Alice Walker’s Garden of Attention

Alice Walker in Her Garden

I love driving on Friday nights in Atlanta’s springtime. Aside from the warm, flowery scents and breezes to enjoy, there are literary and arts events galore to attend. Emory University recently held an evening celebration to honor the poet/activist Alice Walker having shown the wisdom, sense of heritage and mission to preserve ‘unique materials of permanent research value’ of Ms. Walker’s in the Manuscript, Archives and Rare Books Library (MARBL). With her blessings she has donated her complete archives to Emory University for research and study.

Emory University also had the grace to invite the public to share in the honorary evening with a few of Ms. Walker’s favorite people, from her English teacher at Spelman College and her friend Gloria Steinem to the writer who convinced her to let him script her novel into the movie ‘The Color Purple’. An hour after eight different, fluently presented recognitions from city, county and Emory representatives, Ms. Walker took control doing this cute little butterfly thing with her hands on her chest to acknowledge endless applause, looking for the all the world like she’d take flight.

It’s her words that really got me flying. The poetic imagery was delivered with the quiet strength of one used to having people pay attention. The seed of the evening’s theme took root while she shared memories from her new and old poetry. She is a force in creating world peace starting from the years of her involvement in the then young civil rights movement. It’s sad that thieves have stolen her name using it as a website hostage, but in spite of their efforts to control her, she has created to chronicle her life and passions.

A large pink flower under her collar contrasted with a black dress, a subtle suggestion of an iconic lighting technique used for illuminating the face and suggesting the grace of a saint from below, as if the light of the soul came from both within and below, shining radiant light upward toward her face, like the sun was in her belly. I loved the continuous visually referent garden imagery in her language, a message of her commitment to the world.

There are people who yearn for unbroken things but Ms. Walker penned ‘I will keep broken things – I will keep myself.’ She recognizes the value of what appears broken as fully human, fragile and more precious than a porcelain dish displayed on the wall – never used but beautiful. She believes that saving even one turtle’s life is enough for a human to feel fulfilled and yet she exhorts us to see the possibility of world peace simply because it seems impossible. ‘There is a duty to life,’ she said while recalling a reflection of the Dalai Lama’s about America, ‘that it is a country where people do not seem to love themselves.’ What kind of action can unloved people take?

In the midst of the generous evening’s imagery, I oddly recalled a man from my early twenties who said he had nothing more to talk about, that he had run out of things to share. I yearn for nurturing language and creative vision and mission and passion that moves me to action. Thank God the man knew the limits of his attention and dropped away and Ms. Walker hasn’t yet found her limits. She continues to grow her language, and I had an evening of attentional inspiration about peace  that nurtured me and that inspires me to action. I’m an American who loves myself.

However, practically speaking the next time I go to Glenn Memorial Chapel at Emory University I’m bringing a seat cushion. I will. I love my comfort. I’ve attended events there for over twenty-five years and still I forget they are the hardest pews in history. However, honoring Alice Walker took a little edge off the the physical discomfort for me. Sometimes a little physical ache hurts so good while participating in the care and tending of the garden of peace and love, and attention.

What’s growing in your ‘garden of attention’?