Alice Walker is, perhaps, the writer that I hold most precious, that I most revere. There are not words to describe this letter that she has written, not only to President Barack Obama, but to every person on this planet. Her wisdom applies to every single one of us – we’ve all overcome struggles (historically and personally), we all must live with grace and joy, we all must remember and care for those things that are most important. With humility and gratitude, I joyously share her words with you here.
Nov. 5, 2008
Dear Brother Obama,
You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being
the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because
you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver
the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after
decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the
flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And
yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a
different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you,
North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done. We
knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of
the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would
actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your
rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a
balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.
I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the
world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the
world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however,
is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits
sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely
daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to
seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as
the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and
stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of
scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate.
One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no
excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real
success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may
buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and
space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet
clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the
reach of almost everyone.
I would further advise you not to take on other people’s enemies. Most
damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those
feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain
religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to have enemies,
but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise. It is
understood by all that you are commander in chief of the United States and
are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely.
However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often
fought, “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” There must be no more crushing
of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of
ruling a people’s spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor
people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.
A good model of how to “work with the enemy” internally is presented by the
Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the
Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that
must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be
lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to
animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And
your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust
characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy
self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find
an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
In Peace and Joy,