An Evening with Coretta Scott King ; Bringing a Spiritual Perspective to Daily Life

Article excerpt

I had the privilege recently of sitting at the dinner table with Coretta Scott King. It was a larger, more formal table than I'm accustomed to, in a larger, fancier home than mine. Waiters served us - that certainly never happens at my house! - and there were more forks next to my plate than I knew what to do with. Yet for all the grandeur of the setting, it was an intimate evening.

Mrs. King told stories - stories that answered our questions directly in some cases, obliquely in others. But with one exception, the answers weren't what mattered. The places we went, the people we met, the history we learned, mattered. Her eloquence, her elegance, her courage, mattered.

What amazed me even more, however, was not so much what she brought to the table but what she left behind. No trace of bitterness laced her words. No derision, no sarcasm, never a caustic tone. Even when she said, "I always knew someday the call would come" (referring to the call informing her of her husband's death), no rancor strained her voice or pinched her brow.

As the evening progressed, this absence of acrimony captured more and more of my attention. Since my own father's efforts to right social wrongs have, unfortunately, left him a bitter man, I wondered how Mrs. King had escaped a similar fate. She had faced infinitely more pressure and danger and devastation than my dad, yet there she sat, the picture of peace and hope. Finally, I asked, "How can you have gone through so much for a cause that has yet to be fully realized, and come out the other end with hope for the future and without bitterness over the past?"

In response, Mrs. King referred briefly to the strength she derives from her Christian faith. She quickly continued, however, as if that first response were too obvious an answer: "I believe in the philosophy of nonviolence. That has kept me going."

She went on to speak of the power of this approach to change, of its global applicability, of its moral authority. As she spoke, I recalled a book of Martin Luther King's sermons I had recently read. In it, he defines nonviolence as love. Indeed, the title of the book is "Strength to Love. …