Some words are powerful and deathless beyond measure.
I spent 14 years in Selma, Alabama as a child and youth. My family moved to Selma 12 years after the Voting Rights movement, a movement famously led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My father had bought a house in Selma when training at a nearby US Air Force Base. After Vietnam, my father left service and we relocated to the house he’d purchased years before.
At the end of today’s national MLK holiday, I offer a reflection on my years spent being profoundly influenced by one of the great nonviolent leaders in history and being steeped in modern military culture.
My life is bounded by two quotes from Dr. King.
One answers ‘What is the goal of all this striving?” and the other, “How is that going to happen given we live in a violent world?”
King’s goal was beyond winning a boycott or passing important legislation. He said,
“But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of humanity.”
But those lines are from the end of Dr. King’s paragraph. The (very expensive) hammer – that leads us there – is found in the couple sentences that Dr. King spoke at the beginning of that paragraph. That paragraph is the other bookend in my life.
Dr. King said,
“We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization. There is still a voice crying out in terms that echo across the generations, saying: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you, that you may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven.” This love might well be the salvation of our civilization.”
What? Me? Now you’re meddlin’!
I’ve endured pain beyond bearing – and that pain was caused by people with names. Perhaps you have too experienced such pain. As I rebuilt my life I was lucky to be in the good company of people who taught the path of nonviolent reconciliation. There was voice crying out to my soul saying I can and would participate in the opportunity to inject love into the veins of civilizations, any way I could.
Dr. King’s statement – and the many who practice what he preached – gave me a focal place of beauty and hope to fix my eyes on while my heart wept and my soul healed. It was practical and hopeful. It saved me from some bad choices regarding revenge and bitterness.
I now spend much of my time with the community I was born into: the military. I help, with some modern day heroes, create a respite park for families to reintegrate after deployments. I also offer freely two poetry websites: reconciliationpoetry.com and the poetrybrigade.org
to provide language that is as deathless and as inspiring that I’ve collected along my journey. After all St. John of the Cross said in the late 1500s -when he was imprisoned by members of his own religious order –
And I saw the river
over which every soul
to reach the kingdom of heaven
and the name of that river was suffering:
and I saw a boat
which carries souls
across the river
and the name of that boat
was love. – St. John of the Cross
Yes, Dr. King was firmly anti-military and anti-militarism. I will never leave my community of origin because I see so much love and beauty and promise within them. I know their journey and I know I can help them help the world. Together we – my non-violent and my very violent friends – find a new, hopeful future for ourselves and our civilization.
May you experience miracles in the hearts of humanity. And may you be one.
PS: I just re-did my personal website and at the top there is a big picture of our beloved community at Rick’s Place near Ft. Bragg. Check it out at www.allegrajordan.com