If you were a woman standing in the grocery store line ahead of me, I'd tap your elbow and I'd talk to you. I'd have to talk to you because I just heard that PBS will be showing the film Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth by Pratibha Parmar this Friday, February 7 at 9pm.
I'd encourage you to watch the movie. I saw the premier in November at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. I'd tell you, "I got to meet Alice Walker. She was there. You know her, right? She's the author of The Color Purple and 30 other books. She was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. I read The Color Purple when I was in college, and it changed my life. It was the first book I'd ever read that told the truth."
If the cashier was particularly swamped, and we were both tired of reading the headlines on People magazine, maybe you'd ask me, "What was she like?"
"She was like a little bodhisattva," I'd tell you. "A tiny Buddha woman. She had short gray hair, dark rich skin, and a warmth and smile that filled the room. After the movie was over, she spoke to us intimately and from her heart. She was humble. She was loving. She was fierce. She was alive. She laughed. May I share some of my notes with you?"
I'd reach in my purse -- it's a true woman's purse, deep and full of everything -- and I'd open my notebook. "Here's one quote from the movie I loved. I believe it was from a poem of hers: 'The nature of this flower is to bloom. Rebellious, living, against the elemental crush.' Isn't that an amazing line? I have to read it again, 'The nature of this flower is to bloom.' If I wrote that on my bathroom mirror, do you think I'd live differently? I do.
"The movie hit me, inspired me. I'll definitely watch it again. It showed a woman who has lived with tremendous courage and integrity and met anger, judgment and hatred again and again. And yet she remained a lover of life and committed to joy. It was remarkable to meet someone who has been burned at the stake many times and survived. Her message is one of love.
"Here's a quote I wrote down that she said, 'The curiosity that we are given at birth is what leads us to grow.'
"Here's another quote by Alice Walker, 'Because of our oppressive society, we become cautious and careful. But it's crucial to not pull back from love.'
"When asked by an audience member for words of encouragement, Alice replied, 'I had to struggle and basically risk my life to vote and now look at this country, what was I voting for? It's a system that took 200 years to outlaw slavery.' She proposed creating a new party called, "The Mother Defend Yourself Party" to unite people who support defending Mother Earth.
'Go with your friends and talk this over,' Alice said, and continued, 'Have circles where you can speak and you are loved. Part of the problem in our country is that people are afraid to speak and afraid to love. That is what makes us happy. That is what makes us human.'
"The final question from an audience member came not as a question, but as a statement of gratitude. The woman speaking at the microphone said that she was mute and almost died. She thanked Alice deeply and said, 'Your words and poems gave me life again. And your words have kept me alive.' The woman said she was now a professor and was teaching others to write and use their words. When the professor finished speaking, the hundreds of people sitting in the theater were silent.
"Alice was silent, obviously moved, and then she spoke and thanked the woman, 'Believe it or not, writers wonder -- is there anybody on the other end of the sentence? Is it too painful? Should I go there? Should I go there?' Alice paused, 'It's because of you.'
"Everyone stood and clapped. Then the announcers said that Alice is always up to something, and if you had a notecard under your seat then you were the recipient of a free book from Alice. It was a generous ending from a woman who has a generous heart.
"Watch the the movie; it's good to be inspired. Friday, February 7th, Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, PBS, 9pm, local times may vary."
Alice Walker at the Oakland premier of Beauty in Truth on November 18th, 2013.
Kathleen Buckstaff is the author of The Tiffany Box: A Memoir, a USA Best Book Awards Finalist. The Tiffany Box is full of love, humor, heartache, and insight. A gathering of e-mails and letters to her closest friends comprise Kathleen Buckstaff's candid, funny, and recognizably true chronicle of a generation "in-between": nurturing its young while nursing its aged, and coming to terms with the bitter realities that temper life's sweet rewards. A wonderful motherhood memoir.