Midway through the school year, the year of fifth grade, I came running in the house from playing outside after school to find my mother seated at the table, television on and tears streaming down her face.
She couldn’t speak, just pointed to the TV when I asked what was wrong. There I saw the news: Martin Luther King Jr was shot on the balcony of his hotel. This was a horrible tragedy. My mother, the English teacher in a multi-racial school, was very clear with us that all people are created equal. She valued and espoused the ideals Dr. King spoke. His famous “I have a Dream speech”, spoken on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963, was a speech my mom referenced in her English classes alongside President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
MLK Jr.’s death was a tuning fork in our family. Why a tuning fork? A tuning fork uses resonance to find the common tone in a piano, a guitar, as well as the human voice; thus allowing pitches to be matched to the common resonant frequency. How was his death a tuning fork?
The resonant frequency was loss; my mother’s only brother was killed in Vietnam in Dec 1967; only 4 months earlier. The sudden loss of my uncle tore my family apart; grandparents, aunt, cousins, mom, all losing a very significant person in a tragic way. Now the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr resonated in our family at a far deeper level than just a piece on the nightly news.
I remember standing there staring at the TV, and then in a childlike innocence, going to my mom and patting her on the back, again and again.
How do we offer comfort at a time of deep loss? Jesus modeled this well: He wept. He didn’t say ‘don’t worry everything’s going to be okay’; He didn’t say ‘why are you crying?’ ‘Don’t you have faith?’ No. He wept with His friends who were suffering the loss of their loved brother Lazarus.
We can do well to follow that precious, simple model. Be with those who are suffering. Weep with them. Sit silently with them. Hug them.
Then in their rebuilding process, listen to them speak their memories. Laugh when they laugh. Help them honor the memories. Do something alongside them to commemorate their loved one’s life in some way.
This national holiday was established to honor the memory of Dr Martin Luther King Jr but also to commemorate his life through service. Serve your family, your neighbors, your community. Just don’t focus on yourself. His life was spent in the betterment of others. We would do well to follow suit.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.