Dear Mr. Baldwin,
I cannot begin. I don’t know how.
You and I have never met. I have never heard your vocal cords create disturbances in the air which sound like you, I have never seen a live interview of you on television, and I did not get to watch you grow old waiting for the world to transform under your fingertips.
You’ve never heard me, starstruck, tell you how beautiful you are and how the Spirit of God makes reading your words taste like manna. (Except, I would never be able to utter the second half of that sentence because I would be too caught up in the fact that you, James Baldwin, were standing mere feet in front of me.) You have never heard me crying to myself every time I watch an archived video of you, lamenting the fact that you are not alive any longer. You have never seen me, caught up in the final lines of your “Sonny’s Blues,” tears streaming down my face because somehow, I know. Somehow, even though it is not the same, the cup of my suffering has produced in me an ability to manipulate sound waves and time to create something which articulates what I feel beyond anything for which I could have hoped.
Mr. Baldwin, I don’t know what the United States–and the world, really–would look like if you were alive today. I can only imagine that the world in which I am living is that much more unbearable because you are no longer in it. The only thing I can say with certainty is the impact that you have had on my life.
In 2010, I was going through my undergraduate studies, and a professor of mine recommended I take African American literature from her. I did. I read “Sonny’s Blues” then, and until that time I had not yet encountered the words of someone who could so accurately articulate the pain I had felt as a queer kid for my entire life. I cried, and then I read it again and cried, and then I read it a third time and cried. And I cry every time I see your face because even when you were angry, even when you corrected someone, I can still see that you were as sad as I have been. I have seen you, in the midst of correcting a woman who accosted you about your stance on interracial and queer marriage, speak this into existence: “That’s exactly how the European nightmare began–by dictating to other people how they should live. We haven’t got the right to do that.” And, as you uttered those two sentences, your brow was furrowed and your eyes were wide, as if tears would fall at any moment.
You once said, “If you can’t love anybody, you’re dangerous. You’ve no way of learning humility. You’ve no way of learning that other people suffer, and you’ve no way of learning how to use your suffering, and theirs, to get from one place to another.” I wish I could ask you a question about this because loving too little is not the problem I have.
There are so many things I could say to you, that I wish I could say to you, but I can’t.
All that is left is to thank you and hope to see you at the resurrection.