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Steve Jacobsen: Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King at Hospice of Santa Barbara

[Noozhawk’s note: Monday is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday marking the birthday of the late civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.]

Seeing the new movie on Abraham Lincoln’s life made me acutely aware of how he and his wife tried to bear their immense grief over the death of their 11-year-old son while in the middle of the Civil War and relentless political maneuvering.

That changes the way I will remember Lincoln, as it should — the people who went before us whom we revere were often burdened with many hardships, and appreciating how difficult it must have been for them creates a connection for us. The holiday, then, can become something much more valuable than just a day to shop.

Monday is a holiday in which we will honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He saw much death and grief in his life — from murdered colleagues to children bombed in a church — and this history of suffering and injustice has been at the heart of the African-American experience.

I went to the official online archives of the King Center and found a photograph of notes handwritten on three small sheets of paper with the theme, “How to deal with grief and disappointment.” Reading them over, I was struck by the clarity with which he speaks, and so decided to transcribe his words and share them. I did not add punctuation where it did not exist in the original.

Here are his notes:

“How to deal with grief and disappointment. Jeremiah 10:19: ‘Woe is me for my hurt! My wound is grievous: but I said, Truly this is my grief and I must bear it.’

“One of the great problems of life is that of dealing with disappointment. Very few of us live to see our fondest hopes fulfilled. The hopes of our childhood and the promises of our mature years are like Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony.’ Is there any one of us who has not faced the agony of blasted hopes and shattered dreams. Disappointment is a hallmark of our mortal life — It takes many forms.

“I. How does one come to terms with grief and disappointment

“The first proper reaction is that of acceptance. I do not mean the grim, bitter acceptance of those who are fatalistic behind their acceptance. Look your disappointment straight in the face and say with Jeremiah, ‘This is my grief and I must bear it.’ Here there is no place for resentment, fatalism, or self-pity. We must try to accept our disappointment as our share of the sorrow of the world, a sorrow God himself eternally shares.

“II. The second way is to share our grief with the right person. The important words are with the right person. We are not to tip out our disappointment to every willing ear, for that deepens the grief.”

(A note in parentheses at the top of the third page, presumably to himself, reads “Don’t rationalize.”)

The third, and perhaps the most important, way is to sit and honestly confront our disappointment. Don’t try to put it out of your mind. Put it at the center of your mind and stare daringly at it. ‘This is my grief.’ Then go on to say, ‘How can I turn this liability into an asset.’ Almost anything that happens to us may be woven into the purposes of God. It may lengthen our cords of sympathy. It may break our self-controlled pride. The cross, which willed by wicked men, was woven by God into the tapestry of world redemption.”

A gutsy acceptance, finding the right person to talk to, and ultimately finding a genuine way to transform our pain into something that binds us with others and helps heal the world — these are wise words arising from a man who witnessed much hardship and sorrow. Thank you, Dr. King, for this and many things.

(Click here to view photographs of the manuscript.)

— Steve Jacobsen is executive director of Hospice of Santa Barbara. Call Hospice of Santa Barbara at 805.563.8820 for a schedule of adult and children’s groups, or to make a donation. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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