The "year with bell hooks" Project: Letter #011
All About Love: Loss - Loving into Life and Death
I am almost made speechless with this chapter. Almost. Let’s get into this week’s letter, shall we?
I have an ongoing question about death, vitality, and wellness, especially for Black women across the Diaspora. Why do we die prematurely? Who cares for us so that we do not die? And if we do die, what does our death tell the world. Who profits and who grieves?
One thing that does not settle well in my spirit is the premature death of Black women through the hands of systems (religious, academic, societal, and more) so that the world can live. For such a death must be to those systems and constructed worlds.
I’ve been spending some time reflecting on passage Acts 9:36-42 and how the experience of Tabitha is not an isolated event but telling of the ongoing realities of marginalized women in the religious, social, and economic world of past and present.
Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.
I draw the meaning of Tabitha’s experience to the present truths of Black women’s situatedness in a death-dealing, anti-Black, misogynoiristic world.
From physical, religious, societal, economic, and communal death, we ask, who then is our Savior, or, are we the ones?
“We die, but we do not die” derives from Dr. Joy James’ most recent conversation with PhD student Rebecca Wilcox (linked here!). Our deaths are signals.
In verse 36, the immediate question is, who was Tabitha truly serving to the point that it led to her death? For Tabitha was a disciple, and whether or not it was the norm at the time, her status as a disciple was significant.
If Tabitha had a “seat at the table,” but that “table” did not save her but rather was the source of her death, what does it mean to have a seat at the same tables that cost us our lives?
More plainly, in some cases, Black elitism/excellence can create peaky blinder effects on the actual destructive and unchanged ways of high-power places. It does not fully transform the societies in which we exist. It only exacerbates and enables further disguised harm to occur.
Tabitha’s story requires us to examine the credibility of those tables in the first place and what must be done so that those seats are not our cooling chairs.
Encroaching upon year three of the pandemic, death, grief, and deeply-hollowed bittersweet memories are feelings that we are all familiar with at this time. Although methods of grieving may look different due to social distancing and safety measures, it is a presumed belief that for the ones who have made a profound impact in our lives, we return our love through words, time, and presence.
Soothingly, bell hooks tells us that
Since loving lets us let go of so much fear, it also guides our grief. When we lose someone we love, we can grieve without shame. Our mourning, our letting ourselves grieve over the loss of loved ones is an expression of our commitment, a form of communication and communion
All About Love - p. 201
Yet — and I hate this part the most — verse 36 is an example of a poorly written and disheartening eulogy:
“she was devoted to good works and acts of charity.”
Was that all she was?????
Who was Tabitha outside of what she had done? What about her family? Who and what did she love? Why does the narrator portray her as a depthless character?
To parallel, how often are Black women’s eulogies only related to their works and that the love given to them was because of what they have done - and not simply because of who they are?? It is so bitterly painful to see time and time again the reality of “love” as only extractive and exploited labor condoned in the name of “godly service,” used as soil to build new powerhouses.
Enough is enough.
I believe we have to mark clearly between service and death-dealing actions. There is also something to be said about systems that profit from killing us and bringing us back to life.
Having workers work to the point of death and in their death, making a showcase of their power to bring some back to life?
Tabitha’s resurrection by Peter brought “many to believe in the Lord.” Why must her created death and forced resurrection be the key tool to get people into the Church??What does that say about the foundation of the Church?
What I see is that death takes shape in many forms. In this passage, Tabitha’s death could have been avoided, and it is because of the early Church that caused her death. And in an effort to save face and make profit, they brought her back to life.
But we can’t forget Tabitha’s friends. I believe there is something to be said about how they
... had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs…weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.
Acts 9:37, 39
In a world, in a church, in a community that only saw her as someone who could/should/must do something for them - even until death, they saw her as their own. Crafting ways of survival in the present, invoking the presence of the Divine in that very room to grant smooth passages to her place of rest.
What a Womanist way of being. A way of being that some of us here may be familiar. The friend that reminds you of your inherent worth and existence. Tender acts of compassion and love that bring a healing balm to our souls. A phone call at just the right time. A hug. A kiss. A bath. A meal. Said words giving permission to be and be free. Grace. Love. Words and actions that bring death to the same places that tried to kill us. Rage. Advocacy. I could go on.
Love is the only force that allows us to hold one another close beyond the grave.
All About Love - p.202
I argue that Tabitha’s true homegoing was because of the widows surrounding her bed frame. Their tender ways of love brought her to rest and redeemed her from a place that pimped her out. And in her send-off, breathed life back to her. Or, like Joy James’ puts it, we die but do not die. Tabitha died but did not die.
The story of Tabitha, given justice by her friends, shows why bell hooks’ teachings on love guide us into being set free from fearing life and death.
Love knows no shame. To be loving is to be open to grief, to be touched by sorrow, even sorrow that is unending. The way we grieve is informed by whether we know love.
All About Love - p. 200
Oh, this love. It’s divine love. A seeing love. A Black woman’s + femme’s way of knowing kind -of- love. A love that, as bell hooks notes, believes that
commitment as an important aspect of love. We who love know we must sustain ties in life and death. Our mourning, our letting ourselves grieve over the loss of loved ones is an expression of our commitment, a form of communication and communion.
All About Love - p. 201
Our deaths are signals, and so is our grief. Signals that the worlds in which we live must transform.
A current part of my research, Dead Women: Dead Women, is a written and visual exploration of the ways in which being “good,” “moral,” virtuous” in these currently constructed anti-Black worlds kill us. Dead Women: Dead Women is a personal discovery and grieving over the conditions that caused my Mother’s premature death at 36. Dead Women: Dead Women is the exploration in which the family, the Church, Academia, and society calculatingly construct conditions that do and will kill, yet, in sinister ways, resurrect us (Black women) back to life - so as to appear as Saviors, so as to appear as life-giving and death-defeating, only, and only for their benefit, expansion, advancement, and sustenance.
The words above are excerpts from my work.
Until our next letter, and, with love,