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Ahead of me, cars and trucks inched up the exit ramp curving to the left, onto North Kingshighway Boulevard, site of the sprawling Barnes-Jewish Hospital and clinics. The afternoon sun wilted long grasses along the pavement; the air, sticky with humidity. City pigeons scrounged for seeds.

And yes, there was someone near the stoplight: short, stocky, walking with a limp. A slouch hat covered his head; a graying beard, his square jaw. Safety pins fastened his wrinkled khaki shirt. Around his neck hung three white plastic rosaries of varying lengths and a cardboard sign scrawled with words in black letters. Behind him, stood a battered shopping cart, filled with bags and opened boxes, their contents spilling over its side.

Missing was the City’s ordinance against panhandling, usually posted near the stoplight.

Upon seeing me wave, he hurried to my car, his dark eyes glinting in the sun, his wide mouth grinning, revealing missing teeth. He reminded me of a fun-loving grandpa, full of stories; of an old laborer with a broken body.

“God blesses you!” he repeated over and over, welcoming me into his home. No longer invisible, someone had seen him and he knew it. I was humbled.

Long ago, a friend had taught me that nothing is as it seems.

 

 

“Hi Clark! Welcome home! Was the beach fun?” I called as I pulled into my driveway and stopped. Hurrying toward me was my seven-year-old neighbor, with what looked like a new toy under his tanned arm.

“Can I play for you, Ms. Liz?” A breeze tossed his blond curls like swooping gulls as he waited for my response. No one was around. It was quiet.

“Why, of course. That would be special!”

“Something I made up—would you like to hear all of it?—half of it?—or one-fourth?” His words plied the rain-washed afternoon with urgency, his freckled nose twitching in anticipation.

“All of it, please. That would be nice.” So now he’s exploring the world of music, I mused, settling into my seat.

He smiled, then lowered his gaze upon the four-string guitar propped against his T-shirt. Intense was his concentration as a melodic line flowed through tanned fingers working the frets, his bare foot keeping time. Then it was over.

“That was great!” I was touched.

“Thanks for listening!” he said, then reached over and kissed my cheek, warmly, not without my gazing into his sapphire eyes: pools of tranquil light bathed me. I had been visited.

I gulped as he trotted home.

 

“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 …

 

 

 

Available on Amazon

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