We Can Choose Love: Reflections on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Sometimes the words you hear change... if not everything, then at least something. Sometimes that event you dragged yourself to even though you'd been running behind schedule all morning gives you exactly the inspiration you need. Sometimes a simple smile reminds you that you are not as alone as you think you are...

Yesterday was one of those days for me...

I walked into Franchesca Ramsey's talk at Oregon State University a few minutes late without a clue what to expect. She spoke to a decent size crowd about activism as part of the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day . As I listened to her speak, my mind began to wander in that way one's mind wanders when the words spoken spark a thought, inspire a new idea, and/or push one to think about one's own actions.

Following Franchesca's talk, I joined the Peace March on campus which ended up being relatively quiet with a bit of singing and a bit of chanting but with many people just walking quietly. I began to wonder if perhaps people felt a bit meditative, or at least contemplative. I know I did, but I attempted to sing along (my apologies to the people marching within earshot.) We sang We Shall OvercomeAin't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around, and This Little Light of Mine. At the end of the Peace March, there was a short rally where a few more speakers spoke about the importance of unity, equality, and recognizing our role moving forward.

Of course through it all, there were many Dr. King quotes mentioned. Some people just have a way of saying and writing things that are timeless in their ability to inspire and encourage. Dr. King was certainly one of those people. Yesterday my thoughts kept going back to a few quotes over and over and over...

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"...Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

I think these particular quotes resonated deeply with me because I try to live from a place of love, and lately I've been failing on that front. I've never been perfect at it, but the past few months I've felt so much fear, anxiety, and despair boiling just beneath the surface that I've found it hard to love in the face of people's hatred.

There seems to be a disconnect that allows people to preach hate one day and the next day praise those who have historically fought that very hate. It amazes me to witness and makes it hard for me to react to those people with love. People seem to forget that Dr. King and all those in the Civil Rights Movement faced resistance with every effort they made to gain the same rights as their oppressors. While we celebrate those marches now, they were met with hatred, violence, and cruelty when they happened. Those seeking change were told not to cause trouble and to go through official channels that time and again shut them down. Today we applaud their persistent efforts, but at that time those efforts were reviled and so were the people putting forth those efforts. It's easy now to look back and romanticize the struggle by focusing on the beautiful words and the outcome, but it's unfair to those who fought to do so.  A large part of what makes the Civil Rights Movement the crowning achievement it is is how the protesters risked their safety, their livelihood, their very lives to draw attention to the inequality they faced.

Yet, even as we now herald The Civil Rights Movement, far too many condemn those seeking equality and civil rights today... I wonder how many times we have to learn the same lessons before we finally understand that equality isn't a special privilege. When are we going to understand that just because someone gets the same rights as us doesn't mean we somehow lose ours? In fact, the more people experiencing rights, the more people can engage with the world around them to offer creative and unique solutions to the problems we all face. When we treat one another with compassion and kindness and humanity, we make the world a better place.

We can never forget the struggle, but we don't have to keep repeating history. We can learn from history and make different choices. We can choose equality. We can choose compassion. We can choose love. Really... we can...


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