I Asked Alice Walker and my Apartment felt the Fire in my Heart
This weekend, I spent a majority of my time open to the wisdom the universe sent my way. I attended a double screening at the Philippine Consulate on Sunday, where film maker Kanakan Balintagos (Auraeus Solito), presented us with two of his works which survey colonialism in the Philippines, the military state, and human relationships. I was deeply moved by his depictions of history and myth, and am excited to follow his progress as he journeys next to the International Film Festival of India! After the festival, we’ll have an interview with the film maker himself (hopefully holding on to that grand prize) about his life, global voice, inspirations, and stunning new film debuting at the festival.
Stunned and moved by the symbolic activism of Balintagos’ films and anticipating his journey to India, I spent the next day mediating and waiting for a hug from Amma, an Indian spiritual leader and humanitarian activist known as the “hugging saint.” Her organization, Amma.org, is a treasure trove of good in the world. Amma and her programs have led public service projects all over the world, disaster relief efforts, youth work, led poverty reduction efforts, environmental education, donated millions of dollars– I can’t possibly do justice to everything else. When I entered her San Ramon sanctuary, I watched videos of Amma working tirelessly on site at the projects her organizations manifest, and embrace people of the world. When I saw Amma embrace victims of natural disaster in China after they received checks to get back on their feet, my heart sank.
I waited 8 hours for my hug. I roamed the beautiful land around the sanctuary after lunch cooked on site and contemplated the gravity of the simple act of consoling those who suffer through embrace, and attempting to heal the world through direct action. When I inched towards her seat, I was asked for my native language. Falling into her chest, she held me like an old relative and recited “My Daughter” in Farsi in my ear. More than anything, I felt the grief of what the modern world demands of our attention. I felt the missed calls from my family. I felt the fear of picking up the phone while thinking of race, gender, sexuality, politics in a way they might not understand. I didn’t go for a spiritual awakening, or a blessing in these hard times- just to feel the space between her arms and on her chest where millions of people have felt a bit of solace through suffering and confusion.
I left the day feeling very guarded knowing a minute of unconditional love. This paradox walked with me through the entrance of the Grand Lake Theater (dazed to say the least) to the Oakland premiere of Alice Walker’s Beauty in Truth. A film by Pratibha Parmar, this feature documentary is about Alice Walker’s life, work, and spirit. The film weaves personal testimonies from Walker herself as well as colleagues, collaborators and lovers. Her prose is often overlaid on colorful landscapes and excerpts from her diaries narrated over historical footage. The documentary covers Walker’s impact on the discussion and perception of race, gender, and sexuality in the black community developing to a global context. We are lucky to see Howard Zinn (RIP) praise Walker in this film before he passed in 2010, and hear intimate accounts of her active work to uncover brutal truths about violence in society.
After the screening, a Q&A with Walker and Parmar took place. Walker spoke of her agreement to do the documentary, her ease in being in her own truth, and how the characters she imagines become ancestors. A woman shared her account of being mute as a child, finding life and speech through Alice Walker’s stories, and is now a professor teaching what has brought her vitality through literature. Many people shared that visceral experience on a metaphorical level- they described feeling immense energy from her work. Alice responded, “You know writers wonder, they wonder…is there anyone on the other side of that sentence?” Last night’s sold out event was proof that there are people waiting for her with full hearts at the end of her books and eager to celebrate her life’s work as not only highly revered, but desperately needed for posterity.
I felt the immensity of her wisdom and had to seize the opportunity to ask a question of a legend who has repeatedly risked her life and ideological abandonment for the progress of our minds. I asked more for an offering of words from both Parmar and Walker to young people, especially young creatives, who are struggling to survive in a world that is increasingly suffocating us and tells us our work is not important…how do we keep going?
She responded, “You know I risked my life trying to vote.” She continued with a gentle call to cause a ruckus. Our systems need to change and the way we treat the Earth needs to change, because it’s fighting back. Her eloquence escaped my consciousness at one point because I was lost gazing into the eyes of an elder who helped pave a path and is now asking myself and others to walk it.
I came home last night from a long day of major intake to a smoky apartment. An accidental fire that was in the last stages of breathing took the life of two of my rare books– American Men in Science and Biography of Abraham Lincoln. I kid you not.
Suffice to say, I spent my time the past couple days listening to my elders, the divine feminine, the makers of our past, for guidance into the new year.