(This is an article that never got published no matter how I tried —sad—- So, I’ll just post it here!)
“Perhaps it will be my part to walk behind the real revolutionaries – those who know they must spill blood in order to help the poor and the black and therefore go right ahead.”
– Meridian Hill
in Meridian by Alice Walker
Here is a story seldom told. Here is a story seldom heard. Meridian by Alice Walker appealed to me as a reflection appeals to its owner. Meridian Hill’s quest to make sense of her world and contribute something to it echoes humanity’s inclination to make its mark in the world, to effect a difference. Yet her story differs from the usual as she made her mark in ways that are not so popular and accepted by those bound by convention and conformity. Meridian is the story of a black woman-activist’s personal revolution as she joins the Civil Rights Movement.
As a black woman, life wasn’t kind to Meridian Hill at all. Her family is definitely not the ideal American family with the white picket fence, a porch and a dog. In fact, her father is the silent type that the Filipino society approves of, while her mother is a typical example of a bitter Filipino woman whose career and freedom was cut-short as society expects her to stay at home and raise fine children without any need for self-fulfilment and a sense of accomplishment besides being a wife and a mother.
Meridian’s childhood is far from perfect. Like the average victim of molestation, Meridian suffered in silence. She took it in all by herself and found comfort in exploiting her already exploited body, thinking that nothing good will ever come out of a damaged good. She got pregnant before even graduating from high school, distanced herself from, and eventually divorced, his husband and ultimately, gave up her child when a new opportunity to rebuild her life presented itself. Meridian, unknowingly and knowingly, rebelled from her mother’s image, both as a wife and a mother, and embraced her life’s passion, once she recognized it, wholly and without reserve. She is a survivor and an inspiration though not necessarily the epitome of a “good” woman.
In every person’s life, there comes a time when we make crucial decisions that change the course of our lives permanently and irrevocably. A change happens at the very core of our being that we cannot unchange and revert back to the way things were before. It happened to me as it happened to Meridian.
People say I have rebelled against everything I was taught, but in retrospect, I have not. With all due respect, I maybe more Christ-like, in terms of helping my brothers and sisters, than those who shake their heads and cluck their tongues, clutching their rosaries near their hearts, at my advocacy. Meridian wasn’t new to this either, she may not be considered religious but her spirituality is more than most religious people can hope to have.
At first, it was curiosity that drove me to join the mobilization for higher state subsidy. In my heart I know what I’m doing is right, in accordance with values my parents taught me and instilled by a Catholic upbringing. It was an innocent adventure at first, one with fellow but unfamiliar students. But when we hid streamers and stormed the Congress gates, it ceased being innocent and unfamiliar. The students I was with are obviously anticipating an initial confrontation and they came prepared as if in a war. That was the time when Meridian first connected to me, when we both “became aware of the past and the future of the larger world.”
And it’s true. The moment that you discover that life isn’t all about you is when you actually start living for yourself. You start to assess your beliefs, unlearn misinformation and amass a whole new education. It is when you find and stand for causes closest to your heart that you start living and cease just existing.
Meridian, like me, grappled with her conscience. As a civil rights worker, she debated on doing what is right or doing what is correct. Sometimes, the right thing is not the correct thing. Case in point, “the right thing is never to kill, but the correct thing is to kill when killing is necessary.” Complexity arises when the right and the correct don’t coincide and in fact, go the opposite directions. It took Meridian years to finally come to terms with this philosophical question and has found the answer to cement to commitment to her cause in the death of a total stranger. More often than not, the answer to the most complex question is the simplest one that we tend to overlook.
My own encounter with activism is fraught with struggles, both internal and external. Like Meridian, my health was affected with the stress that comes with work that is very stressful. My skin developed sores and I contracted various diseases as my immune system went haywire. I lost so much weight that I was half my size when I was a teenager. I let out a laugh when Meridian said, referring to her own frail health, “I am strong. I’m just not Superwoman.”
With immeasurable pressure, from the state, my family, friends and myself coupled with the innate difficulty of launching campaigns and getting the people to believe in the power that resides within them and make them get up and do something, everyday is war.
Battle fatigue is what Alice Walker called it in her book. Life sometimes presents itself as such a challenge that living it is tiring enough, without having the need to bother yourself with other’s problems. Sorrow without hope is probably the worst emotion a man, or woman, can show. Many activists whose initial idealism has been sapped by the seemingly endless confrontations succumb to battle fatigue and choose to live a more “peaceful life.” Meridian had it, and so did I.
But what a friend once told me echoes each time the fatigue crawls its way to me, “Everyday, you affirm your commitment to yourself . Everyday, you affirm your commitment to the people.” Everyday, I wake up and search for answers to very elusive questions as the world starts to include everybody else, not just oneself. All I have to do is look around, I need not go very far, only outside my door, onto the streets, into my child’s eyes, and the affirmation I need is there. Meridian understood when she said that “the respect she owed her life was to continue, against whatever obstacles, to live it, and not give up any particle of it without a fight to the death.”
Alice Walker, in Meridian, described a life that is most certainly far from perfect, but in its imperfection Meridian Hill found the peace that eludes most. Meridian’s revolution within has reached its decisive point and she emerged ever more sure of herself and her beliefs. But her life has not ceased to be a struggle as she continues to walk down the road, as Bob Marley said, to emancipation from mental slavery.