The sub-moronic ramblings of a semi-functioning illiterate

The MLK Challenge

I am blessed to share my birthday with the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who would have been 89 years-old today. I’ve always felt a kinship with Dr. King because of our shared birthdays, and have strived to emulate him in word and deed my whole life. This isn’t always easy to do, because unlike my best friend who shares a birthday with Hitler, my birthday has some pretty big shoes to fill.

Sometime ago, after the shiny of turning another year older wore off, (right around age 21), I began to evaluate my life, and thought hard about what I was giving back to the world. I looked to my birthday-mate and wondered how he might have spent the past year I was gifted to have. That’s when I came up with the MLK Challenge.

Every year, beginning on my birthday, I promise myself that I will spend the new year performing an act of kindness, patience, tolerance or forgiveness for every year I’ve spent on earth. Some acts carry more weight than others, (kindness is especially easier than forgiveness), but I still strive for one act per one year of life.

I am 46 years-old today.

The challenge sounds easy enough in January. I have a whole year to help people with their groceries or reassure new mothers when their babies wail in restaurants. But by the time October comes, I begin looking everywhere for little old ladies to help cross the street. Mindfulness is a lot of work, so by the end of 2017 I had some very big challenges that remained undone. Here are the last three of the year:

OCTOBER: I challenged myself to be the bigger person when I decided to leave my job. The woman I worked for has very few redeemable qualities and is wholly unfit to run a company, so instead of the constant head-butting and blow-ups, I decided to simply part ways. My challenge wasn’t in leaving, but in not dragging this person’s name through the mud when asked by co-workers what happened, co-workers who I knew felt the same way toward her as I did. I was challenged not to disparage her to the companies she still had to work with who I knew favored me. I bit my tongue, gave professional reasons for leaving that did not call out her epic stupidity, and politely moved on. This woman did not do me the same service, and has since blasted me to anyone who will listen. It’s during those moments when I call on two of my favorite quotes for strength:

“Live your life so that when others speak badly of you, no one will believe it.”

“Have patience. In time, all truths will be revealed.”

I am not sure if my effort to be the bigger person falls under kindness, patience, tolerance or forgiveness. Maybe it’s all four. But when I think about Dr. King, and how he endured with dignity and grace so much more than an ignorant woman making him mad, I am both humbled and amazed.

NOVEMBER: This challenge of forgiveness was one I had never expected to attempt. My former step-mother was guilty of a lot of emotional abuse toward me growing up, and to say I despised her would be an understatement. She had attempted to friend me on Facebook over the years, and I dismissed her each time. I decided to step up to the challenge and forced myself to look at my childhood from her point of view. I examined her marriage to my father and her relationship to her own abusive mother. I began to have sympathy for all she had been forced to endure during her own childhood, and decided that forgiveness would be a gift I could give her. I do not anticipate an active friendship, but the hateful way I viewed her has now been replaced with understanding. I did not expect to find peace in this act, but I have.

DECEMBER: I hadn’t had any contact with my father for almost eight years. There was no abrupt fight, no particular action or statement that precipitated our estrangement, it just sort of happened. I had a lot of hurt feelings over my childhood, and put the blame almost entirely on him.

An amazing thing happens when you raise a teenage daughter who is eerily like yourself; you begin to feel bad for all you put your parents through growing up. I cannot count how many times I’ve called my mother to apologize for being belligerent as a teenager. I cringe when I think about it. I decided that this year would be the year I would offer that same apology to my father. I am so very glad I did.

It turns out he has not been well physically, and I very nearly lost him for good last year. He expressed regret and remorse for my childhood, and accepted blame for the past eight years apart. He never contacted me because he thought I hated him and didn’t blame me for the disconnect. That one hurt.

It frightens me to think that he might have died, not knowing that I had forgiven him some time ago, and that my inability or unwillingness to break the silence all these years could have been avoided with a single email; an email I am so very glad I challenged myself to send.

Now that 2018 is here, my first act is to challenge all of you to do the same. Not every challenge will bring you satisfaction, but you may just find a peace you hadn’t expected or a chance at a renewed relationship. And just like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, you will have left the world a better place than you found it.

15 responses

  1. I’ll tell you what. I really admire you in this annual endeavor. I would be hard-pressed to find that many acts of kindness. Then again, our President provides daily opportunity, so perhaps we’d all come out ahead in the karma bank.

