I was grateful that our church office was closed this MLK Day as I was able to use the day for rest and reflection with my family.
Years ago, I remember having a day off from school and catching a television movie about Dr. King that contained one of the most violent scenes I remember seeing at that point of my life. The scene had a woman approach him while he was signing autographs. Suddenly she stabbed him with something. I remember the panic and people running everywhere to protect him. I was a kid so I didn’t really understand assassination attempts and was further confused by the assassin being a black woman. Of course, years later I would learn that scene was Izola Curry stabbing Dr. King with a letter opener that he barely survived. I believe the movie was “King: The Martin Luther King Story“, a three-part miniseries, first telecast in February 1978.
I remember that I had watched countless of people getting killed on the A-Team and Star Wars but because I knew that Dr. King was a real person, I was truly saddened by the scene. I know how that sounds but I remember how incredible this moment was for me as a kid. And I couldn’t figure out why Izola Curry, a black woman, try to kill him, a black leader? Why did she hate him? The years would roll along and as I mentioned, history class, more media footage and stories would fill in a lot of these blanks for me.
Among the pieces that would get filled in was Dr. King’s compassion for her. For some reason, he didn’t hate her. After surviving the delicate heart surgery, he wished no ill will towards her and said, “I am deeply sorry that a deranged woman should have injured herself in seeking to injure me. I can say, in all sincerity, that I bear no bitterness toward her and I have felt no resentment from the sad moment that the experience occurred.” Now I realize a cynical person could say he had no choice but say that but I believe Dr. King would have said a very similar thing regardless of his attacker. I believe he knew the price of loving when hated.
Many of us find it difficult enough to love people who do not serve us in some way. It’s even harder to love those who are either attempting to hurt us or intent on hating us. Indeed, love is a uncomfortable posture and a extremely difficult practice. For even when we have convinced ourselves that we are ready to love, sometimes the smallest of things can trip us from acting in love.
When I first saw that Dr. King’s attacker was also black, my elementary school mind couldn’t compute why. Later my high school mind filled with more information and more tragic accounts of all kinds still could not reconcile the why’s of so many attacks and incidents – black on black crime, white versus black, Jew and Arab, I could use my entire word count paring up hateful rivals. Like all people, I have always struggled why we are so prone to hurting each other. I’ve grieved how effective we have become at causing so much pain to so many. And during my moments of self-awareness, I’ve scared myself on how skilled I am at hurting others. It seemed Dr. King knew this about others and himself and pressed on to loving even when he was hated.
Like others, I too love the Martin Luther quotes we post on MLK Day. And no, I completely disagree with those who see it as “bandwagon jumping.” People expressed sentiments like, “That moment when you pretend to love Martin Luther King and post your MLK quote” and other things that are either blatantly racist or unfortunately ignorant.
It is good to celebrate and promote the good that is found in our world, even if it’s just for a day. I’m sure there are some who post something inspirational about Dr. King’s merely to appeal to their social media peers. They might turn around and say or do something hateful. Maybe they’ll realize it, maybe they won’t – I hope they do and I hope I discover my blind spots as well. But none of that is for us to judge, so post what’s true, what’s beautiful, and what’s needed for others.
Most people I know don’t actually describe themselves as hating anyone. It’s interesting that some may perceive you as a hate-filled individual. And while none of us can go around insuring that everyone thinks positively about them (and that would be very unhealthy to live in the prison of people’s opinions). We will never know when the Izola Curry’s of life will act on their hate and attack but we can live our lives intentional about being ambassadors of love.
My fellow Christians would say they are inspired by the unconditional love of God. Some might say they are inspired by figures like Dr. King. He might say he was inspired by the sacrificial nature of Jesus. May we all say we want to learn more about what it means to love when we are hated. And so, we close with these often-quoted and powerful words from Dr. King – “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” Let it be so.