Begin Again

Yesterday I finished reading Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons For Our Own, by Eddie S. Glauber Jr. I read it for a book-discussion group and I’m so glad that I did. I have not read all of James Baldwin’s writings, and I know that I will never be able to do that. I’m grateful that Glaude has put the immense amount of time and work into reading and studying Baldwin’s work in order to write this book. I feel that now, when I do read Baldwin, I will do so with a much greater understanding.

I found myself deeply affected by the history, context, empathy, and personal transformation that is Glaude’s experience of studying Baldwin for writing the book. Glaude enters Baldwin’s life and his writing with deep integrity, inviting me into a similar process as I read this book. James Baldwin has a lot to say to me and to our current world. Thanks to Eddie Glaude for making the effort to show and to tell us.

“Baldwin had to capture what moved in the guts and what was desperately desired among the people, what happened in the country, and in the moment; he had to write about all of that and about what and who was lost.”

“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble,” Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time, is that we will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death which is the only fact we have.”

The question is how to free ourselves from our categories and symbols of these categories, (these “swaddling clothes” as Baldwin puts it) so to be free to love.

“If only people could trust that ‘thing’ [called love] they would be less afraid of being touched, less afraid of loving each other, less afraid of being changed by each other.” Less afraid of death. 

“Salvation is not separation. Salvation is the beginning of union with all that has been or will ever be.” 

Today I watched Rep. Jamie Raskin’s remarks to the Senate at the beginning of Trump’s impeachment trial. Rep. Raskin showed a video that the House put together of the January 6 act of domestic terrorism at the Capitol. Some of the footage included in the video I had not seen before. All of the “swaddling clothes”—flags, totems, crosses, army gear, white nationalist emblems, violence, and fear—that Baldwin speaks of were on full display, with the incantations, words of incitement, and epithets that go along with them. Watching it in such detail again brought my heart to my throat. We have so much to free ourselves from, so much that continues to bind up and separate us and keep us from love.


Quotes taken from Begin Again, by Eddie S. Glaude Jr., 

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