As I reflected on Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy with a group of friends the other night, a story came back to me. A story that chose me. A moment in which I am thankful I listened to that voice inside me that was asking me to abandon comfort and logic. A moment where vulnerability and transparency were going to facilitate change. I tell it, not for praise, but because it was a profound moment that revealed to me, that because I have been forgiven, I can also give others that power of freedom.
A couple summers ago I took the train down to New Orleans to visit a dear friend and on the trip back, that is when it happened. A paradigm changer that shattered the way I see. I was sitting in the food car in the middle of Mississippi, a land that seemed cursed. As the train quickly passed, it hoped that I would forget what lay before me, my mind wondered what the land would say if only it could speak. I passed farmland and dirt roads and houses with clay floors. I felt a sense of guilt and responsibility for the oppression and wrongs that had been committed. As I looked up, the only other person in the car was a gentle eyed African American man who looked to be in his senior years. He stared out of the window too, and I sat there wondering what he thought. I walked the three booths up and asked him if I could have a seat. If I could have but one moment of his time. And then I just let me heart speak, “Sir, as I watch this land go by, I feel such a burden. I do not know the sins of my own fathers who have come before me, and that is irrelevant. I am sorry, Sir, for the injustices, for the wrongs, for the hate, and for the cursed cycles that were started by many of my race. I don’t know what this apology means to you, nor what you think of as you gaze at the stories untold which are passing us by. But I am sorry……… With that being said, I am thankful that there is hope. Change is much slower than I would choose but my own African son is going to experience a life with rights, with power to choose, and with the freedom and platform to be and create change. There is hope.” The man firmly shook my hand and smiled. He then opened up to tell me his story. A story of a fellow struggler, father, lover, friend, and of a man of which this world needs more of.
I wasn’t sure what to do with the moment, but as time has passed, the complexity of that experience has slowly been revealed. That story is not about two men of different races. It is a story of being forgiven. When one has experienced forgiveness, freedom and humility change both participants and paves a road to freedom. Because I have been forgiven, I approach those who have been wronged and have wronged differently than before. Forgiveness rids one’s right to self and opens one’s heart to desire for others around to experience that freedom. That moment with that precious man didn’t have to happen. It was a deliberate choice. I could have logically ignored the voice and dismissed the absurd, but I want to be a path of freedom and that comes via intentional choice. I believe that that conversation had an impact him, as it did me. I didn’t know what his struggles were, what wrongs stir bitterness, but I have learned that humanity longs to be understood, accepted, and forgiven. I had accepted the chance to justifiably be told where to go, and would have understood the source of that response. But instead, in the middle of Mississippi farmland, we both chose to be free. We both forfeited our rights to self and dismissed our fears and talked as two men. Two men from completely different generations, different experiences, and different lives, and found that we were….. the same.