The news last Friday of the passing of Harper Lee, author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize award for her bestselling novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and her more recent, Go Set a Watchman was perhaps the spark that ignited the controversial civil rights movement. Her characters, Atticus Finch, his daughter, Scout and son, Jem became embroiled in the lives and events of their friends and neighbors. The fact that they lived in a town in Alabama’s south where their neighbors included both white and black people put them in difficult positions, while taking sides to defend that which they felt the need to preserve and protect; tolerance, equality and fairness, whatever one’s race or color, leaving an imprint on their lives from that day forward.
The subject matter she wrote about in her novels dealing with issues of race discrimination became nothing less than a volatile time bomb erupting during the civil rights era with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., cutting short his realization of the ‘dream’ of equality for all, and his own fight to protect and preserve the same.
Today again, we see the rise of conflict, and a feverish animosity of hatred and intolerance whatever one’s color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or lifestyle. It is like the beginnings to a crescendo pitch of the civil rights era all over again with demonstrations, shootings and mistrust in a country that was founded on the principles of equality for all.
I was a teenager during the civil rights era and remember well the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and found myself on both sides of the conflict. I had friends who were black, but I also felt the fear of rape and victimization of those of color whom I felt I could not trust with good reason as I was stalked and followed home from work one night fearing I could not get home in time. We also lived close to black neighborhoods. Later, the aftermath and rape of one I knew, and having been a witness to the crime left me bitter, and fearful, living across the street from where it was committed.
But, it is the hate instilled in one’s heart, whether or not they inflict harm, or worse, death on one they stalk, or target that becomes an even worse crime.
February is designated as a month when Love is encouraged, emphasized and sold by the millions in advertised products and displays. But, need it be just one month, or one day only that we show kindness, love, fairness, equality, tolerance to those who are not only different from us in color or style? Can we truly choose to love one, regardless of who they are? Does it need be only the ‘dream’ of one man of color who lived his life in peace, and demonstrated it, so that love and equality could be realized in this world, not merely dreamed?
1 Corinthians, chapter 13 is known as the ‘Love chapter.’ It says in chapter 13:4-8 (NIV), “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” And, finally, in verse, 13, it says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
I choose to love.
Joyce E. Johnson © 2016