August 22, 2020. My husband, Jim, and I are in the middle of a move. Any of you who have gone through a Bekins experience know the drill. The stack of cardboard boxes piled to the ceiling, crumpled packing paper underfoot, the midnight search for a blanket, a dog dish, the corkscrew, lost car keys. The move becomes a scavenger hunt.
The key to staying sane has almost always been a good book. Happily, I found one in Eddie S. Glaude Jr’s “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America And It’s Urgent Lessons for Our Own.”
This morning I found a mug, filled it with coffee, and began reading. I hit gold on page fifty-two when Baldwin (quoted by Eddie Glaude) wrote, “What your role was, it seemed to me, was to bear witness. To what life is – does – and to speak for people who cannot speak. That you are simply a kind of conduit.”
I read those words, set the mug on an upturned box, and thought – Baldwin nailed it. He wrote what I believe. “A writer’s responsibility is to bear witness by using words as a paintbrush to pull a reader from couch to a canvas of words, ideas, thoughts, well-crafted sentences, and images with meaning and truth.” According to Baldwin, “a writer has the awesome ability to connect directly and intimately to a perfect stranger through those words.”
I do not know James Baldwin, the man. But I know James Baldwin, the writer, because I connected to and believe in his words.
And I’m richer and wiser because we met not at a writer’s conference, but on page fifty-two.