I had forgotten today was his 50th anniversary of being assassinated in Memphis Tennessee.
On one hand, that’s a little strange because I consider MLK to be my primary role model. On the other hand, I forget a lot of things.
I had been thinking a lot about him as I drove to work today.
The mystical side of me thinks his memory was in the air so that’s why I was thinking about him. The practical side of me thinks his memory was in my mind because of the importance of this month for Second Chance Village.
The God at Dr. King’s Kitchen Table
There are countless stories of Dr. King’s that are iconic representations of bravery, calmness and steadfast belief in the nonviolent approach to protesting. You really can’t believe his resolve when you read about it.
But there is one story I love the most.
He came home late Friday night, Jan. 27, 1956. He was tired and on edge. His phone rang and the sneering voice on the other end said, “”Leave Montgomery immediately if you have no wish to die.”
His fear surged. He was shaking. He put on a pot of coffee and fell into a kitchen chair.
This was the beginning of what he was to declare his most profound spiritual experience.
He describes it in his book Stride Toward Freedom.
I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.
The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”
At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”
Three days later a bomb blasted his house and his family escaped harm by a hairsbreadth. “Strangely enough,” King later wrote, “I accepted the word of the bombing calmly. My religious experience a few nights before had given me the strength to face it.”
His revelation that night has always had a profound impression on me.
I get scared. I ask: Am I screwing up my life? Am I throwing away all the things and money my wife and I have collected for the last twenty years? Am I going to be financially ruined? Am I going to be physically attacked?
The answer is always this moment Dr. King experienced that one midnight in 1956.
“Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.”
I often ask myself: “Would Martin Luther King be proud of me?”
I look to him and his spirit as my guide and my strength.
I then remind myself that I am healthy, strong, educated and given a great opportunity to make a difference.
Everything I’ve experienced has prepared me for this moment in my life. As a student of literature, music, history and art in college I’ve learned the lessons of our past. As a businessman and entrepreneur for the last 20 years I’ve learned money, strength and capitalism. As a father and husband I’ve learned responsibility.
And all of it culminates in the life and leadership of Martin Luther King Jr.
I know I’m not half the man he is. He is everything I want to be and likely will never achieve. But that’s the point of a role model. They are a vision. They are an ideal. They are the mountain top.
Martin Luther King Jr. and others like him are important because they hold up the ideal of what is possible. They are the 4 minute mile. They are the lunar landing. They are the cure for polio.
A role model pushes you to your limits. They give you hope and strength.
We need them.
Having Martin Luther King Jr. as part of the American historical landscape is more valuable than we can even imagine. His importance will likely be remembered for as long as there are written historical records.
In my most private moments, when I’m feeling strong and confident, I sometimes say to myself, “What if I could be as great at Martin Luther King Jr.?”
It’s an arrogant thought. I feel embarrassed even asking the question. But then I give myself a break. This is how the world gets better. When people ask, “What if I could be as great as…” we all move up a tiny notch in civilization.
My wish for you on this 50th anniversary of his death is that you have a role model. That you have someone you aspire to be. It adds a wonderful glow to your journey through life.