©2010 by Alice Walker
The LennonOno Peace Grant Ceremony
October 9, 2010
I have an altar above the stovetop in my kitchen that has been there for many years; it is the first thing I see when I make my morning tea. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are on it, Amma, the hugging saint from Kerala, India, is there; also Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. B.B. King and Aung San Suu Kyi. His Holiness, the DaLai Lama beams out at me, and Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance, lifts a flower; there is the face of a healthy, beautiful, caramel colored baby girl, whose name is actually “Dream;” and photographs of Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun, my mother – who remains my greatest inspiration and wisdom teacher – and of me. Close to the center of this arrangement is a picture of John Lennon wearing sunglasses and his “I Love New York” t-shirt.
Sometimes people think he’s Dustin Hoffman but I’ve never understood this.
In a far upper corner of my altar is a photo of Joan Crawford in her most fierce Mommy Dearest mode, just to remind me of some of the cost of everyone’s hard-earned sweetness and light.
Like millions around the world I deeply loved John. I am in the habit of Sainting people and I could easily Saint John. I learned how to do this in Mexico. Near my retreat there, where I have spent part of each year since 1987, is a small town called San Patricio. I thought at first that this was because Mexico is a Catholic country and this designation had something to do with the church. It turns out, however, that this St. Patrick came to Mexico to fight against the Mexicans in the US war against Mexico during its effort to take part of Mexico, which of course it did: California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Nevada and some of Utah. (What it didn’t take from Mexicans out West, it took from the Indians). In any case, this particular St. Patrick, obviously of Irish ancestry, an Irish-American, understood the unfairness of the battle and switched sides. He fought against the United States alongside the Mexicans. For this they honored him as San Patricio, a different kind of St. Patrick, and named a town after him.
To me, John Lennon was like that. Coming to consciousness, and then to activism, about the inequities in the world, not just on the various battlefields but in the homes and streets where women and children live. “Woman is the Nigger of the World” is still indicative of a profound ability to change sides, and to see the world from the angle of the oppressed. His ability to sing his sadness and grief as well as his deep joy, especially the joy he shared with Yoko Ono, was enchanting, because in all his expressions he was so present and so pure. A true artist, yes, but also a rebel, a mystic, a sufferer and a revolutionary. He seemed to understand completely that if we truly sing “the core” of ourselves we will reach the core of “the other” that is identical to our own, for all “the other’s” tendency to hide. We hear this in the song “Mother” which, along with “Working Class Hero” is a cherished song of mine.
In addition to this, it was John who got me over my residual resistance to the possibility that a white man can be permitted permanent lodging in the non-white heart. When he was killed, my grief took me below my knees. I suffered well- deserved remorse that I had ever imagined John as someone whose whiteness might keep him outside my heart, when in fact all along, because of his courage, his irrepressible freedom and fun loving spirit, his loving-kindness, not to mention his devotion to truth, he was fully ensconced.
I have written about this gift of realization John Lennon gave me in an essay. Such is the way of time that I cannot remember which essay or exactly when I wrote it.
I have also written about John and Yoko in a poem “These Days” dedicated to “people I think of as friends.” For, without ever meeting them, I have felt the sustaining friendship of John and Yoko. In their courageous living out of their unique and spirited lives, they have made a profound offering to the world.
Reminding us to live in freedom and joy, in love and surprise. To move forward with humor and hope. Making our own inimitable music and dancing as much as we can.
This is the poem, whose refrain is “Surely the earth can be saved….” It is from Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful and is in my collected poems: Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems 1965-1990 Complete. It is a joy to be able to read it aloud during this ceremony that marks what would have been John’s 70th birthday.
These days I think of John, Yoko and Sean Lennon.
Whenever I listen
to “Working-Class Hero,”
I laugh: because John says “fucking”
and it is always such a surprise
though I know the record by heart.
I like to imagine
him putting Sean to bed
or exchanging his own hard,
I like to imagine Yoko
making this white boy deal with the word NO
for the first time.
and the word YES forever.
I like to think of this brave
new age family
that dared to sing itself
even as anger, fear, sadness and death
squeezed its vocal cords.
Yoko knows the sounds of a woman coming
are finer by far than those of a B-52
on a bombing raid.
And a Kotex plastered across
a man’s forehead at dinner
can indicate serenity.
Hold on world
World hold on
It’s gonna be all right
You gonna see the light
(Ohh) when you’re one
You get things done
Like they never been done
So hold on.*
Surely the earth can be saved
by all the people
Surely the earth can be saved for us.
*From “Hold On John,” by John Lennon.
I did not mention this at the LennonOno Peace Grant Ceremony in Reykjavik, Iceland on John Lennon and Sean Lennon’s birthday, October 9th, but my award will be donated to The Margaret Okari Children’s Foundation that educates Aids Orphans in Kisi, Kenya. It will help with many necessary things: transportation, drinking water, school uniforms, the building of classrooms and dormitories, clothing and food. What will the world receive for this gift? The beautiful smiles of some of the most beautiful and precious children on the planet.
I also failed to mention other spirits gracing my kitchen stove altar: Kwan Yin, the goddess of compassion in her most androgynous aspect, whose observation that “Tranquility has no boundaries” seems to me the essence of cool. A small porcelain Buddha lifting his robe to reveal underneath it, dozens of little Buddhas in the making! Sekhmet, ancient lion headed Goddess of African Egypt: protector of Justice and of Healers. Emma Goldman! Who reminds us to dance as we revolutionize. There is also an Earth Goddess, formed serenely by Earth of her own red clay, and surrounded by stones and bells.