grace alone might have to do

Posted on February 18, 2011


“If ever there came a morning when mercy and simple good fortune took to their heels and fled, grace alone might have to do.” (Paradise, Toni Morrison)

The summer before my ninth grade year, I read the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison. I had checked it out from the public library which was within walking distance from where we lived. There was a librarian at this branch who was always extremely nice to me and engaging but knew I was shy and aloof and allowed me distance enough to feel comfortable with her. I have unfortunately forgotten her name – I’m not very good with names – but I remember what she looked like quite clearly to this day. She always seemed very reserved but when she smiled, a large, toothy grin, her entire face lit up. She wore her hair in whatever you call the feminized version of a flat top fade and always she had on large dangling earrings, a pair of blue jeans and usually a turtle neck sweater. At some point I am sure we had discussed that I was eager to read more Morrison, whom I had discovered in middle school through my parents’ copy of Sula, so she was excited to see what my young mind thought of Beloved.

The day I brought the book back to return it she was working, and I remember that when I came in she waved me over to the counter. She leaned down and asked me if I liked the book. In truth, reading Beloved was probably, if not life-changing, a conscious-changing moment for me. It blew my young mind and I read it twice over before I relinquished it back to the library. The way the language had wrapped itself around my mind I couldn’t explain, but I was completely enamored. I was too embarrassed to say all of this, so I just said that yes, I had loved it.

“Did you? And you understood it?” she asked, smiling.

“Yes,” I replied. I’m not sure if this was entirely true. I know for a fact that the passage written from Beloved’s perspective before she “crosses over” had confused me and I am quite sure that I didn’t fully comprehend the depth of the book at that age, but I didn’t want to admit it.

“Really?” She sounded surprised. “I’m not even sure I got it. But you really did like it?”

“I loved it,” I repeated.

“Well,” she paused, beaming down at me, ” Well, then you must be a writer.”

I don’t remember anything else we said that visit, but I do remember the overwhelming feeling I got hearing those words. I was filled with an immense gratitude, a gratitude that I’m sure she never realized. My shyness was such that at that age whenever someone provoked a very strong reaction in me – be it positive or negative – I tended to avoid them for fear of not being able to control my emotions. Ever the Aquarian, I suppose. I know that not too long after that I stopped coming to that branch of the library as often, busy with school and extracurricular activities and my first job. I’m not sure how often I saw that librarian during those last few visits, or even if I did. And I don’t know if I’ve lived up to her prophecy, or if I ever will; nor am I even really sure anymore what it means to be A Writer. But, clearly, she left a huge impact on a shy, insecure kid hungry for encouragement. I wish I could remember her name to thank her properly. It meant a lot to me.

Today is Toni Morrison’s 80th birthday. So, happy birthday Madame Morrison! Thank you, and the librarian with the great smile, for teaching me the beauty and value of words.