once I got to bow down to my teacher.
the day, nine years ago, was a rough one. I’ve recently remembered it in the form of a story a few times, the way I’d become so overcome by the needs, beauty and struggle of the gathering I was helping hold, that I’d found myself at the precipice of the healing room, a tremble in my heart that become a convulsion of opening on a healer’s table.
when I stood up, the next thing that was happening was Grace Lee Boggs’ 95th birthday party. Every year since I’d met Grace, we’d celebrated her birthday as if it were the last. Grace lived through so many of the looks and words of people who thought it might be the last time their paths crossed. I wonder if she felt that as a gift or a weight.
she taught me by sending me to the bookshelf and then still telling me the idea she wanted me to understand, pouncing as she landed on the essence of an argument, shining as she saw how good an idea was. I feel Grace when I talk to Denise, Jenny, ill, Thenjiwe – they come prepared, invite me as I am, whisper the way to me as I walk beside them.
Grace taught me to talk about your ideas as they are forming, that the intimacy of sharing creates better thinking. I’m still practicing, and clumsy. I hear Grace when I read Alexis, posting the messages she’s learning from sea mammals, already poem.
Grace taught me that it’s OK to understand more than you can do, it’s OK to comprehend a change you will only reach for in your lifetime, it’s OK to point people down a road you may not be able to walk. I hear Grace in beloved Toshi Reagon’s plans for being a guide and a guard in the apocalypse. I feel Grace in the frustration of elders trying to keep us from crashing into their wrecks, and in the anticipation of those who realize we’re evolving navigation.
Grace taught me to think. Not think like her, but think for myself, think critically, think dialectically, think experimentally. To be willing to let my mind grow as my soul does. I see Grace in the dignified backs of those whose contribution is the unapologetic sharpening of our minds, N’Tanya, Michelle, Makani, Shea, Scott, Emily.
when I miss her I let her ideas come on in my heart like fireflies, and soon her words come fluttering back through another’s mouth:
“Transform yourself to transform the world”
“History is not the past. It is the stories we tell about the past. How we tell these stories – triumphantly or self-critically, metaphysically or dialectally – has a lot to do with whether we cut short or advance our evolution as human beings.”
“Being a victim of oppression in the United States is not enough to make you revolutionary, just as dropping out of your mother’s womb is not enough to make you human. People who are full of hate and anger against their oppressors or who only see Us versus Them can make a rebellion but not a revolution. The oppressed internalize the values of the oppressor. Therefore, any group that achieve power, no matter how oppressed, is not going to act differently from their oppressors as long as they have not confronted the values that they have internalized and consciously adopted different values.”
today we began another immersion, this one in New Orleans. I want to tell Grace how it feels like that Beloved Community gathering she took me to, song and dance moving through as easily as words. to tell her she is quoted every time, multiple times, she is still teaching. to show her how quickly people are moving to real conversations when explicitly offered a chance to build critical connections.
but she’s not here. that’s the blessing. Grace lived long enough to tell us all she wanted to say, and she was more than ready to go when the time came. I’m excited to imagine her as a beam of light, raising the standards of how ancestors shine. So close to Jimmy that, to the naked eye, they are one light. in this way, ideas outgrow the need for separation and debate.
Grace taught me that the truest thing was change.
happy birthday again, great teacher.