Enough love to go around
In 2010 I wrote a non-fiction book about a black man. The day we finished our last edits this man and I were sitting in a small empty classroom of a church building in North Carolina. Our five-year journey was finished. And, as I laid my pen down, we wept. Not the sweet tears that stream down the cheeks of those who accomplish a task of joy or who meet a goal. Although, I’m sure those kind of tears were mixed in. No, the tears I’m talking about were the burning tears of lament, anguish, disbelief, hurt, injustice, forgiveness and deep, deep regret.
You see, this man had been born in the 1930s. He was a sharecropper’s son. He attended a one-room classroom that had only a few outdated books to teach from. His neighbor was lynched. There were doors he could not walk through and water fountains he could not drink from. Yet, he did not hate.
He had been spit upon while sitting at a soda fountain in a drug store in Raleigh and dragged from the store and arrested. Upon his release, he’d go do it again. White mothers gave their small children hat pins and told them to go stick them into his arms while he tried to sit at the counter. Yet, he did not hate.
He preached at a church others wanted to burn down. He marched to the courthouse in his hometown, through the historic marketplace where slaves were once sold and demanded that the American flag that flew over that government building be lowered half-mast. His friend, Dr. King had just been assassinated. Police surrounded him. Yet, he did not hate.
His wife and children were threatened. The KKK had once blindfolded him and tied his hands behind his back. He barely escaped a mob who had planned to storm his motel room and lynch him. Yet, he did not hate.
I had listened hour after hour, week after week, as this man told story after story of fear, humiliation, and anger. His dignity, honesty, faith, integrity and motives were always in question and suspect. Yet, not once did he ever speak of hate.
As I took notes there were many times we’d have to stop so we could both grieve. I can’t tell you how many times I asked this man to forgive me and my kind. He’d respond by telling another story, but this time it would be about a white person who showed him kindness, or who treated him as an equal, and there even a few who had saved his life. Then, he’d tell me there was always enough good to go around.
The governor of North Carolina appointed my friend to his cabinet, and in 1980 President Ronald Reagan made him an advisor. He was invited to the White House on several occasions.
My friend is in his 90s now. We haven’t talked in a while. But I hold on tightly to what he taught me. Hate solves nothing and there is always enough good to go around. I pray that will forever be true.
May our hearts remain pliable by the love forgiveness brings.