Not long ago I was watching The Color Purple , an adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, again, for the ump-teenth time. At first I was nothing but aggravated because of all the commercial interruptions (it was on Lifetime or something). After awhile though, I realized the commercials were actually quite convenient; they gave me an opportunity to reflect upon some of the central themes of the film without missing anything. (Maybe they should have commercials at the movie theaters? Uh, okay, no, bad idea. But I digress.)
Anyhow, near the end of the movie, I was once again affected by the scene between Mister (Danny Glover) and Miss Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) where the entire family is gathered at the dinner table and Shug tells everyone that she is leaving and Celie is going with her. Immediately upon hearing this, Mister begins yet another hideously cruel tirade against Celie. Something is different this time though: Celie, for the first time stands up to him. Of course this doesn’t go over well with the mean-spirited Mister:
Albert: I shoulda locked you up. Just let you out to work.
Celie: The jail you plan for me is the one you gonna rote in!
Albert: I’ma knock you under…
[Celie hold up some kind of sign]
Celie: Everything you done to me, already been done to you.
[Celie get in car]
Celie: I’m poor, black, I may even be ugly, but dear God I’m here, I’m here!
Now, let us fast forward a bit further when Celie is on the train headed out of town. She sees a little girl running along side the train and steps out on the balcony to capture a better look. As she gazes at the little girl, she imagines it’s her sister as a little girl. Her “sister” is smiling and waving at her. A porter then walks out onto the balcony to offer Celie chocolates. She scoops up the chocolates and tosses them behind the train, down to the little girl, who clearly reminds her of better days, of her youth, and quite possibly, of what love looks and feels like. (Earlier in the film, at that same dinner gathering, Celie tells Mister that he took her sister away from her knowing that she was “the only somebody” who ever loved her). Wow!
Where did this take me in my own assessment of memory and both the prison it can create as well as the freedom that it can give rise to? At first thought, it seems a dichotomous encounter. How can one thing be both good and bad? The seeming incongruency isn’t such a conundrum actually. For me, as Celie is watching her “sister” chasing down that train, laughing and waving, it’s as if she is suddenly reacquainted with the only good thing from her youth: her sister’s love for her. Having lived such an utterly and despicably horrendous life otherwise, that love is what gave her the strength to survive all the years of torment. Those same memories however are the very same that made the prison she was living in so unbearable. She knew there was something better; she’d experienced it. What is worse than having that sweet thing in life, losing it, and yet knowing it’s still out there waiting to be reclaimed? Although she may not have known exactly where her sister was, or where her children were, she knew that the love was out there waiting for her to find her way back to it.
She tells Mister, “I’m poor, I’m black, I may even be ugly, but dear God, I’m here. I’m here!” As I watched that scene, it struck me that it’s in those moments of self acceptance, of absolute acknowledgement of who it is God created us to be and the power we have in that acknowledgement, that the memories that at once hurt like piercing nails through our hearts, suddenly become the gift which sets us free. It’s the thing that propels us to search the earth for that which was designed for us in the first place. I love the scene that shortly follows with Shug and Celie walking through the sea of purple flowers with the hazy sun dangling lazily in the sky. Shug says something to the effect of God not being pleased when we walk past the color purple without acknowledging it. Remembrance of that which is pure, beautiful, lovely, and solely ours is the point at which we get our wings back.
As I see it, it’s at that moment when Celie is watching that little girl run after that train, that precious moment, that takes her to the next chapter of her life with a marvelous start. In watching that little girl, it could be argued that Celie is having memories of her future. Sounds strange? Stay with me. I’m going someplace here.
At the very end of the film, when Celie finally meets her children, who are now adults, and is reunited with her sister, we, the audience have the privilege of witnessing what I believe to be one of the purest scenes in any film I’ve ever seen. The grown women begin playing patty cake. The children run to their mother with tears of joy and because they were raised in Africa, the accents make the sound of the word “Mama” sound as if little children are for the first time saying the word (at least to me). The house Celie inherits after the man she once believed to be her father, and who was in fact the father of her own two children is now surrounded by flowers, trees, beautiful sunlight. The sequence of events may be slightly off, but these are all occurrences at the end of the film.) All the things God calls good; all the things He created for our pleasure are present. When we become as little children, we are free to explore the love, the joy, and the wonder we freely inherit from our Creator. I would go on, but you get where I’m going, I’m sure.
Now, with her family back, with her life returned to her, now free from the bondage of rejection, hatred, abuse, perversity, bitterness, resentment and all the rest, Celie is free to re-create the memories of the love she shared with her sister. The love that kept her alive all those years, when most would have died, one way or another (I understand that in those times, and even today in some households, survival is innate and you just “go on.” Here though, I’m speaking more about spiritual death). Celie’s spirit continued to hope, to dream, to yearn, because of those memories God gave her in the beginning.
My thoughts are as follows: when our memories of love, of security and of safety rise up within us, pushing the pain out of the sphere of our souls and of our spirits, and becomes our strength and no longer our prison, we are set free. Freedom now exists to give of ourselves with abandon, and yet still remain wise. Our hearts remain free to be broken because the joy of the Lord is our strength and our confidence rests with Him, not with no stinkin’ man (or woman, or friend, or husband, or wife, or…). Freedom to reach out and be blessings to others without the crippling doubt that it won’t be good enough, or that we will be taken advantage of. Freedom to be who we are, nothing more, nothing less and, get this: LOVE WHO WE ARE. And finally, freedom to pity the ‘Misters’ of the world while still having so much love overflowing from our hearts that there is no possibly of ever exhausting our reserves.
Of the wind and floats downstream
Till the current ends and dips his wing
In the orange suns rays
And dares to claim the sky.But a BIRD that stalks down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through his bars of rage
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill for
The caged bird sings of freedom.
The free bird thinks of another breeze
And the trade winds soft through
The sighing trees
And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright
Lawn and he names the sky his own.
But a caged BIRD stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings with
A fearful trill of things unknown
But longed for still and his
Tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.