Martin

Humanness

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by Stephanie Rochelle Redd

Note: The following was originally published on January 18, 2015, via my now-defunct personal website, StephanieRochelleRedd.com. Four years later, I still count this piece – and my process of finding peace with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s humanness  – all joy.

I learned that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an adulterer when I was 15 years old. If my memory serves me correctly, I was watching a documentary about him at home when I heard the narrator casually mention the tidbit; something about the FBI recording his phone calls and threatening to expose his conversations with random women – about random sexual rendezvous – to the masses.

I immediately went into a catatonic state. I can recall sitting there, staring through the television while the documentary continued, not hearing another word that was being said.

What the…? I mouthed silently.

I could then feel myself begin to panic. My heartbeat quickened and I felt and heard its thumping pulse in my ears.

“What the…” I finally uttered aloud.

As the reality of what I had heard started to mesh with the reality of that present moment, my panic steadily morphed into outrage, with the target of my outrage placed squarely on Martin.

I was way more incensed by his infidelities than the FBI’s. I already had suspicions about the FBI’s dubious nature. But in all of the 15 years that I had lived up to that point and in all of the conversations, speeches, sermons, books, essays, movies and lesson plans I heard, watched and read regarding Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I never had any suspicions about him, least of which, regarding his dubious extramarital-affair nature.

Somebody was going to have to tell me something. And at that time, my 15-year-old self looked to my World History teacher to be that somebody.

“It’s true,” he said solemnly.

He wore the look of a father who had just told his beloved, naive daughter that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy were all just mere figments of corporate imagination. In return, I wore the look of a daughter whose beloved and naive world had just been shattered into a million jagged pieces.

“That’s the danger of putting people on pedestals,” he continued slowly. “We’re only humans. He was only human.”

He was not human! He was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! I wanted to protest.

However, my brain had already signaled my mouth to close and would not give it the signal to open again. My teacher and I exchanged sad glances once more before I turned and teetered back to my desk, collapsing in my chair. I just sat there, dazed and quietly dumbfounded by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s deafening humanness.

In the 16 years since my stark revelation that Martin “was only human,” I’ve been able to contain my righteous indignation about his ‘shalling’ of the seventh commandment–contain it, not forget it. Often, I’ve noticed that when someone would mention his name in my presence with the same super-human air that I, too, had granted him long ago, I would find my eyebrows slightly furrowed and my arms loosely crossed.

He was only human, I would say to the person telepathically, trying to balance reason with the remnants of my disillusionment.

But then when I got word of the release of the movie “Selma,” I could feel my container of indignation cracking under 16 years worth of teeming cynical pressure.

Is this movie going to paint him as super-human? I asked myself rhetorically. Will it give him wings like Red Bull and set up, yet, another generation of youth to believe in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.- fairy?

Though I originally assumed the answer to these questions to be “yes,” I won’t truly know if I don’t go see the movie, which (((breathing deeply))) is what I intend to do…tomorrow.

Yes, I could go on and on and moan and groan about how disappointed I felt – and feel – about the reality of Martin’s humanness. But in reality, his humanness is what makes his story that much more real and accessible to other humans who also have a penchant for dreaming and a predilection for scheming. (That would be me.) So, I say:

Cheers to you, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on fulfilling your legendary personal legend. And props to you, Martin, for keeping it real.

*Stevie Wonder voice* Happy Bearthday to you💚

The F word

Forgiveness
Forgive

Grapevine Church

by Stephanie Rochelle Redd

Free food.

These are my favorite “F” words. I love them individually and together, though I do prefer the latter.

free food

See?

I also prefer peace to war, love to hatred, and happiness to sadness. However, living in this world mandates the latter in each ratio if its opposite is to also exist. So, what is this existing neo-flower child to do?

Well, after I finish picketing ‘The Man’ and hugging my fair share of trees, I must then pick the man that hurt me the most and hug him–namely, forgive.

“Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?'”

~Matthew 18:21, NKJV

To live harmoniously in a world of hurt is one hell of a feat. As such, I completely understand Peter tallying the toil others’ hellish behavior had taken on him.

Over the years, I kept my own tally of the injustices others committed against me. My tally-taking, however, was much less forgiving than cut-your-ear-off-Peter’s. (Imagine that.) Rather than seven times, it just took several strikes against me, and you – and your ear – were outta there.

