I’m writing this from a coffee shop. It’s relatively quiet except for the baristas who I hear above the roar of espresso machines and cash registers. Customers at tables are by themselves, working on their laptops, or reading on their phone. I forced myself to come out, to be among the living, after feeling surrounded by unfortunate massive deaths.
My plan for today, before this day came to be, was to work. My to-do list freshly written on my nightstand. Part of my nightly ritual. But it was 2:00 a.m. when I woke. I decided to read a book I just purchased on singleness and the psychological reasons behind “coupling” (interesting read), and it was 4:00 a.m. before I felt myself sleepy again.
It was close to 9:00 a.m. before I opened my eyes, immediately realizing how behind I was on checking items off my list. Not too long after that was when I the headline of Toni Morrison’s passing. I knew it was a mistake. Somehow I’d gotten used to seeing articles and posts that end with #RIP and must have muddled that the beloved Toni Morrison was the one we need to say goodbye to. Today.
As with many others, I’m sure, my mind auto played rushed voices from the past 72 hours. Newscasters reporting on the mass shootings from over the weekend. Interviews with families of the deceased. Experts weighing in on what to do next. Politicians for or against the NRA, gun control, and so on. I sat in front of the TV yesterday surfing news channels, searching for answers I knew they didn’t have. I vacillated between being in meditative silence, prayers to God for healing, news watching, angrily yelling at the TV screen. Today was going to be different.
Then, this morning, it hit as if my own Auntie passed. The one I hadn’t spent as much time with as I wanted. The one from whom I still wanted to learn. Having seen “The Pieces I Am” a couple of weeks ago at a/perture cinema made her come to life as only a documentary filmed before ones passing can do.
I thought about my older brother, and how he was the avid reader of the two of us. He studied and enjoyed it, unlike me. But, for some reason, I would make a habit of going into his bedroom when he wasn’t in it and read titles of books on his bookcase. I would take one out at a time, flip through the pages, wonder what the big deal was, and slide it back. Other times I would sneak a few back to my room. Some I would read. Others, I just wanted to have. He never noticed (or at least he never said he did). Some of the books I still have.
I never liked to read though I liked books. I couldn’t relate to what I was told to read. I didn’t understand nor did I have the interest to try. Then there was Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I wish I could tell you where I was when I read that book the first time. In what city did I live? How did I learn of this novel? Was it one my brother had to read for a class? All of that escapes me but what I do know is that it changed my life. It was the first piece of fiction I read that I wanted to read. That I felt was written for me.
Auntie Toni put both her hands around my face, pulled me closer, and whispered, “This one if for you, beautiful, baby girl.” And she did that for you too. If not The Bluest Eye, then Beloved, or Sula, or Jazz, or one of the other magically spun novels she gave us.
When we write ourselves whole, people believe they know us. I feel like I knew Toni Morrison because she helped me to know myself more. And though I don’t know the 29+ who were murdered over the weekend and those whose murder isn’t being covered by media, I grieve. I deeply grieve, for each loss is a loss to our collective being. And this mounting grief is disorienting.
Our world shifts beneath our feet. The current changes. You have to find your balance, find something to hold on to. A railing that keeps you upright. Your steps are less concerned and certain. You wonder if you will fall down, on the inside. And if anyone will notice. You have to catch your breath, readjust your sight.
And because we’re human beings we know our time on this earth is limited. It’s fleeting. It’s a part of our sacred contract – come, live, be, die, see what’s next. On some level we’ve agreed to this and surrender to it every day. There’s no changing that. No need to argue about the inevitable.
Yet, we suffer, and we must come to accept that suffering is okay. Grief is normal. Grappling with loss, yes, even for those we don’t have a relationship with, has to have a space in our life. So how do we do it? How do we remain sane in a world that seems to be going crazy?
I believe we get through pain with greater love. I know you’re thinking, what can love really change? Can it produce right action? Can it be made known? YES. It’s the most powerful force on earth. Greater than hatred, fear, evil, is love.
We have to know love differently. Have a different relationship with it particularly in our brokenness.
Love is what sustains us on the front line of political wars. It is what wakes us up and gives us the courage to fight for what’s right. It is what allows us to create and be present to the pain we must go through. It is what forgives. It is what lifts some of the burdens. It is what helps us to see life as a beautiful and delicate dance.
Love often gets a bad rap. Like it’s a phony perpetrating to be more than what it is. Real love, not thin love, my friend, is not weak nor is it ineffective. It is powerful beyond what we have imagined. And now, particularly now, in our disoriented state of murk, love is what will pull us out and up. This kind of love isn’t the one we need to wait to come from beyond the skies. It’s already here. It already exists. It is within you and me.
Auntie Toni told us that. And I have a feeling the mothers and fathers and children who are no longer here and who can see all of us, and the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, from a clearer perspective will tell us that too. I believe those I have visited on my journey through African American cemeteries in the South will tell us too, “Hold on, don’t you get weary…”
The steps we have to climb are rocky. Hold on, love. We will get there, together.