Earlier this week, a colleague stomped into my office expressing indignation about an injustice.
That unto itself wasn’t the least bit unusual. Someone is always stomping into my office to complain about something.
I work for a social service agency with a mission to alleviate poverty. My co-workers and I comprise a group of passionate people who won’t accept that the odds are simply stacked against some people. We try to change those odds.
Often, we feel as though we are tilting at windmills, and we even get discouraged.
But we don’t give up. After all, our heroes didn’t give up.
And the treatment of one of those heroes is the reason my co-worker was upset as she stormed into my office.
“I can’t believe that the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday has become just another day for sales for some people,” she said. “The day is supposed to be about honoring of one of the greatest men in history. He changed the world.”
Indeed he did.
I was a just over a year old when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, so I never knew a world that hadn’t been impacted by his actions, his words and his ability to change the system. But for years, what I knew about him was limited:
- He was a Civil Rights leader.
- He made a speech about having a dream that all people would someday be treated as equal.
- He believed in using peaceful tactics instead of violence.
- He was shot and killed at a hotel in Tennessee by a guy named James Earl Ray.
Those facts paint a picture of a great man who made a difference in the world. But those facts never really inspired me because I couldn’t relate to the charismatic leader. His ability to make such a huge difference in the lives of others had absolutely nothing to do with my potential.
At least, it wasn’t until I learned that he, like the rest of us, struggled with imperfections.
He apparently tried to commit suicide when he was 12 years old. His grandmother passed away after a heart attack while King was off disobeying his parents by going to watch a parade after they had prohibited it. When he got home and learned that his grandmother had died in his absence, he jumped out a second story window.
Martin Luther King, Jr., the man who delivered one of the most iconic speeches ever, received a C in a public speaking class during his first year in seminary.
King is rumored to have had numerous extra-marital affairs, which even resulted in his becoming a target of the FBI.
On the day he was killed, King was out on that now famous hotel balcony because he was smoking. He tried to keep the fact that he was a smoker hidden, so he didn’t want cameras around when he had a cigarette in his hand. According to Rev. Kyles, after King was shot but before he was taken away by the ambulance, Kyles removed the package of cigarettes from King’s pocket and got rid of the cigarette butt. This was an attempt to hide the fact that King was smoking at the time he was shot.
None of these facts minimize the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, in my eyes, they make them even more impressive. Like all of us, Dr. King struggled with being imperfect. But despite that, he changed the world.
He is my hero not just because he acted on the same beliefs that I hold dear. He is my hero because he didn’t let his imperfections get in the way of taking action and changing the world.
This Monday, when the United States celebrates the federal holiday that honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that’s what I’ll be thinking about.
I’ll be remembering that every person who makes a difference in the lives of others has a personal story lying just beneath the surface. These are the stories that involve failing from time to time but persevering anyway. They involve making mistakes or saying the wrong thing while we still attempt to do the right thing. And even though many of us feel like we are trying to lead when no one is following, we have to keep trying to blaze trails anyway.
These stories sometimes aren’t visible to those around us because we try to hide them just beneath the surface. But these are the stories that make us strong enough to take on the world and try to make it a better place.
Just like our heroes did.
Most of these individuals didn’t just do great things, they also said great things. Their words will be inspiration for generations to come.
As a young girl, I became fascinated and inspired with the story of Helen Keller. I always figured if she could do great things, maybe I could too. And even though she couldn’t hear or see, she could still express herself beautifully.
Her story always makes me smile.