    Happy Birthday!

    January 15, 2018 at 9:53 am

    • I think 2018 is going to be the year of tolerance.

      January 16, 2018 at 3:21 pm

  2. Above your comments box it says “Lay The Awesome On Me.” Sorry, I can’t. You beat me to it.

    January 15, 2018 at 10:41 am

    • Aw…thanks. Great minds (and hearts) think alike.

      January 16, 2018 at 3:21 pm

  3. So many boring comments I could have for this awesome post, H. E.
    1. I’ve felt for a long time that I pissed you off somehow and have always been sorry for that, and hesitate to have verbal diarrhea all over your comment section, but I need to.
    2. I share a winter birthday with 2 actors–one I respect and one I can’t stand (i don’t think he’s evil or anything, just goony.)
    3. I’m 62 and I couldn’t imagine me being a big enough person to do 6 point 2 kindnesses, let alone 62.
    4. I have too much disdain for so many people right now to NOT let the hatred win. I despise all the Republicans in Washington from my state of S. Dakota. I especially despise the brunette and blonde nitwits, Kristi Noem and Tomi Lahren (thankfully Lahren is not a Rep, but has a big soapbox and a hateful heart and is an embarrassment to S.D.)
    5. When I looked at my Unabridged Dictionary to try to figure out what the noun really was for “despise-sion,” so to speak, it told me that one can have “despite” for someone. Which boggled my tiny brain, because I always thought of “despite” as an innocuous word meaning “even though” or “nevertheless.” I think I’ll just stick with the “disdain” and “contempt” I have for Tomi and Kristi and Cheeto and Mikey and Jeffy and Betsy and….
    6. I really like the ideas you’ve put forth here, and I’m sorry that I have to make every goshdarn thing about politics, but I feel that I can’t forgive those who try to use their power to steal from the rest of us, and need to use my “voice” to rail against them.
    Lucky 7: Not to kiss your butt too much, but you’re one of the coolest people I know. I like to read your “stuff.” Been trying to work through the self-loathing myself so that I can write something, anything, EVER. Plus at the end of a workday, whether the day was easy or draining, I just want to veg out and not think. Which therefore leaves little time or “want-to” for writing.
    It’s about 7 below zero F for a high here today, therefore a good day to play hooky, (well, that and we should all take this day off, right?), so it’s great to have someone to read who I haven’t read for a while.
    Rock on.

    January 15, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    • 1. You so did not piss me off. I went through a ton of life changes that have firmly placed my head up my ass. This is one of the reasons I like to refocus with this challenge. It helps me stop thinking about just me.
      2. I know what you mean about depression. I think John Scalzi wrote a blog post about how the current state of our country left him depressed and unable to write.
      3. I think you are pretty cool too, Dude. 🙂 And I know what you mean about just wanting to veg out and not think about anything. I’ve been doing that for about two years now. It is a great relief, but not terribly fulfilling.
      4. It is warming up where I am, so I am getting psyched for some outdoor activities. All work and no play makes Hellis a dull girl.

      January 16, 2018 at 3:26 pm

  4. This post made my day. I hope your message of kindness spreads. I spend every weekend from October to April making Crockpot freezer meals for our local food bank so the clients can have a decent home-cooked meal once or twice a week. The joy I get from making a difference in people’s lives far outweighs the hours I spend to keep my program running.

    Giving kindness can be far more rewarding to the giver than it is to the receiver. xx

    January 15, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    • I think that crockpot freezer meals is a great idea! I will have to check out my local food pantry and see if I can help.

      January 16, 2018 at 3:27 pm

  5. I can’t even pretend I could pull this off…

    January 18, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    • I like to think that your blog posts count. They radiate positivity, even the snide ones. It’s all good!

      January 18, 2018 at 1:37 pm

  6. Cheers to you for making a concerted effort to increase compassion in the world. I have undertaken a similar task to which I do my best to devote daily attention.

    I appreciate seeing a post paying homage to this incredible human. Now, more than ever, I think our society needs to incorporate his vision into our daily practices. Here is my tribute to MLK.

    January 19, 2018 at 3:55 pm

    • Heading there now. 🙂

      January 19, 2018 at 4:07 pm