Namaste friends. This post is a collection of quotes from the book - Just as I am by Cicely Tyson. Just As I Am is a plain and unvarnished autobiography by Cicely Tyson, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades.
I am a daughter and a mother, a sister and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by his hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.
To examine, to question, to discover and evolve - that is what it means to be alive. The day we cease to explore is the day we begin to wilt.
I am as inquisitive about life now as I was as a child. My story will never be finished, nor should it be. For as long as God grants me breath, I will be living - and writing - my next chapter.
I know instantly whether I should take a role. If my skin tingles as I read the script, then it is absolutely something I must do. But if my stomach churns, I do not touch the project, because if I did, I’d end up on a psychiatrist’s couch. Either my spirit can take the story or it cannot, and my senses have never misled me.
My art had to both mirror the times and propel them forward. I was determined to do all I could to alter the narrative about Black people - to change the way Black women in particular were perceived, by reflecting our dignity.
My eyes fall first on people’s shoes even before I look up at their faces. Our feet tell our stories. They carry us through this life, moving us from one sorrow and season to the next. Our gait can reveal us to be buoyant or bullish, dispirited or steadfast.
The United States has never been “one nation under God” but several nations gazing up at him, dissimilar faces huddled beneath a single flag.
Turning a blind eye to our history has not saved us from its consequences.
When your heart has been sliced wide open, you tend to haphazardly hurl rocks in every direction. You want someone, anyone, to ache and bleed as badly as you have.
When you get pregnant during adolescence, you grow up in the space of two minutes. In minute one, your feet are dangling from an exam table as you hold your breath and wait. In minute two, all wondering is replaced with reckoning, all equivocating with the definitiveness of the doctor’s words. And in that instant, you are no longer a girl, wandering and curious and innocent. You are, by proof of a urine sample and by declaration of a physician, ushered to a doorway labeled “Parenthood.” Through that entrance is an uncertain future, filled with adult anxieties and responsibilities. All at once, your center of gravity shifts from me to us. Your existence is no longer just about you, but rather about this defenseless child who will rely on your strength as a source for his or her own.
That is what happens when parents think they’re protecting their children by withholding the truth. They are in fact exposing them to heartache.
It is a heartbreaking thing for children to have children. These kids, they just go off and have babies, and they have no idea of the commitment involved, how their paths will be as irrevocably altered as mine was. Until you are standing in the responsibility of parenting, you cannot truly understand how it shifts your life’s terrain.
I am a firm believer in divine guidance. Above all, I am God’s child, cradled in his unfailing arms, guided by his infinite wisdom. Everything that is happening in my life is unfolding exactly as God has intended. There are no coincidences. Rather, there is a loving Savior who holds my future as securely as he does my life, and at every juncture, he is whispering his will, showing me the way.
We are our mothers’ children, every one of us. And that umbilical cord connection makes you and me, in ways unconscious and profound, their dream keepers.
I tell you, this life doesn’t simply come with its share of unpredictability; surprise is its most conspicuous feature.
When you ask God for strength, as I do daily, he doesn’t usually just drop it from the sky. He often answers by placing you in a circumstance that requires you to build fortitude while relying solely on him.
Show me a West Indian woman, and I’ll show you an enterpriser holding down three jobs.
As life has taught me time and again, you often have to lose your present circumstance to make room for your forthcoming one.
I suppose to be truly successful at any pursuit, you have to fall in love with it, surrender to its gravitational pull, allow it to carry you off to that world of giddy sleeplessness.
Magic operates as such. When a pivot is predestined on the stone tablet of your life story, there is often an inexplicable ease to it. It feels otherworldly, from an Almighty source beyond your frail humanity.
I may initially waver before lunging toward a new experience, but once I do, I grow unrelenting.
Even those who care deeply for us cannot always see our big picture, the Grand Story Line that is destined to unfold before us. They are on their own journeys. And though their paths may run parallel to ours, each is singular in its curves and mileposts, unique in its destination. As much as others want the best for us, they do not necessarily understand God’s best. He alone does.
I tell you, boy, God certainly kept me in his sight line. I couldn’t have dreamed up a script more compelling than the one that played out for me during those years. Who just happens to be approached on the street by a total stranger, only to have that man propose modeling, only to have that modeling work become a footbridge to the stage? To some, this might look like happenstance, a sequence of coincidences, a string of disconnected flukes. As I see it, my tide shift, my sharp turnaround, had the Savior’s handprints all over it.
Trauma may give rise to intense feeling, but to refine one’s artistry, an actor must be taught to channel the unbridled rawness of that emotion, to effectively use it in service of a character’s every groan and grimace.
When someone sees you headed in a direction, and that person throws a brick into the road, that is the precise moment to forge onward, with greater velocity, toward your destination.
When someone violates you sexually, it does not simply haunt and aggrieve you; it alters the very shape of your soul.
Just walking through this life as a Black person, and actually surviving that, was and still is an ovation-worthy performance.
