The Nobel Prize Award winning author, Toni Morrison touched me with beauty. Not the common image of beauty as physical attractiveness like a stunningly gorgeous person, but beauty manifested as vulnerability, strength, virtue, grandeur and magnificence. Illustrating the depth of beauty in life was a major theme in her writing. She showed us beauty in the stories she told and in relationships she described. Ms. Morrison’s writings highlighted the Love in Beauty and the Beauty in Love.
I met Toni Morrison once briefly when I boldly asked her to sign my copy of Beloved during a literary conference. Whether in person or participating in an interview, Toni Morrison always carried the same grace and beauty that she wrote about. I am so grateful for her presence in the world as a gifted human spirit and writer who affected my life and my spirit.
The language of The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Love among so many lovely novels Ms. Morrison wrote, evoked a sense of awe in me like a beautiful painting hanging in a museum would. Toni Morrison taught me to observe the beauty in people, places, and objects beyond what we typically associate with exquisite paintings, sculptures, music and movies.
My favorite pastime and contemplative activity as a young girl was to sit on some weathered leather or clean but old fabric couch and eat a green apple while reading a book. Reading books took to me to other worlds that I couldn’t see from our all Black neighborhood in Pasadena, CA. Books piqued my imagination and curiosity as I stepped into the lives of fantasy and children that I would never know in places I had never heard of.
My memories are sketchy but I believe I was first introduced to the public library in first grade and cherished my library card as if it was a valuable gold coin. I kept it in a special place in my dresser drawer so I would always know where to find it when it was time for a trip to the library. For a few summers I participated in a children’s book reading club challenge. I loved to check off the list of the eight to ten books we were assigned to read, although I suspect I enjoyed the competition or sense of achievement more than some of the books.
Later I read different books mostly for school like Black Boy, The Great Gatsby, The Good Earth, and Invisible Man. At the time, I was unaware of authors like Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy West and Paule Marshall and it didn’t occur to me that I read writings that were devoid of black female protagonists. Such literature was not part of the AP curriculum in my high school in the late 1960’s and no internet existed to search for such things.
In 1970, the publication of the The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison changed everything for me. Ms. Morrison made a little black girl yearning to be someone other than the radiant holy child of God that she was, the center of her novel. Black girls mostly remained invisible or marginalized in mainstream American literature. Inspired by all of the beauty Toni Morrison opened my eyes to, led me to think deeply. I wondered. I am not a writer nor musician, dancer, or visual artist. How can I contribute beauty to the world?
I believe I found the answer through the expression of my unique creative talents. I love elegant fabric. I bask in the joy of turning two dimensional pieces into wearable art, of creating personalized tea cozies and comfort blankets made of fleece with crocheted edging. I am passionate about gorgeous flowers so I plant zinnias, dahlias, cosmos, and marigolds next to easy growing vegetables in my container garden. Gardening also allows me to create simple beauty by preparing colorful and delicious meals for family and friends. I also have a gift for writing but not like Toni Morrison. I wasn’t called to create fine literature. I am drawn to share practical spiritual stories. I like to generate deep inquiries and invite folks to explore their inner lives. I realize, though the inspiration for both of us emerges from the same Source.
Toni Morrison’s writings threw a life preserver to many people, black women in particular. She followed her calling to write and perfect her craft. In one of the many interviews airing recently, Ms. Morrison noted that there were two things that she needed to do or she would die. One was to be a mother to her sons and the other was to write. Again I pondered—what am I compelled to do or feel like I might die?
Sometimes as artists, and we are all artists in some way, we become unblocked and the beauty just flows right out of us like a gift from the Creator. Usually, it is in moments of quiet, in the stillness, in the toil of revising, and revising, and revising or chopping vegetables and mixing ingredients that we are able to feel and capture the Beauty that surrounds us. Often we translate these moments into words on the page or into delicious, healthy, edible feasts.
What kind of beauty are you called to share with the world? What do you feel compelled to do or feel like you might die? Would answering your calling to create more beauty in your life and the lives of others bring more peace and joy to your heart?