Today is Martin Luther King, Jr Day. As a community organizer its always been a special day to me. MLK, Jr a hero to people of color and to those of us who work in the area social justice and progressive politics.
But MLK, Jr. was also allegedly an unfaithful husband.* A flawed man who cheated on his wife. Reports exist that Dr. King was tempted and like many before and after him gave in to the sin of lust no matter how hurtful that selfish act was to his wife, Coretta. With my own experience with marital infidelity I think I have gained some insight and empathy to identify with how Mrs. King stoically endured it. I, too, can look past the actions of my cheating spouse and see the whole person – and yes, still love the man who cheated on me. Infidelity is a horrible act. Infidelity is selfish and cruel. But forgiveness, with a repentant spouse/partner, is possible.
That is what I have tried to do with Green – I saw him in pain (I was in pain too but he was weak and I was not) and since I could almost make sense of his terrible actions empathy for him was always with me. Honestly, giving Green the space to be forgiven has in my opinion made him a better man. He has no excuse to be a terrible person anymore – he’s been given the gift to do better. And he’s a better father now – much more patient and he’s a better spouse – less vain and more supportive of ME. It’s not an ideal marriage, of course, but we are surviving and continue to do.
In researching this post I came about this writing,
First and foremost, the idea that King’s memory as a great American patriot is tarnished by his infidelity is both illogical and problematic. A great man is not defined by his weaknesses, but by his strengths. Regardless of what Dr. King may have done during the course of his marriage, those actions are almost completely disconnected from the manner through which he inspired billions with his courage and led people of color to the life we share today. It is our fault, not his, that Dr. King has been placed on a pedestal so high that we’ve forgotten that he was human.
My husband, Green, is certainly no community hero. He’s not a leader like Doctor King. We are not on the steps of history like the King family. But I do recognize that Green is just a man. He is weak and he is open to temptation. Green is vain and he is selfish. He was self destructive and he can be very cruel. All of things are the part of being human. And in my capacity to love him through his self destruction and the way his infidelity was a true assault upon me and my family I am still capable of forgiveness. I can see the man who was hurting (and tempering that pain with lust and bad decisions) and who in my opinion needed my help.
Does that make me a hero? I don’t presume to think so… I think it too is my humanity. In my capacity to forgive I seek to reconnect and find the love that brought us together again. Am I fully there yet? No. But I try everyday and everyday it gets easier… the willingness to try, to overcome and to love is very HUMAN. And if we, the betrayed, can try then that does make us very close to being a hero like MLK, Jr.
This holiday is for all those who are hurt, oppressed and who chose to overcome. Its a day to celebrate today for you, too my betrayed friends, that we can overcome all adversity as long as you remain try to yourself and live in the loving spirit that we demonstrate to our unfaithful (and perhaps undeserving) spouse/partner. And if cheating the partner is unrepentant or the relationship not salvageable… then even more do I encourage you to forgive and move on. I would say the best way to get revenge is to live well, to release the the pain inflicted upon you by others and try not to let it keep you from having other healthy and loving relationships. For me while it’s not easy it’s a worthy challenge, and one that is a healthy AND selfish choice for me to make, because as Dr. King said,
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
*Note: I corrected the post to refer to Dr. King’s infidelity as alleged – there is no proof, as of yet, that indicates that he nor his wife ever publicly confirmed it.