When I met bell hooks three years ago, I had all four of my children in tow and I wasn’t sure what to say. A mutual friend arranged a short visit to her home. My heart was bursting with gratitude for all the ways hooks wove race, gender, class, faith, place, and love into her work. My mind was racing with ways to express some fraction of my appreciation and awe.
Being at a loss of words was a gift, since I had come there to listen. She delighted in my children, and we laugh when we remember that day. They especially loved that she loved junk food, cussed, and let them touch her things. We all felt safe, seen, and loved in that short visit.
Wednesday, I told my children that bell hooks died. They knew she was sick, but we held out hope that maybe we would see her again. My 13-year-old, wearing a T-shirt with an Audre Lorde quote on the back, especially wanted to return. At 10 years old, she didn’t know what a gift it was to sit in the living room of a woman who points so many of us toward paths of healing and liberation.
“We’ll keep meeting her through her writings,” I assured my children.
When she met Malachi, my oldest, she told us her favorite Bible verse was Malachi 3:10. Last night, I reread the verse in her honor: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”
In her memoir, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood, hooks recalls how she read scripture aloud for the offering in church. It’s quite possible that the scripture was Malachi 3:10, a common verse to read for tithes and offerings. Miss Erma, a woman in her church, was moved.
“She wanted to give me something,” hooks wrote, “some gesture of her confidence that the god voice that came out of me and touched her beating heart would go on speaking and name itself in this world.”
Reading that scripture again, through the lens of hooks’ life and work, I see the verse extending well beyond monetary giving. When we are tempted to put up walls of self preservation and fear, this passage reminds us to not hold back the fullness of our love. Miss Erma helped young Gloria Watkins to feel seen and loved, like she had something holy in her voice, a voice worth sharing with the world. That voice grew to become the legendary voice of bell hooks.
I am not alone in mourning bell hooks; she would not want us to mourn her alone. She poured herself into her work as a writer and deep believer in a love that heals. She proved to me — as she has to so many of us — that one can show up whole and at home in one’s body, mind, and soul, that vulnerability is a courageous practice, that love is something we can give generously without losing ourselves.
You can read more about Josina Guess’ visit with bell hooks here.