We are the Ones
We Have Been Waiting For
by Alice Walker
Excerpted from Alice Walker’s We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness, first published by The New Press, November 1, 2006. Reprinted by permission of The Wendy Weil Agency, Inc. ©2006 by Alice Walker.
It is the worst of times. It is the best of times. Try as I might I cannot find a more appropriate opening for this volume: it helps tremendously that these words have been spoken before and, thanks to Charles Dickens, written at the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities. Perhaps they have been spoken, written, thought, an endless number of times throughout human history. It is the worst of times because it feels as though the very Earth is being stolen from us, by us: the land and air poisoned, the water polluted, the animals disappeared, humans degraded and misguided. War is everywhere. It is the best of times because we have entered a period, if we can bring ourselves to pay attention, of great clarity as to cause and effect. A blessing when we consider how much suffering human beings have endured, in previous millennia, without a clue to its cause. Gods and Goddesses were no doubt created to fill this gap. Because we can now see into every crevice of the globe and because we are free to explore previously unexplored crevices in our own hearts and minds, it is inevitable that everything we have needed to comprehend in order to survive, everything we have needed to understand in the most basic of ways, will be illuminated now. We have only to open our eyes, and awaken to our predicament. We see that we are, alas, a huge part of our problem. However: We live in a time of global enlightenment. This alone should make us shout for joy.
It is as if ancient graves, hidden deep in the shadows of the psyche and the earth, are breaking open of their own accord. Unwilling to be silent any longer. Incapable of silence. No leader or people of any country will be safe from these upheavals that lead to exposure, no matter how much the news is managed or how long people’s grievances have been kept quiet. Human beings may well be unable to break free of the dictatorship of greed that spreads like a miasma over the world, but no longer will we be an inarticulate and ignorant humanity, confused by our enslavement to superior cruelty and weaponry. We will know at least a bit of the truth about what is going on, and that will set us free. Perhaps not free in the old way of thinking about freedom, as literal escape from enslavement in its various forms, but free in our understanding that our domination is not a comment on our worth. It is an awesome era in which to live.
It was the poet June Jordan who wrote "We are the ones we have been waiting for." Sweet Honey in the Rock turned those words into a song. Hearing this song, I have witnessed thousands of people rise to their feet in joyful recognition and affirmation. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for because we are able to see what is happening with a much greater awareness than our parents or grandparents, our ancestors, could see. This does not mean we believe, having seen the greater truth of how all oppression is connected, how pervasive and unrelenting, that we can "fix" things. But some of us are not content to have a gap in opportunity and income that drives a wedge between rich and poor, causing the rich to become ever more callous and complacent and the poor to become ever more wretched and humiliated. Not willing to ignore starving and brutalized children. Not willing to let women be stoned or mutilated without protest. Not willing to stand quietly by as farmers are destroyed by people who have never farmed, and plants are engineered to self-destruct. Not willing to disappear into our flower gardens, Mercedes Benzes or sylvan lawns. We have wanted all our lives to know that Earth, who has somehow obtained human beings as her custodians, was also capable of creating humans who could minister to her needs, and the needs of her creation. We are the ones.
June Jordan, who died of cancer in 2002, was a brilliant, fierce, radical, and frequently furious poet. We were friends for thirty years. Not once in that time did she step back from what was transpiring politically and morally in the world. She spoke up, and led her students, whom she adored, to do the same.
We were not friends who saw each other often; not the kind of friends who discussed unpublished work. In fact, we sometimes disagreed profoundly with each other. We were the kind of friends, instead, who understood that we were forever on the same side: the side of the poor, the economically, spiritually and politically oppressed, “the wretched of the earth.” And on the side, too, of the revolutionaries, teachers and spiritual leaders who seek transformation of the world. That any argument arising between us would be silenced as we turned our combined energy to scrutinize an oncoming foe. I took great comfort in this reality. It seems a model of what can help us rebalance the world. Friendship with others: populations, peoples, countries, that is, in a sense, impersonal.
Many people are already working on this model. They are the ones who go to places like Afghanistan and Iraq and place their bodies between the bombs of the United States and the infrastructure of the local water supply. They are the ones who collect food and medicine for those deprived. The ones who monitor the war(s) and report news that would not otherwise be heard. They are the ones who feel no joy at another’s defeat. No satisfaction at another’s pain.
In fact, the happiness that imbues this kind of friendship, whether for an individual or a country, or an act, is like an inner light, a compass we might steer by as we set out across the lengthening darkness. It comes from the simple belief and understanding that what one is feeling and doing is right. That it is right to protect rather than terrorize others; right to feed people rather than withhold food and medicine; right to want the freedom and joyful existence of all humankind. Right to want this freedom and joy for all creatures that exist already, or that might come into existence. Existence, we are now learning, is not finished! It is a happiness that comes from honoring the peace or the possibility of peace that lives within one’s own heart. A deep knowing that we are the Earth—our separation from Earth perhaps our greatest illusion—and that we stand, with gratitude and love, by our planetary Self.
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Excerpted from Alice Walker’s We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness, first published by The New Press, November 1, 2006. Reprinted by permission of The Wendy Weil Agency, Inc. ©2006 by Alice Walker. * * *
Related links:Interview with Alice Walker
ALICE WALKER is known for her literary fiction, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Color Purple (now a major Broadway play), her many volumes of poetry, and her powerful nonfiction collections. Her other bestselling books include In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, The Temple of My Familiar, Possessing the Secret of Joy, By the Light of My Father's Smile, and The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart. We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness is her latest book.