“If our society had a commonly held understanding of the meaning of love, the act of loving would not be so mystifying.”_ – bell hooks, All About Love
in Kauai, have signs that tell about “sneak waves” that come upon you after you’ve faced one, two, then three. you’ve lost most of your breath but then exhale into that peculiar sensation of weary triumph that you made it still standing. the now-gentle waves nudging you from behind as you make your way to the shore feel puny and even caressing by comparison. then wham! the sneak wave comes and takes your feet from under you. maybe it’s not really bigger but the pummeling, guard-dropping relief, but-not-over-yet makes it feel that way.
sometimes loss happens that way. in the last few weeks, I attended the loss of one of my best friends’ mom. the same day, my partner’s father took an unexpected downward turn in his health. I just got to Costa Rica where we were to be taking a much-needed BREAK from this norm-disrupting year. Monday afternoon, a friend’s not-so-sensitive, but off these times message comes in — almost in slow motion –“Omg, I just saw on Twitter about Greg Tate.” and in an instant, a hole was blown through my New York in my 20s life. two days later, Malidoma Somé joined the ancestors. then my partners’ father could hold out no more and transition. I was still trying to catch up on sleep from the nights of dream conversations with Greg I have been having. I did what anyone ought to when grief wells up around you from all directions: I met it in the water: the ocean, the pool — equalizing the welling inside with the pressure of waves & water outside.
breathe. breathe. walk. breathe. breath. phew…
then the sneak wave: bell hooks went home, too.
the truth is that I can’t write much more now other than to say that all of that the world — my world — is a lesser place for their absence.
my friend and partner’s parents were towering figures in their families, neither of which I knew as well as I maybe should have. life has its wily ways. they adult in a way that is becoming lost upon the youth-fixated generations that followed.
as cultural figures, Greg, Malidoma, and bell are losses that I can’t convey in this small space, and not in this time, so in place of my own words this week, I share about them through their words.
Greg and bell were personal losses to me and also belonged to, helped design, shape, and articulate our society so that it could be seen more clearly for what it is. they spoke not of, but through, culture, music, design, art, spirituality, gender, and yes, love. they were both disarmingly soft-spoken in contrast to the incisive ferocity of their words and ideas. they were ruminators, ramblers in the best way, and literal compendiums and catalogs of the Black experience as essential to understanding what America is and isn’t. they pointed out intersections and relationships and fired synaptic connections that would otherwise remain dormant.
they embodied the artfulness and beauty of what it means to be a critic in critical (race) theory. I can tell you from direct, personal experience that they moved from, with and for nothing but love.
they were all giants.
may we be deserving of carrying the illuminating threads they spun so they may sleep well