Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it – because it does. (1Corinthians 14:1MSG)
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend. Martin Luther King Jr.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King Jr.
Excerpt from his (Martin Luther King Jr.) August 16, 1967 “Where Do We Go from Here” speech.
And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. And I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.
I was on a crowded bus once headed for Norfolk when an interesting discussion occurred between my fellow passengers. What follows is a fictional version of the conversation. The story centers on a beautiful elderly woman. While her name is not Eulalie, her words spoken over thirty years ago, ring true today. Especially today.
Miss Eulalie Lisbeth Purdee picked up her worn carpet bag, black pocketbook and prepared to board the already crowded bus. It was slow going. She took a step and stopped. One foot up. Stop. She leaned on the handrail and shifted her weight. Lift. Another step. With a hoisting motion, she pulled herself and her bags up the Greyhound stairs. Behind her, impatient people shuffled in line.
“Here, ma’am, let me help.”
Eulalie looked up. A tall white man wearing faded jeans with a frayed jeans jacket leaned toward her from the top step. His arm reached out to her.
“It’s the arth-a-ritis, you know.”
“Gets to my knees something bad. Makes ’em all stiff like.”
The stranger smiled as he helped her up and reached for the bag. “Here. Let me take that for you.”
She pulled back. “You won’t go to fool’n an old woman, would you?” Eulalie held on tight. “My medicines and my homemade divinity is in that bag.”
“Now, ma’am, you know my mama taught me better than that. I’m just going to put it up here for you. Would that be all right?”
Eulalie nodded and released the bag.
She found the first empty seat about four rows back and sat down. She wiped her brow with a hand-stitched embroidered hankie and patted her heaving chest. Traveling wore on her and she’d just started the trip.
“Phew,” she said as she waved the hand with the hankie back and forth across her face. “It’s heating up in here.”
Her stiff bent fingers, joints enlarged with age, struggled to undo the buttons of her black wool coat. She strained to pull off the heavy winter coat. There wasn’t enough room. She angled forward in the seat.
“Here. Let me help,” said a deep voice.
Eulalie looked up to see who had spoken. She saw a strong dark face hidden behind mirrored glasses. She saw herself in them looking up at him. He was large and black, a “dude” her grandson would have called him. She thought he was young, maybe twenty. Even though it was November, he wasn’t wearing a jacket. Eulalie noticed his arm muscles were bigger than the top of her legs. He looked like the weight lifters she’d seen on the television set.
He held the coat for her as she pulled out her arms.
“Thank you,” she told him.
Carefully, he laid the coat over the back of the seat. His head was covered in small tight braids with red, yellow, green, and blue wooden beads woven in. They clicked when he dipped his head toward Eulalie. He smiled and walked on.
Eulalie settled the coat around her shoulders. The purse was still sitting on her lap. She decided to tuck it in the chair beside her.
“You all settled, ma’am?”
It was the kind jeans man. Eulalie nodded yes. “You’re not from around here.” She stated. “No offense,” she said, “but when you get my age, you’ve earned the right to be nosy.”
He laughed. “None taken, ma’am. I’m from Texas. Traveling to D. C. for the holidays.”
“I thought as much.” Satisfied with his response, she answered his question. “I’m comfortable. Thank you.”
“Your bag’s right up there.” Tex, she decided to call him that, pointed to a compartment over her head. “You need anything from it, you let me know.”
“Well, I don’t mean to be a bother, but I could use my Bible. I meant to get it out before I sat down. It’s right along on the outside pocket. If you could just reach in and pull it out for me, I’d be much appreciated.”
She watched him feel for the book.
“Eulalie Lisbeth Purdee,” he read. “Well, Miss Purdee, seems like this book’s seen some use.” Tex handed her the Bible.
She ran a finger over the worn gold letters.
“Twenty-two years’ worth. I’ll be 72 come spring.” She fluttered the onion skin pages, soft and yellow with age. “Now this Christmas past, my grandson, – I’m going to spend the holidays with him and his family.” She was proud of this fact. “He gave me a brand new Bible. Large writing. It’s a fine, handsome book.”
Eulalie smoothed down the leather cover and laid her wrinkled creamy coffee brown hands on top. “But it’s not this book. My husband gave me this one. It was on my fiftieth birthday and our thirtieth anniversary.”
“That’s something in this day and age, Miss Purdee. Seems to me that book’s been good to you.” Tex was forced to sit down to let people pass. His seat was directly across the aisle from Eulalie’s.
She smiled to herself. “It certainly has.”
The bus pulled away from the curb and the trip began.
