This past Tuesday, Toni Morrison passed.
I had finally almost gotten over Octavia E. Butler’s passing, which was 13 years ago, and then this. Literally the day before I was pondering what the world would be like if Octavia Butler had never written a word. Then I wondered what if Toni Morrison hadn’t. Then I extended that line of thinking to Phillis Wheatley, Lorraine Hansberry, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, Jamaica Kincaid, and bell hooks. And I knew I needed to write, because that’s how I think, process, and breathe.
Then Tuesday morning came — and I couldn’t think, process, or breathe — all I could do was feel.
I didn’t realize the death of a person I had never met could infiltrate every aspect of my existence, but it has. I read once that we grieve for people we’ve never met not because we knew them but because they helped us to know ourselves.
And Toni Morrison has helped me know myself — in Pecola’s gaze, in Milkman’s quest, in Convent’s personification. In her life and tenacity and pursuits. In the realization that the literary canon was so much more than what I learned in school. In the gift of herself woven into every page.
So finally today, I started breathing again. And with each breath, I’m striving to honor the impact of these friends I’ve never even met.