Today is January 17. And it happens to be Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And that, my internet world, gives me a little dose of eebie jeebies, a little dose of memory lane.
The last time I remember this holiday falling on January 17 was in 1994. About six months before my family left sunny California for beautiful North Carolina.
It was 4:31 am. And I was startled awake by the sound of my bedroom door opening and light flooding in from the hallway. The back-lit figure of my father ran into my room and swooped me up in less than a second… or so it seemed to me. And in the next second, as we stood bracing ourselves in the door frame, I realized that someone had picked up my house and decided to shove it across the street.
My curtains were swaying from side to side. Stuffed animals were flying off their shelves. I could hear the ever-haunting tinkling of the chandelier in the dining room. And glass. I think I heard glass.
I don’t remember words that were said, but I remember the grip my father had on me. I was terrified. And I was so grateful to have him holding me close. In the midst of the chaos, I felt a little safer.
My mother always seemed to be at ease in the midst of earthquakes. Usually my father was pretty together himself. But this one. This one was Northridge. This one was long. And this one was the only one, in his entire 42 years of having lived in California, that my father claims even had him a little scared.
When the quake finally stopped, my dad carried me to the master bedroom, where my mom and siblings were now piled in their bed. My mom was encouraging my brother that it was all “fun” and over now, my dad was checking out the damage, and I sat there with tears streaming down my face. My first quake (1987) was a traumatic experience, and I could never shrug off the fear. While the rumbling may have stopped, I was left trembling.
It wasn’t long before the phone rang and my father, a police officer at the time, was called into work. We didn’t see him for a couple of days. State of emergency and all. Highway collapsed. You know.
I wish I didn’t have such a negative association with MLK day, but then again, I think it helps me remember the turmoil that surrounded the civil rights movement. It helps me see that while Dr. King had a dream, he did not see it come to fruition. It was out of his control. In fact, every time they marched, they did not know whether they would finish with their lives. Likewise, earthquakes were for me a jolting reality that I am not in control. Nobody can stop them. Nobody can truly predict them. And I do not know the outcomes.
Thankfully, I can trust in a good and faithful Father God, who will hold me through the storms. And who does know the outcomes. (Thank you, Papi, for modeling that for me as my earthly father.)
And let me say that I am thankful to live in North Carolina, where we don’t have big earthquakes. Even more than that, I am thankful that I live in North Carolina now. After the success the civil rights movement had in achieving a big step in the right direction of equality between the races here in the south. Yes. That is good.
(FYI, there may have been MLK, Jr. Days on January 17 since then, but I just don’t remember them. I may not have been living in this country at the time, so y’all can cut me some slack, right?)
“A big danger for us is the temptation to follow the people we are opposing. They call us names, so we call them names. Our names may not be ‘redneck’ or ‘cracker’; they may be names that have a sociological or psychological veneer to them, a gloss; but they are names, nonetheless–’ignorant’, or ‘brainwashed’ or ‘duped’ or ‘hysterical’ or ‘poor-white’ or ‘consumed by hate’. I know you will all give me plenty of evidence in support of those categories. But I urge you to think of them as that–as categories; and I remind you that in many people, in many people called segregationists, there are other things going on in their lives: this person or that person, standing here or there may also be other things–kind to neighbors and family, helpful and good-spirited at work.
You all know, I think, what I’m trying to say– that we must try not to end up with stereotypes of those we oppose, even as they slip all of us into their stereotypes. And who are we? Let us not do to ourselves as others (as our opponents) do to us: try to put ourselves into one all-inclusive category–the virtuous ones as against the evil ones, or the decent ones as against the malicious, prejudiced ones, or the well-educated as against the ignorant. You can see that I can go on and on–and there is the danger: the ‘us; or ‘them’ mentality takes hold, and we do, actually, begin to run the risk of joining ranks with the very people we are opposing. I worry about this a lot these days.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. From Sojourners.