A Meeting Between Enemies
The whitewashed walls swayed with nostalgia as Martin traversed the corridors of the hospital, his friend Ralph beside him. As he pushed open the doors of the hospital ward, a sense of nostalgia almost threatened to flood over him. He had been here before – same place, same circumstances, same heavy, sinking weight in chest. Granted, every time it was for different people – fellow activists, enemies, friends, blacks, whites, family – but what mattered in the end was that each and every single time he was here to see them off, to take one last glance at them before they were taken by death.
To hell with Death, Martin cursed, as he moved over to offer his condolences to the young boy’s family.
Just like many others who died because of the searing heat of injustice, this young black boy was lynched to death because he was supporting his fellow brothers and sisters in their strike against the governor of Memphis. Peering through the glass window, Martin could see the bruises and scars which remained on his face even though he was dead and could no longer feel the pain.
And just how many more deaths would it take for the bruises and scars of the suffering of the Black man to be forever removed from the land of America, the very land of freedom?
When would all of this end?
Silently, Martin excused himself from the ward to obtain some fresh air. As he walked along the corridors of the hospital, he suddenly felt more tired than he had ever been for a long time. For years and years of his life death remained his constant companion. At some point in his life he had either fought with him, evaded him, provoked him, feared him or triumphed over him. As the years came and went he had learnt to get used to his enemy – to accept his existence and try his best to prevent him for reaping another soul – but today, he could no longer muster any strength to combat death.
He just wanted it all to end.
There seemed to be no light at the end of that path – for years and years now they’d been fighting for civil rights, but Johnson is reluctant, the SNCC are impatient and the Southern States and the Southern Whites will still stop at nothing to eradicate all blacks from the face of the Earth.
What was next? The death of Ralph? The death of…Coretta? The death of….his two beloved children? What was to come out of all this?
There seemed to be no answer. No end to this weary path of life.
Martin suddenly found himself shuddering from the cold despite being in spring; the air seemed to suddenly have dropped several degrees.
“But why try to predict your own fate, old friend? No one really knows what is to come out of all this – perhaps not even I do,” chuckled a voice beside Martin. As Martin looked up, he found himself face to face with a dark-skinned man in a dark suit and a bowler hat. Despite the strange appearance,
Martin knew who was there – he had always appeared bearing similar appearances to the person most recently dead in his life – his mortal enemy, death.
“Why are you here?” muttered Martin, his voice on the edge of breaking. “Have you not caused me enough suffering? Have you not taken enough away from my life, from our communities and from our homes? So many you have taken – Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, Viola Gregg Liuzzo – how many more do you want still? Because of you my family’s broken – Coretta’s collapsing under the fear of my death and the death of my children; Because of you my brothers and sisters are dying -they could’ve lived normal lives, but no, they chose to stand out against the tide of oppression and inequality, and to battle for the freedom that they ought to have had five score years ago; Because of you the segregationists and racists are still strong – because death is the only thing we cannot defeat, and they can inflict death upon us with utmost ease.
“So why, why are you here? Why are you here, if God has promised us eternal life? Why are you here, if God has promised us that we shall enter the Promised Land? Why must we tread into the Promised Land with blood and tears, stepping over the dead bodies of the fallen, instead of with joy and happiness, partying with our comrades?
“Why, Death, why! Why are you so intent on following us?!”
There was a long period of silence. Martin’s chest was heaving due to his outburst, and across the corridor, Death studied Martin’s face with eyes that had seen sadness for thousands and thousands of years.
“But why are you so angry, Martin? You claim that I have taken everything away from you, from the families of the dead, and from the dead itself – and perhaps I have, by taking away their lives. But do their spirits not grow bright in heaven, and do their legacies not guide one generation after another? You said so yourself – you told your brothers and sisters to stand up for Jimmie Lee Jackson, to avenge for him, and to keep him in their hearts forever.
“Yes, they died Martin, but they died for a greater good. They died because they were fighting for something they believed wholeheartedly to be right. They died because they were fighting for a better world for their loved ones, Martin!
“And so why do you fear death so much Martin? Why do you fear me so much? Do not pretend – you antagonize me out of fear. And do not worry – your time is not up, although I fear it may be soon. But why have you grown to fear me so much? You didn’t fear me when that black woman stabbed you right in the chest. You didn’t fear me when you stood up to all those people and told them with a voice ringing on every mountain and every hill that you had a dream.
“So why fear me now? Because you have loved ones that you cannot leave behind? We all do, Martin, we all do. And believe me, even though Coretta may argue and fight with you due to her fears about the looming shroud of death, she is stronger than you think. She will hold on and she will stay
strong. Because she understands, and so should you, that your death is not the end of you. No, Martin, you’ll have left so much behind – your legacy, your passion, your love, your efforts to bring freedom to the Negroes. One day you will stand before history, and history will crown you.
“And so fear not, Martin. You may treat us as old enemies, and rightly so, but I’ve always, and will always, treat you as an old friend. It’s not easy to deal with so many deaths resting upon your shoulder, and you walk with valor and bravery every day. Just for that I applaud you.”
Upon hearing this Martin’s shoulders sagged, his voice faltered and he felt as if he had suddenly aged another ten years. “I’m just tired,” he whispered, “so, so tired.” Slowly, he buried his head in his hands, and began to cry in earnest. It was too much for him, to have gone through so much injustice, so many deaths and so many separations. Half of his life he had walked with Death constantly by his side, and now it was near the end. Death had pierced into him in the form of a knife from a deranged woman; had damaged him in the form of thousands and thousands of nightmares of those lynched and killed by the whites; had tired him by causing the disunity between the different civil rights groups; had stricken fear into him in the form of threats to his wife and daughters…Death had been his old enemy for so long, and he wasn’t quite ready to let go yet.
But he knew that his time was up, and he knew that sometimes death really wasn’t the end. The Whites could continue killing the Blacks, but they will stand strong. And other people, no matter whether Whites, Hispanics, any race or nation, will join in their united stand against injustice and oppression. And that day, that day when true equality is bestowed upon the land of the free, that day when everyone is witness to the coming of the Lord, he, alongside so many others who have sacrificed for the nation, will join their brothers and sisters, hand in hand, to proclaim: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
On the 3rd April 1968, Martin Luther King made what was to be known as his last speech – “I’ve been to the mountaintop”. As he stepped onto the podium to make the speech, for a sudden moment he thought he saw Death amongst the crowd, wearing a simple suit and holding a small briefcase. Their eyes met for a brief second, and all the memories of their last meeting came flooding through Martin’s mind. Raising his hands in the air, he proclaimed what was to be the ending to his last speech ever on Earth:
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.”
And I don’t mind.
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!
“And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man!
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
On the 4th April 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. As he fell to the ground, shot by the bullet, he saw once again, Death, holding a briefcase, in a simple suit resembling his, waiting to guide his soul away, far, far away, into the Promised Land.
This time, he embraced Death as if they were old friends.