If I Had Sneezed…
Ten years before a gunman shot and killed him, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., almost died of a stab wound. He was only 29 years old and signing books when a woman approached him, carrying a sharp letter opener. King would survive the attack with surgery and a long recovery, but the blade would narrowly miss his aorta. An article in The New York Times described the close call as, “if he had merely sneezed, he would have died.”
Dr. King would receive many letters wishing him a speedy recovery, but one particular letter from a ninth grader especially resonated with him. She wrote:
I read in the paper of your misfortune and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.*
When King delivered what would be his final address on April 3, 1968, famously known for its finale on a “mountaintop,” he recalled the incident and this young woman’s good wishes. He shared her gratitude that he did not sneeze. He describes all of the opportunities he would have missed if he had sneezed. He describes all the progress he would not have witnessed in the Civil Rights era if he had sneezed. He recalls a decade of hard work he would have never known, and might not have happened, had he sneezed.
As I read this story in The Washington Post, I was struck by the way Dr. King looked back on a traumatic, near-death experience with only gratitude. He could have expressed anger at the woman who’d tried to kill him. He could have remembered the stabbing with lament. Instead, he focused on God’s goodness in keeping him from sneezing one night in 1958. Some of the last words he ever spoke to a crowd were not of hate but of thanksgiving.
We read daily of the world’s “misfortune and suffering.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his anonymous ninth grade fan remind us the power of a heavenly perspective. That perspective is thanksgiving. May we all walk into today knowing this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
all good things to each of you,
* This story comes from an article that appeared in The Washington Post on January 21, 2019. The title is, “Martin Luther King, Jr., was stabbed by a deranged woman. At 29, he almost died.”