God Help the Child

Toni Morrison’s latest book is so short, so good, that I found myself reading slowly, only allowing myself a few pages at night, so that it would last a little longer. She knows how to write the fables that we need and, still in the book’s spell, I found myself thinking about Sandra Bland, her too-short life, her unjust death.

A friend asked what could justice look like for Sandra Bland’s mother. I don’t know. I remember my own pride when I was twenty-eight, my life ahead of me, my heart and mind full of hope and energy. No one wants to bury a child. I continue to struggle over the expressions of forgiveness articulated by the family members of those shot in Charleston. On the one hand, grace is a beautiful, amazing, even miraculous gift. And yet, forgiveness offered too early may not be forgiveness at all, but a sign of a spirit too beaten down to ask for what is right.

Every character in Morrison’s book has been touched by violence, often brutal sexual abuse of children. Each character bears the scars of that violence and the novel moves from person to person, as each must come to terms with how they bear those scars, how long to hold on to grief, and when to let it go. For me, Morrison’s novel offers a way to think through pain and violence, neither to deny its power to hurt to the marrow, nor to permit it to break the spirit. These are not easy questions, but they matter.