When someone dies, we say we have “lost” them. And yet the legacy of a life is not what is lost: it is what still lives on.
Toni Morrison has died, and yet she still lives on – in me.
I first discovered Toni Morrison when I was book reviewer for our local newspaper. I remember reviewing Sula and The Bluest Eye, but the heart-stopping moment for me was when I finished Song of Solomon. I realized that here was a voice filled with truth and deep wisdom, a voice that would grow into larger things.
And she did.
I met Toni Morrison in the living room of Gary Mitchner, a friend and fellow professor at my college. Ms. Morrison had been invited to give the keynote address at our annual writer’s workshop.
Even though she sat quietly and didn’t say much, she was still a presence. I couldn’t have known that she would go on to pen our national War and Peace, a novel called Beloved, or that she would win the Nobel Prize for Literature. But when those things happened, I wasn’t surprised.
What does surprise me is the way she still lives on in my life.
I’ve been working on a novel about a young black girl who attends the Women’s March on Washington with her aunt. I was really struggling, not so much with the plot line but with the theme. In the mass of revisions and scratch-outs and plot changes, I was still searching for something: What was I trying to say?
And then, in a moment of serendipity, I ran across this quote by Toni Morrison, spoken during a 1979 speech at Barnard College. “The function of freedom,” she said, “is to free someone else.”
That was it! That was what my mess of words and plot changes and revisions was trying to say!
So I wrote it down on a little index card and taped the card to the corner of my computer. Then, when I needed to be reminded of the path my novel was on, I could look over and remember Toni. Miss Toni. Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison the Nobel Prize winner. Toni Morrison, whose legacy is not lost but still lives on.
On a tiny index card in the corner of my computer screen.
Reminding me that the function of freedom is to free someone else.
Thank you, Toni Morrison.