Love and Hate, where do they take us?
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Recently we celebrated Dr. King’s birthday, each in our own way. Some went to memorial services or marched a few blocks to recall the difficult times of the 1960s. Others used the three-day weekend to go skiing. Some ignored the whole event. How did you celebrate or not? I used the time to complete some tasks at home while thinking about how my life has been impacted by this man’s teachings.
Opinions about Dr. King’s legacy vary, but not as widely as they did when he was prodding the United States conscience. I heard him called a leader, peacemaker, hatemonger and Communist (the ultimate epithet). I heard rants when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
I was not a part of the Movement, just a watcher, but have my own thoughts about that time. I hope you’ll indulge my memories and reflect on how your life has changed since Dr. King’s time on Earth.
One summer my family traveled south in our rattle-trap car to visit relatives. At one point I had severe urgencies. My dad stopped at a gas-station with outdoor facilities. The white restroom was closed for repairs. I ran to the other one and was turned away by a kind Black woman who told me I would need to go down the street a few blocks to another gas station. If she let me inside she would lose her job. This made no sense. A bathroom was a bathroom and I needed one – immediately.
At church I was learning about the dignity of all God’s creatures, but was seeing cruelty and hate on television. I saw bus boycotts, marches and sit-ins, fire hoses, church bombings, police dogs attacking marchers and masses of people crammed into tiny jail cells. These sights and sounds found a home in my mind.
I did not participate in any of these activities, but watched with a heavy heart. As a teen at home, my parents feared for my safety and forbade me to participate. Later as a young wife, I did not participate because I feared that an arrest would mean a pay-grade reduction for my Army husband.
Then 1968 arrived, and I thought the end of the world had arrived with it. We experienced the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, Dr. King’s assassination, riots and shootings, Robert Kennedy’s assassination and more riots and shootings. I was terrified. I “knew” this was the end. Just as television news terrified me, television also saved my sanity by airing the irreverent Smothers Brothers Show and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in.
Many years later I had the opportunity to interview for The Madison Times, Dr. James Jones who watched Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” from his office window while drafting the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Not long after that Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for Congress, granted an interview for the same paper. They were both gracious and kind to this white woman who sat on the sidelines during the movement’s worst days.
Even now events occur that lead to riots and marches. We’ve come a long way but have a long way to go. We see interethnic strife not just in our country, but around the world. Attacks and murders by militants who think everyone should believe as they do are becoming all too commonplace.
I understand that as humans we are contentious creatures who tend to believe that someone needs to be the lead dog and it should be ME. However, we need to remember the words not only of Dr. King, but also of other leaders: Jesus, crucified; Ghandi, assassinated; and the Dalai Lama, forced from his homeland.
For a different perspective we can look at comedian Flip Wilson who portrayed Geraldine, a character whose catch-phrase was, “What you see is what you get.” We laughed and adopted the phrase as our own. Later I realized that along with Flip, the leaders I mentioned were saying that if you expect hatred, you will experience hatred. If you see love, you will receive love many times over what you expect.
Those people gained notoriety and fame for teaching peace. However, we internalize what we learn from those close to us: family, friends, and people we meet. I’ve learned that even though the news constantly bombards us with violence and hatred, most people I meet are kind. I see love in their eyes. Occasionally, I see fear, but a soft voice and kind actions turn the fear into appreciation.
Do you choose to see darkness or light?
© Sharon D. Dillon, January 21, 2015