Words fall short in conveying the pure exhilaration you feel, as an artist, of watching your work flicker to life for the first time, of seeing this strange likeness of yourself crackling across a screen in Black and white.
Acting, like every art form, is meant to transport its beholders, and the artist is frequently the first to make the journey.
I am not one to feel as if I have arrived, for even at age ninety-six, I am still arriving.
Children lie out of fear they will be punished in some way. But adults, as I see it, have no right to lie. If you do something wrong, just fess up and say, “I did it and I’m sorry” - or you did it, and you’re not sorry. Sooner or later, the truth will come out, and the deceit, for me, can be as damaging as the offense.
There’s a path in this life with your name on it. What God means for you to have, no one can take away from you. It’s already yours. Our mission, as God’s children, is to surrender to what he has ordained - and to freely let all else just pass us by.
Since the days when ancient Greeks stole advanced concepts of architecture, philosophy, and mathematics right out of the palms of Africans, whites have been taking credit for Black successes, co-opting our ingenuity at every turn.
A well-told story, in whichever artistic medium it is delivered, can touch corners of the soul otherwise unreachable.
Life is unfolding exactly as it is meant to, exactly as the Spirit intended. Leave it alone and let it play out.
You may dim love’s light, but when you’ve cared for someone, you never fully switch off the affection.
Acting, for me, has always been an organic process that involves absorbing my character’s reality, allowing her to saturate the cells and fibers of my being.
When the people who gave you life have departed this earth, you enter a strange new corridor of detachment. You are untethered, disconnected from the two story lines that gave birth to your one.
In every aspect of society, we Black women find ourselves on the bottom rung of what I call The Ladder. We are holding on for dear life, I tell you, surviving as our knuckles bleed.
It’s easy to say Black Lives Matter. The question is, do they matter enough for this nation to treat and compensate them fairly? Historically, the answer has been a resounding no.
As an actor, I am not a puppet, but rather an open vessel - a channel through which a character flows.
In the United States, protest is our birthright, but when you exercise that right, you are often penalized for it.
Around the business, I have sometimes been called difficult. The truth is that I insist upon respect. I don’t take any tea for the fever, child. Even now, at age ninety-six, I teach folks not to mess with me.
The human desire to know where we’ve come from, and who our foreparents were, is a universal longing that transcends ethnicity. When you know your history, you know your value. You know the price that has been paid for you to be here. You recognize what those who came before you built and sacrificed for you to inhabit the space in which you dwell.
Social transformation is not measured in weeks or months, but in generations. Our children, and their children and grandchildren, may witness the conclusion of a story that began hundreds of years before they were even conceived.
Relationships are knitted together by need. When two people connect, the purpose each is serving in the other’s life is what holds the union in place, keeps the ragged edges of its hemline sewn.
You always seek to control others when you are not in full ownership of yourself.
Some form of occupation is necessary for survival. For years, you get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, and work all day. It’s an exercise. What makes you think you can suddenly cease that routine without slipping into senility? You can’t just stop or that’ll be the end of you.
We don’t have long here, children. Our hopes and aspirations may feel limitless, but our days are finite, our experiences fading in the twinkling of an eye. Death is a love note to the living, to regard every day, every breath, as sacred.
Healing, as I see it, is not the absence of pain. Rather, it is a gradual reduction in the ache. The lessening of that hurt eventually makes room for fond memories to surface.
We’re fortunate, in this life, if we’ve known true love once. I have and I relished it.
That’s the power of education. It expands one’s field of vision, and in so doing, it lifts entire families and communities. When you witness better, you often want better.
When you give yourself away, when you surrender yourself as a divine vessel, [...] you impact lives eternally.
There’s a rigor to performing live, a muscle that atrophies without use. You don’t get a second or seventh take. You’re completely in the moment, gaffes and all. Every single night, you’ve got to bring your best, because despite how well you might’ve performed the evening before, this audience has never experienced the story.
When it comes to staying right-side up in this world, a Black woman needs at least three things. The first is a quiet spot of her own, a place away from the nonsense. The second is a stash of money, like the cash my mother kept hidden in the slit of her mattress. The last is several drops of cayenne pepper, always at the ready. Sprinkle that on your food before you eat it, and it’ll kill any lurking bacteria.
These US doctors are trained to cut you and write prescriptions. That is all. They don’t know a thing about healing you. They treat symptoms, not causes. Like other professionals, they’re working to buy their homes and send their kids to Harvard.
During a good year, to be Black is to live with an ongoing hum of anxiety, a static ever present beneath life’s high notes. During a plague and a racial revolution, to be Black is to be rendered deaf by the uproar, knowing that if this virus doesn’t take you down, a blue knee on your neck or bullets in your back just might. When you leave your house, you’re never quite sure whether you’ll make it back alive, and that is no exaggeration. In this country, Blacks don’t have to go looking for trouble. It finds us.