EBGTB is nothing if not a point of departure. Vans and van-saving, sure. Excellent coffee and cart eats in Bend and Central Oregon, hellsyes. Call and response posts about grief? You are here.
Laura recently wrote about what bubbled up after she read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. I’m gonna echo a little with some thoughts about poet Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World, which she wrote after her exuberant Eritrean husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus dropped dead, catastrophically, on the treadmill at 50.
Alexander is a big someone in the po’ world. If you didn’t know that, you might surmise her status through association in the book. I could probably count on my fingers and toes how many paragraphs are about the author herself in this 200-odd page standard-paperback memoir. She does not hold a mirror up to her grief so much as project the shape of an extraordinary and impressive man onto the world. One is imprinted with him after reading.
It’s Like Africa
He was an artist, a chef, a political refugee who walked across Africa, a fluent speaker of multiple languages. By all accounts, he was a fucking amazing human, but not because of the laundry list of achievement. It’s because of the light. Alexander writes,
Once on a trip to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, we went to visit an artist friend of my parents’ who made tie dye fabric and dresses. We sat in her atelier on a Saturday afternoon and folks wandered in and out, soliloquized, and left. The preacher, the hustler, the wino, the diva, all came in without announcement, said their piece, and exited stage right. It’s so African! Said Ficre, in love with the quotidian theater. It’s like Africa…
She is a descendent of slaves, he was not. He looked fabulous in pink, and believed in the lottery. Newly lactating women craved his Shrimp Barka. He loved to speak Italian, kept a teapot at the ready for visitors. His paintings echoed the colors of his mother’s courtyard in Africa. He loved generously. He was the sun. Eclipsed at 50.
Bend Has It to Give
Now, EBGTB does not propose to be some THE END IS NEAR doomsday warning, or to come down from any pulpit of morality or, spirits forbid, wisdom. Ovviamente no. It is the power of generosity, it is hospitality, from the clearest, deepest pools, that interest this editor. This spirit of generosity would seem to be part of our natural truck and trade here in Bend and Central Oregon, our ridiculously resourced pocket of the globe, evidenced in this tiny, non-comprehensive list:
- Family Kitchen
- Bend Community Center
- Free High Desert Museum Passes from Deschutes Library
- Free Outdoor Music on Sundays
Gratitude being its own gift, generosity on the civic level is not about, “Here’s a thing, you’re welcome,” but instead, “Here’s a place where we can feel the weight of the light in this moment together.” A snippet of the poetry of Ross Gay, who writes in his collection, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude:
I can’t stop
my gratitude, which includes, dear reader,
you, for staying here with me,
for moving your lips just so as I speak.
Here is a cup of tea. I have spooned honey into it.
The Problem with Hospitality, or, Words Sometimes Suck
Derrida wrote that true hospitality is impossible unless it is anonymous (totally reductive, there’s soooo much more, but we’re blogging, here). I get where he was coming from, I think. However, taking pleasure in the effects of a generous gesture, or a giving nature, does not discount its hospitality. What Derrida seems to be saying is that by giving publically one is demanding servitude of some sort through a mandatory expression of gratitude by the recipient. And yes, who doesn’t secretly (or openly) raise a lip in judgment at the copper nameplate on the theater seat, made possible by a named donor, or the MEGA CORPORATION Arena?
I had occasion last week to ride in a fancy tow truck from Blue Lake to Bend with a smart and loquacious driver, quite possibly Zack Galafanakis’ doppelganger. We talked about hospitality a bit. He (driver, atheist) grew up in Chicago. There was mosque on the block, where the neighborhood kids, regardless of faith, played basketball. The mosque held regular all-welcome events, and served as a community hub. Zack said he’d heard the mosque had been defaced in recent months.
In our domestic, quotidian theater, where is the light but in our generosity towards one another, openly given and received? It’s not currency. It’s elemental, contained within our standard, living forms. Ficre was a wonder, and Alexander will have us feel it. He was a refugee, an African man, who took up residence in New Haven, Connecticut, and changed near every life he touched. Thank you does not seem out of line. Nor does some level of modeling.