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Boom.

Fortunately, I’m a nice person, overall, so not too many people have experienced the full measure of my displeasure.  Unfortunately, for a small group of people who have witnessed my wrath firsthand – a few dozen students, one or two guys, and one family guy, in particular – let’s just say that Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire, would’ve been proud.

I’m not proud, though, looking back on those fiery events. Yes, there was a lot of pride involved, but it was of the ego variety. And where there is ego – a lot of ego, in my case – there is also a lot of room for forgiveness, even though it may not feel like it and we may not feel like forgiving.

Admittedly, I didn’t feel like forgiving for much of my life. More accurately, I hated the word “forgive” and any variation of it with a volcanic passion.

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I felt forgiveness was wrong because I thought it made those who hurt me right. Of course, it was perfectly fine for others to forgive me in the very – very – rare cases where I hurt them. (Ahem.)

Clearly, my sense of justice was warped, with the odds of me being the victim almost always being in my favor. But in my defense – You saw that coming, right? – I was actually a victim for a significant period of my life–childhood.

Yes, I hear you:

“Well, who wasn’t traumatized as a child?”

Sadly, that is one question with too many replies. Yet, there is only one answer that I’ve found that has allowed me to triumph over my trauma: Forgiveness.

I know, I know.

“How can someone who once hated the very word now show it so much love?”

Well, when “someone” is increasingly showing herself love, the ease of showing love to other things – and people – increases in kind, even when that “someone” was very unkind to those things – and people – before.

While my glasses are not rose-colored, these days they are tinted with love, particularly of the self variety, which allows me to look back on my past with love as well. That is not to say that I am looking pass my past trauma, but I am seeing it in a way that makes me revere God and respect myself for getting through it.

This is me at 3.

me at 3

Isn’t she lovely?

This little girl, like many small children, are often called “resilient”–meaning that they can take a whipping licking and keep on ticking. However, there are only so many of life’s lickings that a person, let alone a child, can take until their heart’s ticking loses momentum and eventually comes to a screeching halt.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men [and women].”

~Frederick Douglass [and Stephanie Rochelle Redd]

In my past, things were done and words were said that I thought were unforgivable. And in reserving my right to forgive those who trespassed against me, I also restricted my ability to receive forgiveness–from myself. But why would a person, a child, a three-year-old cherub need to forgive him- or herself if they were the victim?

Well, I can’t write for you, but I needed to forgive myself for just being a victim, period–for not having the serenity, courage, wisdom, or wherewithal to see, understand, or stop what the hell was happening around me and to me in the first place. In retrospect, it was that hell that I could not fathom as a child that I fired upon others as an adult. Thankfully, though brutally, I have been brought to a place in my adulthood where I am forced to grow the hell up.

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In the magical land of Actual Adulthood, there is no blame, only mirrors. These mirrors are other people who appear to be different from us, yet are able to magically show us ourselves by the ways we respond to them and they to us. Also in Actual Adulthood, there is nowhere to go but within.

It was only when I began intently searching myself for the panacea to my pain did I find it in love. In other words, self-love helps me accept my past and myself presently. Further, my increased love and acceptance of myself increases my love and acceptance of other people, especially the people who hurt me. (What? That’s the magic of actual adulting and actual love.)

This “magic” has also transformed my idea of forgiveness. Rather than seeing it as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for my persecutors, I now understand forgiveness as the freedom for which I am given. Forgiveness frees me from the weighty job of passing judgement on myself and others, and gives that responsibility to whom it rightly belongs: God.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'”

~Matthew 18:22, NKJV

No, Jesus did not want Peter to keep a tally of the 490 times his brother mistreated him, neither does Jesus want us to count our brothers’ and sisters’ wrongs against them. Instead, He wants us to count on God the Father to mete out justice as He sees fit, trusting that God’s rulership in our lives means fair rulings for us as well as others.

Now that I am armed with my new definition of forgiveness and deeper faith in God, I willingly surrender my victimhood – and my addiction to it – to His Higher Power in exchange for a victorious life for me and for generations to come. I am also willing to make room on my “Favorite ‘F’ Words” list for at least two more.

robert

 

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