Light Notes

My painful memories of MLK Day

The holiday set aside to commemorate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday has an extra special meaning to me.

It’s a reminder of the third Monday in January 2004 when my mother passed away.

Dr. King and my mom never knew each other. But they had at least two things in common.

They both were dreamers.

Rev. King envisioned a time "that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

To that end, he worked tirelessly to make that dream come true — for his children and others.

Edna Hale, my mom, envisioned children learning strong values, growing in character, and finding a deep faith. It was a dream for my brothers and me, but it went beyond our front door. On Sunday mornings, you’d find her at church teaching little ones right from wrong — an image of who they could be burning in her heart.

Mother and Dr. King both stood for what could be true and right in America: Goodness in the hearts of future generations. The two dreamers clung to their hopes tenaciously.

But both met evil face to face — another commonality.

For Dr. King, it was an angry assassin. For my mom, it was nameless drug runner.

It happened on an Arizona day too hot to breathe. Dizziness and a fall to a steaming asphalted alley found my mom staring dazedly into the eyes of a group of young men.

At first, kindness seemed to wrap her in comfort as they helped her inside her home, telephoning her nearby friend for help.

But on the way out one man picked up mom’s key chain lying on a table nearby. In the darkness of night, and with my mother critically ill in the hospital, one young man — maybe more — returned to steal her newly purchased car, high-end tools and the sense of safety in a quiet neighborhood.

My mother never recovered from the head injury, languishing for months in a nursing home unaware.

But I’ve often wondered about the young men who met her that summer day. If she could have held their tiny hands years before, taught them how God would want them to live, their choices might have been different.

I only wish James Earl Ray had been in my mom’s Sunday school class, too.