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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 …

 

 

 

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“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.

 

Seems that my long life is like a treasure hunt.

Once I stepped back from significant teachers and took stock of what I found, I began discerning clues about the Sacred in places I ordinarily would not have frequented, specifically my unconscious; its darkness, impenetrable. My loneliness deepened, my discomfort mounted, and questions spliced my resolve. Even more disconcerting were my dreams, like cattle prods urging me forward. With trepidation, one foot scaled that ravine; another trudged through brambles that bloodied my calves. Many dead-ends undermined my resolve to forge ahead, and yet there was no other option. There was always the next clue to discover.

Years passed. This was no child’s game. Annual retreats afforded me respite to consolidate my gains and give thanks to God. But then the struggle began afresh—Still another clue to discover. So what is this treasure that has attracted my being, from earliest memory? Once glimpsed, its allure only compelled more engagement.

Again, I look to the Gospels. Jesus likens the Kingdom of Heaven to a hidden treasure buried in a field (Mt. 13). Someone finds it, reburies it, then thrilled by his discovery, sells all he has and buys this field. He must have it. His life depends upon it.

Like the seeker, I cherish this treasure, tucked away in my depths. Lest I become puffed up by this discovery, the apostle Paul likens my humanness to an earthenware vessel (II Cor. 4:7), ordinary, and in time, cracks apart when no longer needed.

So the treasure hunt continues—My self-emptying also continues.

 

 

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