Reflections on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2010

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” MLK jr.

I can’t help but think that hatred has something to do with walls. The walls people put up to keep other people out. The walls people put up to keep from feeling too much. The walls people put up to keep from feeling guilt. The walls people put up to keep from feeling  pain. The walls people put up to keep from feeling.

The walls I put up to keep from feeling.

I believe we are born with love in our hearts; but we’re also born with the capacity to hate. Yet, I don’t think we can hate until we put up walls. As humans we have the capacity not just to feel, but to feel for others. It is not until we build walls to detach from areas of our hearts that we can hurt others intentionally and go on. Without remorse. Without regret. Without reaching out to those we’ve damaged.

Sometimes the hatred is overt. Sometimes we hide it well.

I am no stranger to walls. As someone who’s been putting them up for years, I understand the pull towards them and I understand the benefit. When you put up walls, people can’t get close enough to hurt you. They can’t get close enough to impact you at all. You are a one woman ship. I enjoyed this. I could be cold. Calculating. At times even hateful. Selfish. Bitter. Untouched.

If you’re in any relationships, you’re going to get hurt. I have some friends that argue with me about this, but I am convinced that at some point or another everyone you love will let you down in some way. I don’t think this is cynical or pessimistic, I think this is the human condition. People make mistakes, people sin, people hurt.

What I’ve realized though, is that I can survive it. I can survive friends letting me down, friends making mistakes, and friends hurting me. Guess what else: I let them down too. I make mistakes too. It is selfish and arrogant for me to detach from others because of how I’ve been hurt, when I know I’ve done some hurting myself. So, I’ve been working on tearing down my walls. It’s hard work and it’s scary, but I’ve realized that it feels much better to be in relationship- real relationship, with no walls- than to be so apathetically detached. When I keep myself so closed off that no one can hurt me, I also keep myself so closed off that no one can fully love me.

This weekend I watched Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself. The main character, April, is a woman who has put up so many walls that she will not even care for her orphaned niece and nephews. She has no one in her life except a lover who is married to another woman. April was sexually abused as a child, and her mother chose her boyfriend over April. She put up walls because she didn’t want to feel that kind of deep pain again.

As I watched the relationship between April and a Mexican man who was showing her safe and unselfish love for the first time, I realized part of me missed something about those walls I used to have up. When I thought about it, I figured it out, and it’s kind of ridiculous. I realized that part of why I put up walls was as a test. I wanted a man to come around who loved me enough to see past my walls, and I wanted a man who was strong enough to tear down those walls and keep me safe without them. This is what happens in the movies. This is what fairy tales are made of.

Anyone- male or female- will see what I project, what I put out there. Until I learn to put myself out there and trust that I have something worth giving, no one will see me and no one will know me. Further, it is not a man – or a friend’s- job to tear down my walls- it’s mine. That’s something I have to learn to deal with now. The walls I have now I will carry with me into all relationships.

I do not believe that Martin Luther King Jr. was perfect, but I do believe he was good at keeping his walls down. Good at letting people in. Good at loving and receiving love. Only someone with these characteristics could suffer the prejudice, injustice, and maltreatment that he did and continue to advocate for love, for peace, for Christ.


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