired generations of Americans to lead good lives and care for others, we pray that the tragedy in Tucson will inspire others to focus on curing our nation's ills and making this a better country.

That notion of making this a better nation is what today's holiday is all about. For many, this isn't about getting a day off from work or about hitting some great sales at the mall.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is a national effort in which citizens volunteer their time to assist others.

Students and faculty at Cumberland County College took part on Thursday and Friday, visiting schools, senior centers and social service agencies of various sorts, giving of their time and talents to assist others.

This is what we do when faced with adversity. We turn a tragedy into a chance to help. We've seen it countless times as our neighbors, both in Cumberland County and on the other side of the globe, needed a hand. We give our time, our cash and our prayers to those suffering from flood, fire, famine, earthquake or terrorist attack.

We give even in difficult financial times, when many of us are hurting. We give even though we are grieving, as demonstrated following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Dr. King's legacy is one of perseverance and compassion. He sought civil rights through non-violent means because he knew it was a better way to live and to achieve his goals.

He said life's most urgent question is, "What are you doing for others?"

As a nation, we may be far from living up to Dr. King's dream, but the basic human decency we demonstrate every time our neighbors need us is further proof that we understand Dr. King's question and are doing our best through plenty of adversity to answer his call every single day.

Cumberland (Md.) Times-News