Day 120: Sheldon Cooper Day 119: Having Permission to Make Mistakes Day 118: A Diverse Group of Friends Day 117: Family Traditions Day 116: The Haunting Season Day 115; Life Experience Day 114: Changes Day 113: The Wooly Bear Caterpillar Day 112: The National Anthem Day 111: Parents Who Care Day 110: Good Friends Day 109: My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss Day 108: A.A. Milne QuotesDay 107: Spending Time Wisely Day 106: Parades Day 105: The Peanuts Gang Dancing Day 104: Sharing a Secret Language Day 103: The Electric Company Day 102: Doing the Right Thing Day 101: When Siblings Agree Day 100: Being Optimistic Day 99: Trying Something New Day 98: The Sound of Children on a Playground Day97: Good Advice Day 96: Red and white peppermint candy Day 95: The Soundtrack from the Movie Shrek Day 94: Accepting Change Day 93: True Love Day 92: Camera Phones Day 91: Bicycle Brakes Day 90: HeroesDay 89: The Cricket in Times Square Day 88: The Grand Canyon Day 87: Unanswered Prayers Day 86: Apples Fresh from the Orchard Day 85: Being Human Day 84: Captain Underpants Day 83: The Diary of Anne Frank Day 82: In Cold Blood Day 81: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Day 80: The Outsiders Day 79: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Day 78: The First Amendment Day77: People Who Touch Our Lives Day 76: The Rewards of Parenting Day 75: Improvements Day 74: Family Traditions Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 72: Live Music Day 71: Sleeping In Day 70: Grover Day 69: A Good Hair Day Day 68: A Sense of Community Day 67: Kindness Day 66: Living in a Place You Love Day 65: Gifts from the Heart Day 64: The Arrival of Fall Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird Day 62: Green LightsDay 61: My Canine Friends Day 60: Differences Day 59: A New Box of Crayons Day 58: Bookworms Day 57: Being Oblivious Day 56: Three-day Weekends Day 55: A Cat Purring Day 54: Being a Unique Individual Day 53: Children’s Artwork Day 52: Lefties Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer Day 50: Campfires Day 49: Childhood Crushes Day 48: The Words “Miss You” Day 47: Birthday Stories Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us Day 45: Play-Doh Day 44: First Day of School Pictures Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes Day 42: Appreciative Readers Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote Day 40: Being Silly Day 39: Being Happy Exactly Where You Are Day 38: Proud Grandparents Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want Day 34: Accepting the Fog Day 33: I See the Moon Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap Day 31: Perspective Day 30: Unlikely Friendships Day 29: Good Samaritans Day 28: Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet? Day 27: Shadows Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads Day 25: When Harry Met Sally Day 24: Hibiscus Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck Day 22: The Wonderful World of Disney Day 21: Puppy love Day 20 Personal Theme Songs Day 19: Summer Clouds Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s VictoryDay 17: A Royal Birth Day 16: Creative KidsDay 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His MasculinityDay 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter Day 12: Round Bales of HayDay 11: Water Fountains for Dogs Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers Day 8: Great Teachers We Still RememberDay 7: Finding the missing sock Day 6: Children’s books that teach life-long lessonsDay 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment Day 4: Jumping in Puddles Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill Day 2: Old PhotographsDay 1: The Martians on Sesame Street
I am an incredibly imperfect woman living in a society of people who hide their imperfections much better than I do.
Some are better able to hold their tongues. Others have achieved such brilliant success that it hides any inadequacies. And then there are the people who spend a great deal of time and energy covering up any deficiencies.
Since my tongue often seems to engage before my brain, my successes are nothing out of the ordinary and I choose to spend my time and energy just being me, I don’t mind that people know I’m far from perfect.
Despite that, I’m always striving to become a better person. For that, I need inspiration, which most often comes from other admittedly imperfect women.
These are the women who make me believe.
They make me believe that even those of us who are flawed can accomplish great things. They make me believe that past mistakes and missteps are the fundamental ingredients for a rich life. And they make me believe that, despite injustice and unfair odds, believing in possibilities can only result in magic.
My inspiration comes from women who have overcome barriers and have an honest compassion for those who are still struggling.
And, of course, my inspiration comes from women who can express all this in writing — women like Maya Angelou.
Despite her splendid poetry and prose, her insightful observations of human behavior and the reverence she must encounter everywhere she goes, Maya Angelou doesn’t deny who she is: an imperfect woman who has struggled but, through the support and encouragement of others, done the most she can with the gifts bestowed upon her.
Last week, she shared both her humility and her humor with an audience in Charleston, West Virginia at an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the YWCA. Thanks to an invitation from a friend, I was fortunate to be in the audience as she poked fun at herself, challenged all of us to empathize with those who are different and encouraged us to think of possibilities.
She talked about her years of silence following the conviction and murder or the man who raped her as a young girl and how poetry freed her. She encouraged us to always find something to make us smile and, when we can’t, to write about something that does. And, she lectured about not blaming others for past injustices but rather thanking those who endured them and taking responsibility for future generations.
In short, she was amazing. I was either laughing or crying the entire time she was speaking.
And then she read her poem “A Brave and Startling Truth,” which she wrote in honor of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. About halfway into the poem, she lost her place. She faltered, fumbled then regained her composure as she finished.
I know during those moments of silence while she searched for her place, all of us seated at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences were holding our breath. She had earlier reminded us that she is 84 years old, and that fact sunk into our brains and into our souls.
The moment was brief, and it passed. But it had still occurred.
Yet, at the end of the evening, Dr. Angelou held her head high, showed appreciation for the applause and ended her talk with dignity.
Some might think she was trying to cover her mistake, but I know she was simply demonstrating why she is so great. Instead of being defined by her mistakes and struggles, she soars through self acceptance and overcoming challenges.
If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.