A Prayer for Beauty

Welcome back to the pink room! Grab a seat, get comfortable… we might be here for a little while.

Having invited you all, a couple of months ago, into the grief which was swallowing me whole last year and sometimes still does, I thought, today, I might let you in on my dreams. These days all I desire and dream of is beauty. Radical, irresistible, world-shifting or perhaps shattering beauty. I want beauty more than anything else. I am obsessed with beauty. Beautiful people. Beautiful things. Beautiful sensations. Beautiful stories and beautiful ideas. I want to live a life of beauty. I realized that to me, justice without beauty isn’t really justice at all.

If my body must contort itself in order to participate in the work of remaking and undoing a world that loves to kill me then I want nothing of it. Perhaps that’s selfish. There is so much work to be done. But in a world that has tried so hard to steal beauty from me and anyone else it deems dispensable, protecting it becomes its own act of rebellion. This is what I have come to believe: my justice will be beautiful. And my work is to be relentless in my pursuit of it. 

Alright, let me pause for a moment.

I feel like beauty is one of those words like “gas-lighting” that has recently gotten a lot more airtime… well at least in the spaces I have been navigating. All those artsy-fartsy intellectuals are talking about beauty. But what does that even mean? Like how does anyone pursue beauty? How is that, the answer to our burning world? Beauty isn’t going the feed the hungry nor house the unhoused. Everyone loves to talk about beauty but hands on the ground justice work ain’t pretty. Maybe that is true. But I also think it’s no accident that the call for or at least obsession with beauty comes at the same time as the worse health crisis in recent history, televised and yet repeated murders of black bodies, and devastating economic upheaval. The desire for beauty or perhaps desperation for it, in a time when despair is so thick you can taste it, is surely no accident.

In truth, this wasn’t going to be my next post. But I recently had a conversation with a beautiful Black human, poet, dramaturg, and (lucky enough for me) mentor of mine. She had read my posts from November (definitely check them out if you haven’t already) and although she saw the urgency and necessity of the grief, I thought just might be ripping through the seams of all us 20-something Black art-makers, it scared her. I mean this wasn’t the first time that someone saw my grief so plain and unsolvable and got scared. Frankly, it scared even me.

Because the problem with tired grief is that it doesn’t have a point or end goal in mind. Sometimes you just grieve because it hurts not because you are certain or even suspect it will save you. In fact, more often than not you suspect that it won’t. You suspect that it will end when you do. And so what are we supposed to do with that. How do we live with that? What happens next? Maybe it’s honest but it still might kill us. A grief so exposed in a world that has made even the devil look like a novice in evildoing seems like it might as well be a death sentence.

And frankly, if you asked me this a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to answer you. Honestly, I probably would have just laughed, knowing that my grief was not interested in solutions. It wasn’t grief for some higher purpose. It was just ordinary. Expected even. The grief that would come and reside in any body which had known more pain than beauty, more hate than love. I was just tired. Tired of feigning resilience. So, I cried and cried and cried until even my tears got tired. And yet somehow on some cool November day, a year after I first began to wail unafraid, I wasn’t quite so tired anymore. I cried but not in the same desperate and self-destructive way. And then suddenly I was aware of the strangest thing. Speaking to this mentor of mine whose words shook with a kind of wearied anxiety, I knew that those words, my words drenched so thick in grief even then I could still taste it, were not my present.

Nothing had changed in 12 months. More likely things had only gotten worse. But the grief, well the grief so cozy in my insides, seemed to have taught itself the jig. And danced. And danced. And danced, jumping and swaying on my heartstrings until even my bones caught it. And soon even while I was standing still, I could feel myself twirling and whirling with such ease you would have sworn I was destined for the stage. I was laughing. I was red with embarrassment having never learned the art of love-making. I was angry. I was tired. I was anxious. I was grinning with such force my cheeks finally demanded a rest day. I was fumbling. I was confused. I was in love. In 12 months, I had fallen in love.

But what does this have to do with beauty? What does my dancing have to do with grief? And I guess I can only answer simply: everything. Behind my honest grief stood not false joy or curated resilience, but a dancer obsessed with beauty. This is what changed. I became enchanted by the beautiful things. I fell in love with being human. Maybe that sounds a little cliché or artsy but it’s true. I realized that even in a world on fire there is love. and friendship. and heartbreak. Untamable joy and just ordinary being with one another. There is sunshine and warmth. There are midnight cuddles and solitary loneliness. There are blooming flowers and falling leaves. There are late-night car rides. There are Sunday morning strolls. There are art shows of autumn leaves and greedy rainfalls. There are hidden glances and misread signals. There are deep breaths. There is erotic touch and tender pleasure. I learned that beauty does not remove grief, it doesn’t even soften the pain, but it does love to tango.

The thing about justice is that it often feels conditional. There is some far away world where justice has hidden herself. Or at least we must serve our time in forced labor before we get the benefit of meeting her. We must lose our breath and weary our bones building because it seems justice doesn’t like to get her hands dirty. But somehow in our striving we always seem to find one more limp and lifeless body who had managed to get on justice’s blackball list. One more carcass of empty promises and violent ignorance because we didn’t work hard enough. Because we didn’t want it bad enough.

But the crazy thing about beauty is that she ain’t afraid of the present. Beauty sits in the sunshine and burns in the fire. Hands bloody, back aching you might even find her in the cotton fields. The way the sun dances before dusk. How soft the cotton reveals itself beneath its thorns. How swift your fingers move. How your baby laughs on your back with such ease you don’t have the heart to stand up. Beauty is not afraid of the present. She refuses to be bought or sold. She does not require our labor nor our aching bones. There is no waiting for beauty. She just is.

So, in my grief, I had grown too tired to labor for justice and simultaneously grew more and more attentive to breath. I listened to trees whisper. And let the sun hold me in her grasp for longer than I thought I should. I wrote love letters to my friends. I let the butterflies dance in my stomach when my eyes caught hold of beautiful bodies. I let myself feel good. I left people and situations that hurt me and then cried about it and then begged them to return me. But I didn’t admonish myself for it because I knew it was only humans who could love this much. I paid attention to my sister’s smile. I stood in amazement at my brother’s ideas. I was present. I didn’t ask my grief to leave. Instead, I said, “there is space for you here, will you dance with me?”

And so the world burned and bodies ached and justice hid herself but I learned how to dance. How to spend way too long in my best friend’s eyes. How to be too clingy and not emotionally attentive enough. How to set boundaries and then fail at keeping them. What I am saying is this: the only thing that happens next is you must learn to live. You must obsess over all the small things that remind you of your humanity. You must train your eyes to pick up all the beauty that you can find. This is an ethic that need not wait for the future or divine. In fact, I am convinced if there is a God, she is beautiful.

So, I will say it again… my justice will be beautiful, and my work is to be relentless in my pursuit of it.

Alright, that’s all folks. I will see you here again real soon in the pink room.

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