I had no choice but to ask my professor for an extension while reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved for the first time.
She recommended we read the book by candlelight so we would be forced to scrunch up our eyes to focus on the words. One by one, as they marched on the page. Taking our time to dip our toes into each word. Because the words within that book’s spine are rich words; the skins of those letters are practically coated in dark chocolate. Sweet Goodness.
So, against my better judgment in knowing all the dorm’s rules and regulations about the use of fire within four walls, I would sit curled up in the shoe closet of my apartment beside wellies and rain coats reading Beloved by candlelight. Reciting the words out loud, rolling each sentence around in my mouth like a hard candy I hoped would soon dissolve so I could finally swallow it whole.
Trust me when I say this: I didn’t make reading by candlelight look elegant or tasteful. Or romantic for that matter.
I could only sit with the book for fifteen minutes at a time before needing to take a walk. Take a drive. Something nested inside of my stomach every time I picked up that book and melted quickly into a pool of tears and snot, cross-legged in the middle of a broom closet.
“Hatred,” my professor told me. “You are feeling the wrath of hatred. Of the way humans have learned to hate one another.” Is that what this feeling is, I wondered? This knotting, sinking feeling in my stomach over the way human beings can treat one another so badly? This is Hatred?
It was as if I’d never knew of the word all the years it pummeled from my mouth on the playground at school or after a geometry class I really could not stand.
Is there medicine to take for this? A cure for this? Am I ever going to be normal again, or am I destined to cry over slavery right in the middle of casual conversations for the next few years? Because I can hardly eat and barely think over something that happened over 100 years ago. I am a wreck, Professor. An absolute wreck leaking Titanical tears in Dunkin Donuts with chocolate munchkins wedged within my cheeks.
“Read on, there has to be love somewhere.” Oh, but its dark and terrifying when you cannot just have the love front and center. All love. And no hatred. Some would tell you quickly, the world just does not work that way.
I recently read that when the Dalai Lama first encountered the word “hatred” he needed to have it explained to him several times. When it finally clicked, he put his head into his hands and wept.
The thought of His Holiness trying desperately to make his way around this word has clung to almost of all of my thoughts this week; dangling off of to-do lists and swinging from conversations over coffee with friends, making me back track to my days in the broom closet crying over Beloved.
Because how? How do you explain such an awful & sad concept to a man who has never known it before?
I can picture a crowd around the Dalai Lama, young and old, those brought forward to try to explain to him just exactly what Hatred means.
“Oh Dalai, dear Dalai, it’s so ugly and rotten. No makeover, no matter how epic or extreme, will ever turn this word pretty,” a young woman cries.
“Oh Dalai, dear Dalai, Hatred is doomed to roam the earth; ugly, heavy, and unwanted. But powerful; too, too powerful,” an old woman joins her.
“And you better watch out,” comes a man out from the crowd, speaking in a hushed tone. “Because it doesn’t walk… and it doesn’t talk… It slinks and slunks and slitherssss. It roars coming out from the mud!”
“It’s more like a bonfire,” another man says. “Eventually we pile enough “Should” and “Could” and “Would” onto an already booming flame and it makes people stop wanting good for one another.”
“I think it took my mother in the night!”
“And it destroyed my village!”
“It ransacked my home!”
“It split my country!”
“It killed my people!”
I can see him now, face poured into hands, weeping for the way the world operates off of Hatred. How we strap it to the backs of one another. How we slip it into speeches and watch it cut… a person, a population, a country apart. Pulling the Fam from the Ily and the Hu from the Man.
And suddenly a Little Girl emerges from the crowd, tears streaming down her face as if she just left a candle burning in a broom closet as she walked away from a classic novel.
She rises on tip toes and tugs on the garb wrapped tight around the Dalai Lama’s waist. "Don't let them give up,'' she whispers. "Or the hatred will spread. We've all got some good love, that's what my mama says. My mama says its Goodness but its like a lantern that will flicker and fade... I don't want my Goodness to fade."
"I agree with your mama," I think he would say. "But you and I, we cannot cry much longer tonight. For tears, in closets or in palms or upon cheeks, will never do the world good unless they are transformed into something Stronger that we can use to combat the Hatred and make sure that Goodness never fades.
The ones who keep the lantern burning, they don't cry and then give up. They find a cause that rips the world to tears and then they set out to dry the eyes. With loud voices. And louder actions.
So let your words be good, your actions be good, your intentions be best, and your lantern be bright. Don't let that hatred sink like an anchor deep in your stomach. You've got the Good Love, so spread it child, spread."