Alice Walker's 2006 book We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in A Time of Darkness is a collection of essays and presentations she has made over the previous decade. I quote extensively from her book throughout this review, since there were many things she wrote which I very much enjoyed, but I know will have to be cropped from the final review for my comps essay. I feel Walker's profound humanity beautifully expresses itself within these poetical ramblings: an organic journey of the mind encompassing not just all forms of life, but also that which we do not (to our detriment) ordinarily consider to be living, such as the earth herself, her oceans and mountains and atmosphere. As with most of her work with which I am familiar, there is a deep, pervasive strain of spirituality threading throughout.

Walker's fiercely proud introductory elegy for June Jordan addresses not just her friendship with this passionately moving woman, but also credits Jordan for the book's title, expounding upon the powerful activism of their decades-long friendship — a friendship which withstood sometimes intense disagreement due to their shared understanding that they both stood always for the disenfranchised and true social justice. Later essays continue these themes and gracefully integrate new threads of thought as well; Walker's ecofeminist activism is integrally rooted in her understanding of life as a woman of color in the US today. This has produced writing which I consider profoundly and movingly empathic, as she analyzes the meaning and shortcomings of patriarchy in her efforts to promote a more tolerant, generous, and just society.

Walker's writing gracefully mingles prose and poetry, especially while exploring the beneficial effects of aging upon her comprehension of the world, both physical and transpersonal. As she notes, her poetry has matured along with her, developing a richness and depth which would not have appealed earlier in her life. Her emotional generosity, both to others and to herself, has also blossomed through the experiences of pain and loss, through the blissful pause for silent reflection and personal regeneration,[1] and the personal growth and wisdom which that entails: "there is… the desire to honor instead of degrade, to kiss instead of cut — in every one of us."[2] Her spirituality follows no particular cant or creed: "The challenge for me is not to be a follower of Somebody but to embody it."[3]

With this simple statement she embraces a joyous, healing tolerance that springs endlessly from within herself, rooted in love and liberation[4] and grounding itself in deep ancestral understanding[5] that spreads throughout all the Earth.[6] This belief leads logically to a deeply spiritual faith in the interconnected nature of the world: "when you recognize yourself as part of Everything … there is no resistance to the idea that what is foreign can be … held in the embrace of a love that is in fact the same Love that holds the universe. … how can one doubt that … there is an abundance, not a scarcity of love?"[7] Walker gives examples of the immense power of such radical love in her essay on unjustly incarcerated political prisoners who maintain close and loving connections with their families through their letters, concluding that: "continuing to love with depth and tenderness honors revolution at its highest success."[8]

In this exploration of learning to not fear, but to love the Other, Walker explores the terror in which Fidel Castro is held, by visiting Cuba to listen to and personally speak with the man. She quotes him directly, impressed with how humane his message is, and how uplifting for the poor: "The existing world economic order constitutes a system of plundering and exploitation like no other in history. Thus, the peoples believe less and less in statements and promises. … Something must be done to save Humanity! A better world is possible."[9] Disdaining corporations for their heartless disappearing of indigenous and people of color,[10] and noting with horror that "The three wealthiest people of the world own more than the GDP of forty-eight countries!"[11] the author concludes that the astonishing hatred directed at Castro by the US is nothing more than "the inability of those who profit from the world's misery to deal with a truly religious man."[12]

I was fascinated to read of the author sharing a few particularly powerful beliefs which I learned as a child. First, as someone who lived in foreign countries for some period of my life, I witnessed personally the indifference of high-level governmental functionaries to the pains and joys and needs of the people — including, unfortunately, my own country's government. One of the things I quietly learned, in fact (though I do not know if I was supposed to pick this up while listening to the adults) was that if I and my sibling were somehow lost and alone, we should go to any of the UK embassies before trying the US one, since they were more likely to be helpful in returning us to our family. Further, I do not know why, but while we lived abroad, it seemed the Americans tended to huddle in their own compounds. Despite living in a wonderful, strange, and new (to us) country, they did their best to pretend they were still living in the US — to the point that they didn't even bother learning the language, let alone spend any time with the people of that country. I suspect my family was considered somewhat strange in that my parents chose not to do that — we lived in the city just like everyone else there.

 


[1] Alice Walker, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in A Time of Darkness (New York: The New Press, 2006), 59, 69.

[2] Ibid., 42.

[3] Ibid., 94.

[4] Ibid., 95.

[5] Ibid., 109.

[6] Ibid., 99.

[7] Ibid., 131.

[8] Ibid., 154.

[9] Ibid., 112.

[10] Ibid., 116.

[11] Ibid., 115; italics in original.

[12] Ibid., 115.

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