God Bless the Child…

“She closed her eyes, and she heard a small voice say
You don’t stop no, you belong to me.”

—-Laura Mvula, from album SING TO THE MOON

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I have only recently discovered the work of soul singer, LAURA MVULA and am helplessly obsessed with her lilting alto and poetic storytelling.  The song that immediately resonated with me was SHE.  This song honors the resilience of womanhood and the music video features a young girl bounding into a house to find a woman in labor, the birth appearing as the end of a story, but revealing itself as the beginning of the story. Cyclical.

And midwifing this new life is a sister-circle of aunties, sisters, friends and mother-figures who don’t ask what she needs. They do because they already know. I thought this story was powerful enough, but then I found the version of SHE filmed in South Africa.

In this version, our young heroine, in her school uniform, practically skips down a long empty road that stretches into the yellow morning or gold of evening. I can’t tell which because the distance seems impossible. The road is long and lonely, but her eyes sparkle and her gait is a dance. She strides enthusiastically, beautifully, toward a school that she and l hope will appear on the horizon at any moment. But it does not come before a church.

In the church her aunties, sisters and mother-figures flank Ms. Mvula in deep blue choir robes admonishing, echoing, that SHE–their daughter, their sister, their continuance—cannot stop.

She may pause for this uplift, catch her breath for the next leg of the journey and even visit her fore-mothers for a word of prayer, but she cannot stop. She comes equipped with a voice which says, “You don’t stop. No, you belong to me…” so even when the empty makes our heroine stop in the middle of the road, I know that she has the spiritual wherewithal to keep her.

"...she don't stop."

“…she don’t stop.”

Mvula creates pieces that celebrate and honor our young sisters without romanticizing what they might face in a fashion that reminds me of Nobel-prize winning author TONI MORRISON. She is a master at narrating just how the spirit marches toward its destiny: unsure, wounded or exhausted, but unflinching.

still cringe when Sula accidentally overhears her mother say that she doesn’t like her. I gasp as the jilted Violet attacks the casket of her husband’s 18 year-old mistress and I will always call on my own praying women when the malevolent spirit of Beloved brings her mother to the brink of death.

Morrison has allowed us a turn in the shoes of characters we couldn’t imagine empathizing with until we trace their steps back to the offense, the hurt that shaped their journey. And in April she will do it again.

Her novel, God Bless the Childwill be released this spring and I can hardly wait!  The press release offers the following plot description:

Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child is a searing tale about the way childhood trauma shapes and misshapes the life of the adult. At the center: a woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life; but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love until she told a lie that ruined the life of an innocent woman, a lie whose reverberations refuse to diminish … Booker, the man Bride loves and loses, whose core of anger was born in the wake of the childhood murder of his beloved brother … Rain, the mysterious white child, who finds in Bride the only person she can talk to about the abuse she’s suffered at the hands of her prostitute mother … and Sweetness, Bride’s mother, who takes a lifetime to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

SHE is not marching down a sun-drenched road with our hopes in each step. I am already wincing at her betrayal of one sister to recoup what she did not receive from her mother. But I will watch her strut and stumble understanding that she knows nothing of the steadying hand or supportive prayer of a sister circle. She just knows she has somewhere she has to be. Broken or not, she cannot stop.

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