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“Words have power,” so says Toni Morrison, author, teacher, and Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winner of Literature, now in her late eighties and featured in Greenville-Sanders’s new documentary. As a toddler her imagination was seeded with stories of slavery and the preternatural, drawn from memories of her parents and maternal grandparents. Once she learned to read, she found her own way into multiple worlds. In time, she would chronicle the Black experience in America, especially the plight of the hurt child.

Despite her ailing body, tastefully dressed and accessorized with one-of-kind jewelry, she remains the storyteller. Humor, lightsome eyes, and strong hands bespeak an innate wisdom—of having passed through life’s crucible, intact.

And what was in that crucible but impoverished beginnings, racism, degrees from Howard and Cornell Universities, single-parenting two sons while underpaid as a Random House editor, and the critics’ narrow view of her writing. In 1983, tired of promoting the work of other Black writers not that well received, she quit her job and became a full time writer. She was fifty-two years old. And for decades, words rushed from her psyche, her unique voice imprinting its legacy upon generations of readers.

What intrigues me about this documentary, though, is its title: Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (2019). Indeed, there are many pieces in the life of Toni Morrison. What unifies them is her obedience to the I Am within her psyche, from which well words that attest to her wholeness, the ultimate purpose of life.

She remains an absolute teacher …

 

 

 

The sign is old, weather-worn, its letters somewhat faded, but again the invitation is extended:

 

 

No matter the overcast skies, the chill in the air—barricades close off the street to vehicular traffic, cloth-covered tables and folding chairs fill the cul-de-sac, and neighbors carrying hot and cold platters and bowls filled with choice recipes spill onto the sidewalk. Their steps suggest enthusiasm, camaraderie, and anticipation that new residents will join in on the fun around the brazier fire.

What’s unusual about this block party is its longevity. Established in 1973 by a handful of residents, intent upon creating a haven for their growing children, the annual gathering did just that. Within this ambiance they thrived, as well as countless others, in succeeding decades. Currently, ten children below the age of seven are blossoming; another attends high school and two in universities.

Such neighborliness has fused a tangible energy that still pulsates among the twenty-two brick bungalows that line Douglas Court. Like kaleidoscopes with ever-changing jeweled vistas, stories abound: babies, grandbabies, graduations, birthday and anniversary parties, holiday gatherings, diminishments, even deaths, each illumined by the waxing and waning of sun-years.

Such a privilege to have lived on Douglas Court for over twelve years! I’m so grateful—and there have been many signs.

 

“Hey! Look over there! That car’s stopping!” exclaimed Sloane, already tanned in her flowered sundress and clapping her hands in the air. Excitement fused through the gyrating torsos of kids, just released for the summer from the nearby Mark Twain Elementary School. Beneath the shade of a maple tree stood a cloth-covered table lined with pitchers of lemonade and red plastic cups; coolers of ice chips flanked its corners. Mason grinned as he tended the cash box.

And so the exuberant afternoon went, with moms and dads watching. Kids from other blocks hung around the lemonade stand where they laughed, turned cartwheels, and spoke of summer plans—No matter the heat. They had their lemonade with its tart sweetness.

Such places of refreshment still soften hearts—An opportunity to enter the world of the child we once were. And it’s this same child, today, who still gets overwhelmed by the unexpected, however small or great, and seeks help at the closest “lemonade stand.” That could be a trusted friend, a solitary walk in the woods or by the ocean, a pet dog’s nuzzling her owner.

Or even more powerful: sitting still in prayer and waiting for the emergence of God’s presence. The release of tears gives urgency to the plea for comfort, for the inevitable new learning, for its assimilation within the ridges of the hurting heart. In time, its bitterness, like the lemon, is sweetened by wisdom’s smile.

 

Available on Amazon

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