Two new people joined thirteen “regulars” from India, Mexico, and the United States to discuss an excerpt from Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The setting in the scene is a Clearing were Baby Suggs, holy, gathers people together and exhorts them to dance and cry and laugh. Even more, she tells them they must love themselves because “yonder” they are not loved.
We loved the group’s observations and associations. Together we celebrated the woman sitting on a flat rock, directing and encouraging men, women, and children and echoing gentle preaching akin to the Sermon on the Mount, in the New Testament, and the recitation of the Beatitudes. Other intertextual references included Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet and St. Francis’s “Canticle of the Sun.”
We talked about Baby Suggs’s command to love their flesh–their skin and lungs and liver and heart–visceral references that seemed uncommon. More than one person talked about skin as what holds our organs and bones together. One informed us that the skin–weighing (on average) 8 pounds and covering 22 sq. feet–is the body’s largest organ, and can bind not only an individual body but also a community. We talked about the color of skin, identity, and difference. One person typed into the Chat that the final paragraph of this excerpt “could be an anthem for the movement Black Lives Matter.”
One participant commented, “There was hope in this space.” Others named the space “a safe harbor” and “a sanctuary” and “a place to be free.” A space in which there is self-compassion, we observed. A space in which “it is possible to find joy and exchange roles,” one in which we appreciated the fact that “the characters were not asked to clean up their lives.”
We praised Toni Morrison’s writing. As one person said, “It’s absolute craft” and pointed to her use of rhythm and alliteration. Others pointed to how the writing was able to speak to the “viscera” of each reader, both through the creation of this clearing and through the celebration of the flesh.
We wrote for four minutes, prompted to begin with the words: “You got to love it…”
Four people read aloud what they wrote. The first began by reproducing drums, echoing the beating of feet and hands in Morrison’s Clearing, and praising nature, and words and songs that lift us, as well as reminding us that all life will die and “pass into history.”
One piece praised “life given” with its peaks and valleys, and the glory of sunsets.
Another gave the story of a man who identified as a sweeper–a legacy that had been handed down in a family of sweepers–his job was clearing trash in the park.
Moved by writing that referred to a “loud noise ringing out from the trees” reminded some of the band “Live“ and the song “Lightning Crashes” which we added as a processional upon leaving the meeting.
Thank you for returning to our clearing this week. We look forward to gathering in our clearing again next week!
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Please join us for our next session Wednesday, September 16th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. 1988. (First published 1987) New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Pp. 87-89.
After situating herself on a huge flat-sided rock, Baby Suggs bowed her head and prayed silently. The company watched her from the trees. They knew she was ready when she put her stick down. Then she shouted, ‘Let the children come!’ and they ran from the trees toward her.
‘Let your mothers hear you laugh,’ she told them, and the woods rang. The adults looked on and could not help smiling.
Then ‘Let the grown men come,’ she shouted. They stepped out one by one from among the ringing trees.
‘Let your wives and your children see you dance,’ she told them, and groundlife shuddered under their feet.
Finally she called the women to her. ‘Cry,’ she told them. ‘For the living and the dead. Just cry.’ And without covering their eyes the women let loose.
It started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it got mixed up. Women stopped crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried until, exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping for breath. In the silence that followed, Baby Suggs, holy, offered up to them her great big heart.
She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or the glorybound pure.
She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.
‘Here,’ she said, ‘in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver—love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your lifeholding womb and your life-giving parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.’ Saying no more, she stood up then and danced with her twisted hip the rest of what her heart had to say while the others opened their mouths and gave her the music.”