Friday, February 8, 2008

The Most Frightening of Journies

I took the wrong bus on my way home tonight and just missed the one going in the opposite direction. While waiting for another, i reached in to the pouch of my hoodie for the James Baldwin book I had put there for just such an occasion. While trying to find enough light to read by a gentleman joined me at the bus stop - he asked what i was reading and i shared. The conversation that ensued was one of favorite authors and a shared love of reading, we decided maybe we were twins, a strange proposition between myself and an older Black man, but one i liked. This whole encounter only served to sweeten the taste of James Baldwin's words. I may gave read a few essays of his before, but do not recollect them - the introduction of Nobody Knows My Name contained words so profound and pertinent to my life at this moment i wanted to ingest them in some way, make them a part of my thinking and perspective. As a part of this desire, i decided to share a few of them here. In this part he is writing about his time in Europe and his return from there to the United States....

In America, the color of my skin had stood between myself and me; in Europe, that barrier was down. Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch. It turned out that the question of who I was was not solved because I had removed myself from the social forces which menaced me - anyway, these forces had become interior, and I had dragged them across the ocean with me. The question of who I was had at last become a personal question, and the answer was to be found in me.

I think that there is always something frightening about this realization. I know it frightened me - that was one of the reasons that I dawdled n the European haven for so long. And yet, I could not escape the knowledge...that if I was still in need of havens, my journey had been for nothing....

What it came to for me was that I no longer needed to fear leaving Europe...The world was enormous and I could go anywhere in it I chose - including America: and I decided to return there because I was afraid to. But the question that confronted me...was: Am I afraid of returning to America? Or am I afraid of journeying any further into myself?

...And even in icy Sweden, I found myself talking with man whose endless questioning has given him himself...The questions which one asks oneself begin, at last, to illuminate the world, and become one's key to the experience of others. One can only face in others what one can face in oneself. On this confrontation depends the measure of our wisdom and compassion. This energy is all that one finds in the rubble of vanished civilizations, and the only hope for ours. James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name

In the spirit of this work, I would love to ask Baldwin some questions, and need to ask myself some in response to this brief piece of writing. i hope you join me.