I took the above photo while visiting the National Portrait Museum in Washington, DC. One of the most captivating images that I came across, I stared in awe for quite some time. For all of its simplicity, the neutral background, minimal colors and the absence of space-filling objects, I felt it was a profound capture of Toni Morrison’s essence. It was just her, as it should be. Just her is enough.
On August 5, 2019, we lost a brilliant literary mind in acclaimed novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, professor, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning Toni Morrison. As impressive and well-deserved as her many accolades are, somehow, she managed to be so much more. Through her masterful writing and storytelling, Morrison gave us boundless wisdom — So many valuable lessons on life and love. My words cannot even begin to do her justice, but I selected a few Morrison quotes and explained why each resonates with me. Though I believe they offer insight from which we could all benefit.
“Freeing yourself was one thing. Claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”—Beloved
Did you feel that in your soul just now, the way I did? In breaking free of situations that have left us fragmented and defeated, we often don’t complete the process. The next step is owning our independence, and ourselves. It’s deciding who we will become and doing something with that freedom. So that we don’t find ourselves losing it again in the next person or situation.
“If you wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”—Song of Solomon.
A personal fave, just because it’s so blunt. Known for her imagery and bending of language, Morrison got straight to the point on this one! And I love it. The concept is simple — Why shouldn’t its expression also be? If we want to thrive in life we must eliminate whatever is keeping us bound. This is non-negotiable. But most of us know that already. The challenge is finding the strength and the resolve to follow through. Considering the previously unimaginable heights that we could reach if we did, helps.
“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.”—Tar Baby.
Social media wasn’t around when Morrison wrote this, yet it seems so fitting for our current time of being glued to our phones. We’re too busy trying to capture the moment to actually enjoy it. We don’t really experience much, though our photos and videos make it appear as though we do. I’m guilty of this as well. So, I’m not just speaking to ‘other’ people. I’m trying to remember to be present more often, and develop a sense that the moment alone is sufficient if I allow it to be.
There is no such thing as race. None. There is just a human race — scientifically, anthropologically. Racism is a construct, a social construct and it has benefits.—On The Colbert Report
The unapologetic truth of this statement is what I find endearing. Regardless of how we feel about the subject, one thing is indisputable fact — the idea of race was created. With that idea came marginalizing ramifications from which we have yet to fully recover. Inherently, we are more alike than we are different.
“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” — Beloved
No one can tell us who we are. The only power that labels, assumptions and stereotypes have over us is the power we give them. We define ourselves.
“Don’t beg anybody for anything, especially love.” — Attributed by The Guardian
I adore this stern reminder. Sometimes we ache for love with such intensity that we do plead with others in some shape or form to satisfy our yearning. We beg them with our being docile in times that we should be outspoken. When we accept disrespectful, undeserved treatment and behavior, we’re imploring them to stay with and love us anyway. We become the person whom we think will make them love us, instead of being who were are. We beg people for love with our actions, responses and our lack thereof. Love should be given freely. We should have to rise, not shrink in order to receive it.
“Love is never any better than the lover.” — The Bluest Eye
We often try to separate the concept of love from those who offer it. But all love isn’t good love, or even love at all. We think that people will change and make themselves better for us. But we love as we are. A liar will love with lies. As Morrison goes on to state, “wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently…”
“You’re turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can’t value you more than you value yourself.” — Song of Solomon
Not much needs to be said about this one. It reinforces the tried-and-true notion that there is no substitute for self-love.
I could go on. There are many more powerful statements and passages spoken by this incomparable woman that it would be impossible to include them all. You may have some favorites of your own. This only further solidifies that Toni Morrison left us a legacy that will carry on for eternity. If we can no longer have her, at least we have her words.