Eulalie was just starting to doze when she heard, “I’m telling you Johnson had Kennedy killed…”
She looked up wondering if she could see the face belonging to such a young voice. It had a crackle in it like it hadn’t properly aged yet. Yes, she thought. There he was hanging over the seat talking to Tex. His dirty blond hair was slicked. She could see pimples still dotted his pockmarked face.
“He had him killed I’m telling you.”
It wasn’t eavesdropping, Eulalie thought. They were talking loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Johnson did not have Kennedy executed,” Tex said. “Why would he go and do that?”
Eulalie watched his blue-jeaned arm emphasize each word as he talked.
“To be president!” Spittle spewed out of the young man’s mouth. He wiped it away with the back of his sleeve without a thought. “All vice presidents want to become presidents. It’s only natural.”
The kid, Joe College she thought she’d call him, was mouthing off again. Couldn’t be a day over nineteen but talked as if he’d been around forever. Just like the young, she chuckled.
“Well, they sure as heck don’t make good ones. Just look at Nixon.”
That was a different voice, Eulalie thought. She poked her head into the aisle but couldn’t see who was talking. The new voice must be sitting next to Joe.
“And Agnew.” Joe College sat on the arm of the chair with his butt perched against the window. Eulalie was certain he was going to fall.
“Take a history class,” Tex said. “Agnew was never president.”
“Well, he did time, didn’t he?” Joe College was on a roll now. “And I have studied history and that’s what I’m telling you, man. Johnson plotted against Kennedy. He wanted the dude out of the way.”
“President Johnson was a good man, a good president.” Eulalie couldn’t help herself.
“Listen to the woman.” Tex winked at her. “She knows her stuff.”
“It was an awful time, just awful,” Eulalie said. “President Johnson did all he could after President Kennedy was shot.”
“That’s right.” It was the new voice talking. The man swung around into the aisle so he could look at Eulalie and Tex. “All he could to get us deeper into Nam. Man! That war was a crock.”
He had thick mousy brown hair hanging halfway down his back and couldn’t have been old enough to even be alive during the Sixties.
“It’s the end of November,” she said. “How can you be so tan?”
“Surf’n and ski’n. Ski’n and surf’n, ma’am. I live to do both. On my way now to my old man’s place in Denver. Gonna stay there a while and hook up with a resort. Earn some big bucks teaching the yuppies to ski.” He pulled his hair out of his face and smiled at her.
Eulalie couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen such deep blue eyes. They twinkled at her like they were dancing. She returned Denver’s smile and felt the need to pat her black pillbox hat.
“And then there’s Ford.” Joe couldn’t get off the subject. “If he wasn’t tripping at a golf course, he was tripping down stairs.”
“Who’d ever thought a good old boy from Arkansas would be president?” Tex asked. “Will wonders never cease?”
“Should’ve left that hillbilly redneck back in the hills for all the good he’s done this country.” Denver picked lint off his corduroy pants.
“Nothing but trouble since he was elected.” With a wave of his hand, Joe College blew away all presidents, past and future.
“What’s a redneck?” Eulalie asked.
The men turned to look at her. They were quiet for a moment. It wasn’t that easy of a term to explain.
Tex decided to give it a try. “Well,” he rubbed his chin while he thought. “You know, a country boy, a hick, a hillbilly. Something like that.”
“Do you mean nigger?” she said. Her voice was quiet, intelligent.
“No, not that, ma’am.”
Eulalie explained to them, “Now you don’t have to be black or white to be a nigger. Just low. It’s not about color, you see. It’s about type.”
“Man!” Joe College said. “You know! Redneck! A country jerk. Drinks shine. Has a riffle rack in the back of his truck. Like that. Wears flannel even in the summertime.”
“Well, we don’t mean a spick.” Denver added.
“Or a kike,” Tex said.
The men spewed racial slurs like pellets out of a scattergun.
“Now hold on just a minute!” The bus driver yelled over the talking and engine. He looked at his passengers in the large overhead mirror. “There won’t be any of that kind of talk on my bus! I don’t want any trouble!”
Except for the sound of wheels on asphalt, the bus was quiet.
Eulalie opened her Bible. After a few long minutes, she spoke into the silence. “We all God’s creation, you know, black, white. It don’t matter to Him. He made us all. My blood runs red. Your blood runs red.” She closed the book. “We all be His.”
Father, Heal the brokenhearted. Proclaim liberty to the captives and release from darkness for those who are in prison. Comfort those who mourn, grant consolation and joy to those who mourn in Charleston. What the enemy meant for evil to destroy us, to destroy our country and the lives of those who died, turn it for our good. In Jesus’ name. Amen. (Isaiah 61)