Passion's Fruits

More than 18 years ago, I wrote the following essay as a requirement in a class, "Teaching Reading in Secondary School" in pursuit of my clear teaching credential.

I am a passionate woman. Blues from the Mississippi Delta, Cuban son, and Congolese kwasa kwasa transport me into a world of pounding, pulsating rhythms that command my feet to move and my body to sway. I feel the music in my soul. It is in the touch of my partner's hand on my waist, turning me, pulling me close, his minty breath blowing air into my ear, his velvet eyes looking into my own to witness the pleasure that dancing in his arms brings. As the night advances, sweat transforms all of us into swimmers on dry land. As I dance, a breeze from the sea comes bringing the smell of bougainvillea, hibiscus, and jasmine. Suddenly, I am back in Africa in a roofless dance hall, looking up at the stars, winking their joy at the sight of us twirling, spinning, swaying, and moving to rhythms they recognize from the dawn of time. The insistent surf bumps up against the rocks that protect the little dance hall. The tide's shish, shish between the drum beats is a counterpoint to the keka, keka of the shekere (a gourd covered with stringed cowrie shells). I am pulled back to the present when the musicians take a break and the music ends.

Music is not my only passion. I love literature. It doesn't matter if it's a novel by Toni Morrison, or Sandra Cisneros; a poem by Langston Hughes, or Pablo Neruda; a play by Sophocles, or August Wilson; a short story by Kate Chopin or Opal Palmer Adisa; an essay by Alice Walker or Ralph Waldo Emerson. Morrison's Beloved sends chills down my spine when I feel Sethe's knife against her baby's throat because she's decided to take back the life she's given, rather than see her girl-child a slave and prey to any depraved white man who takes a fancy to her. In Sophocles' tragedies, I taste the bitterness of inevitability--the gods play with humans whose own tragic flaws seal their doom. Despite all their efforts to avoid catastrophe, they cannot escape their fate. On the other hand an essay by Emerson lifts my spirits because of the absolute belief that we are masters of our fate, and that we are all connected to the great and loving Over-Soul. We transcend our human condition (which often feels lonely) when we nod back at the plants that nod to us in greeting; caress the bark of a tree, rub a smooth rock, and taste a melting snowflake in recognition of our unity with all living things. We transcend our human condition by accepting others as ourselves; we go beyond the surface to communicate soul-to-soul. Even when we are most fearful, we must reach out in compassion and love to others.

On occasion, I have been able to overcome my own fears in reaching out--it's usually been when a child has been mistreated. I am passionate about the well-being of children. My tongue comes unglued, my adrenalin rushes to my brain, my body grows 10-feet tall, and I act. Once, at New York's Penn Station, I yelled across the crowded lobby at a young, impatient mother to stop pulling her daughter's hair. Heaven knows what would have happened if I'd been within striking distance! Other times, it's been as simple as writing a letter to elected officials to increase (or provide) funding for school books, hot lunches, street lighting in neglected neighborhoods, or jobs for the children's parents. A direct confrontation with adults who are slapping, hitting, pinching, or cussing their children is not something I seek, but I can't stand to see children abused. I love to touch the shoulder, or pat the back of the students I work with. In that light touch, I try to convey the affection I feel for them, and to let them know that someone cares about them.

I am passionate about good food. Grilled salmon, marinated in yogurt and tandoori sauce, turns me into a glutton. All fruit is the object of my affection. I especially like the fruits of summer. How can I describe the taste of a plum? I can't--but its texture is like a grosgrain ribbon; it has to be firm (I hate mushy fruit), and it doesn't matter if it's a red, black, or green plum. Apricots have to have a tangy taste; just on the verge of being ripe-ripe. Its color looks as if the apricot is blushing. Watermelon. To find and select a perfectly sweet watermelon is an art that I'm still perfecting. I've almost come to believe that I have to go to the field to pick one from the vine, myself. It seems as if they're being plucked before they're ripe to suit financial interests in shipping them to ripen as they ride, but that's not possible. A hot summer day; the sun taps my skull, unprotected by lots of hair or a hat. Barefoot. Dirt squeezes between my toes as I search rows of oblong globes of green with yellowish-beige here and there on their shiny hides. I can already taste the juicy, sweet morsel as it slides down my throat. Good food is as good as a tender lover.

My passionate self both amazes and delights me. It has only revealed itself within the last few years; perhaps, it is because maturity brings true courage to live fully, honestly, and gratefully.

Mi Sueno Vivo