The Color Purple: The Beauty and Wisdom of Alice Walker
As I mentioned in last week’s blog, recently I spent an amazing few days at a women’s retreat called “Sharing Wisdom – a Deepening Retreat,” held at the breathtakingly beautiful Ghost Ranch, in Abiquiu, New Mexico. The retreat featured three brilliant, strong, inspirational women: Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem, and Chung Hyun Kyung. In this blog, I will focus on the first speaker, Alice Walker, and what I learned from her. Next week I will focus on Gloria Steinem. The following week I will focus on Chung Hyun Kyung.
Most of us know Alice Walker from her book, The Color Purple. I have read this book about ten times. I have quoted it countless times. I have watched the movie (directed by Steven Spielberg) also maybe about ten times, and have used it for women’s and youth retreats. I also saw the play on Broadway with my daughter, Juliana. I have also read about ten other books written by Alice Walker, which is only about half of the books this amazing, prolific woman has written.
The thought of meeting her in person was a bit intimidating. In real life, she is a bit intimidating. She has reached that stage in life where she says what she thinks, and does not really care whether you like it or agree with it. I like this in a person, especially since I recently entered this stage myself!
Four things in particular have stayed with me from her wisdom sharing. First, I was struck by what she said about fear. “I’ve been called fearless all my life. I am not fearless.” She told the story of living in Mississippi with her white husband and their newborn baby when they were young and interracial marriage was illegal. They had one rifle and a German Shepherd. Every week the KKK would send them warnings, that they were coming to kill them. “I was afraid,” she admitted. She told a more recent story of being in a small boat with a group of peace activists, who set sail from Greece to Gaza, and were approached by a huge boat filled with guards with guns, who boarded their little boat. She and the other older women were asked to sit ion the perimeter of the boat, and to pray. “Do you think we were not afraid? We were afraid,” she confessed. “Do not let anyone tell you how you should feel, or that you should not be afraid. Sit with your fear, and pray. Pray that you will hold your ground.”
That’s something that will stay with me. In truth I must admit that I have been letting fear prevent me from writing that book I have been wanting to write since I was a young woman. The day after Alice Walker spoke, I began writing. Thank you, Ms. Walker!
I was also struck by her anti-war writings and activism. “I have been anti-war my entire life. I think that war is stupid. How do we expect to ever have peace by making war? This is why our president is such a huge disappointment. You have a grandmother teaching her grandchildren to pick okra, and they all were killed by a drone. War not only kills our enemies, it also kills our mother earth and all its creatures. Part of why we have war is because we have greed. Someone has something and we want it for ourself. I grew up really poor. I don’t need a lot of stuff. We need to think about this greed in ourselves.” She then shared a new poem called “Why Peace is a Always Good Idea.”
Finally, I was struck by what she said about becoming our true selves, and especially what she said about “sin:” “Don’t waste one moment trying to be something you are not. Find out what is good about the place where you are. I found somewhere in my research that sin is inherent in our being, so as we become our true selves, as we grow, we sin. This is not a negative. It is a positive. For me to be, I have to sin. Sin is part of being. It helps us to learn. She then shared one of her most recent poems: “Hope to Sin Only in the service of Waking Up:”
Hope never to believe it is your duty or right to harm another simply because you mistakenly believe they are not you. Hope to understand suffering as the hard assignment even in school you wished to avoid. But could not. Hope to be imperfect in all the ways that keep you growing. Hope never to see another not even a blade of grass that is beyond your joy. Hope not to be a snob the very day Love shows up in love’s work clothes. Hope to see your own skin in the wood grains of your house. Hope to talk to trees & at last tell them everything you’ve always thought. Hope at the end to enter the Unknown knowing yourself. Forgetting yourself also. Hope to be consumed to disappear into your own Love. Hope to know where you are –Paradise–if nobody else does. Hope that every failure is an arrow pointing toward enlightenment. Hope to sin only in the service of waking up.
For the first time in my life I understand what Martin Luther meant when he said “Sin boldly.” I will sin boldly in the service of waking up.
Finally, the commentator asked her, “How do you pass on wisdom?” She responded: “By surviving…to this point…and being an example of how you can do that.” She then shared a story of a time when she lost someone she had deeply loved, and the suffering and pain that had followed this loss. She went to visit her good friend, June Jordan, and asked her, “How long does it take to get over someone?” June Jordan replied “Two weeks.” Alice said, “That taught me that you can’t follow another’s way. You must follow your own way. You can’t rush things. But you need to know you are being formed into something new from it. Be a warrior. Feel it to the core because something else is being made in it. You will go on to love again. And to be loved again. But in a new way.”
Thank you, Alice Walker, Woman of Wisdom, for sharing your great wisdom with us. May you know our deep gratitude.
May you see God in all you encounter,
and may you reflect God to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright October 28, 2014
Photos: Alice Walker, Melanie Harris, Steph Smith and I at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; purple orchids, Kaua’i, HI; I (left) am in the same frame as Alice Walker and Melanie Harris (right), Ghost Ranch, NM; Alice Walker, with Gloria Steinem and Melanie Harris, Ghost Ranch, NM; Ocean Cliff, Newport, RI; Iznik in the rearview mirror, Newport, RI; Linda and brand new grand baby, Lola Jane Gibbons, RI