In honor of Audre Lorde’s birthday (and how amazing is it that it is also Toni Morrison’s birthday), I want to give thanks to Saint Audre for the many gauntlets she threw down, and took up. Audre, you helped me save my own life. Thank you for continuing to challenge me to make it worth the effort.
Of many cherished passages, this one from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and action” in Sister Outsider speaks to me most often and most hauntingly:
We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us. The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference that immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.
This message — that silence kills and does not protect or enliven — finds form in her poetry, too. Here, from Black Unicorn …
Litany for Survival
For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.
How is it, I wearily wonder, that I am still learning this lesson, over and over, at 50? I do speak, more often these days; and yet, then there is the wondering about what I said and how I said it and who I might have offended and …
Enough. Let me give up silence where it does not enliven, or make space for another. Let me give up wondering when I have spoken. Let me speak as boldly as Jesus lamenting the too-many scalawags and the too-few prophets; let me stand strong in the shadow of my Mother Hen, warmed by her feathers and encouraged by her breath. Let me move toward life wherever I feel it, and speak the word that helps there be more life, life abundant.
And you, friend? What is the word you would speak, to feel more fully alive?