Lessons Learned from a Christmas Cactus (A Tribute to bell hooks)

bell hooks died this week. So much sadness. So many tributes and testaments and testimonies. She impacted so many.

I wonder, did bell feel the love we are now showing her while she was alive? Did she know the difference she made in the world?

She wrote about love. Did she feel love, loved? 

I hope so. She helped me learn to love myself, my thoughts, my feelings as a Black woman. For me as a Black woman, she validated black womanness; black womanhood. She championed being a feminist; she coined the term “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” She gave me words to understand my experiences as a Black woman in America.

My Christmas catcus provides a theme for my reflections on bell hooks’ transition to the ancestral realm.

My cactus was given to me a year ago.  Small and just green. 

For a year, I regularly watered it.  It remained green.  And then suddenly, in early December, I started to see hints of red buds.  Like the advent season of expectancy, I got excited, waiting….

And then one day, they were there.  The buds became flowers and blossomed.  The plant overflowed with luscious full color.  It was magical.  It took my breath away.

I continued to water and love on the plant with a newfound appreciation of its beauty. A beauty that was always there, just hidden.

And then, somewhat unexpected, the blossoms started falling off the plant.  Some fell on to the stand where the plant sits; some fell on the floor.  And in a week or so, the blossoms were gone.

But, I looked again a few days later and noticed a few more red buds that I hadn’t seen before. And then,

Another blossom.

She is blooming again. 

Like the Christmas cactus, I believe that bell hooks will continue to bloom in our lives. For as she wrote:

“No black woman writer in this culture can write ‘too much.’ Indeed, no woman writer can write ‘too much’ … No woman has ever written enough.”

― “Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work”

bell hooks wrote 40 books! As women of color, as women, we must write more. For like the Christmas catcus, we never know when our work will touch another. In our lives, we must water ourselves and others, never knowing when we or they will bloom and blossom. We are all buds and babies, waiting and needing nurturing and care and love so that we can blossom and be blessings in the world.

I looked at my book shelf this morning. I found my two bell hooks classics:  “Ain’t I a Woman” and “Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics.” I’ve had these books for decades.

There are other Black women writers on the shelf. Many books by Nikki Giovanni.

I wrote a blog post as a tribute to Nikki, and her courageous and powerful voice a few years ago.

A Tribute to Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni at the Faculty Women of Color in the Academy Conference

There are other Black women writers on my shelf:

Maya Angelou

Patricia Hill Collins

Angela Davis

Alice Walker

Johnetta Cole

Beverly Guy-Sheftall

 Brittney Cooper

Susan Taylor

Stacey Abrams

Venus Evans-Winters

Black women who have written about their lives; about Black womanness; about Black feminism. Black women who have helped us to feel good about ourselves, who have encouraged us to love ourselves, and to treasure ourselves, as women.

There are Black women writers who inspire me, who have watered me, shared in this post on Black women writers.


These are Black women who have encouraged us to revere ourselves, as if we were like one of the divine women in the Christian tradition. As if we were as special and divine as Mary – the mother of Jesus. In this Christmas holiday season, I am inspired by Ave Maria.

“Ave Maria” is the “Hail Mary” prayer in tribute to the Virgin Mary, the mother of the Christian Jesus. The text is said to be a direct quote from the Archangel Gabriel, when he descends from heaven and appears to the Virgin Mary, telling her she has been blessed to carry the lord, Jesus Christ, within her womb. https://www.liveabout.com/ave-maria-text-and-english-translation-724041

The “Hail Mary” text is found in the New Testament of the Judeo-Christian Bible, in the book of Luke, chapter 1, verse 26-30 below:

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

I think these verses are a reminder to many women: Fear not, you are blessed and highly favored.

This scripture inspired the classical music piece by Charles Gounod: “In 1853, French composer, Charles Gounod improvised a melody to Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Piano Prelude No. 1 in C Major, which Bach published in 1722 as part of “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” a book of piano music Bach wrote to sell to students interested in learning and perfecting their piano technique. ” https://www.liveabout.com/ave-maria-text-and-english-translation-724041

The lyrics:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and in the hour of our death. Amen.

bell hooks birthed books and the fruits of her womb have blessed so many of us and will continue to do so.

I pray that her transition to the ancestral realm is divine.

In a tribute to bell hooks and other Black women writers, watch the Menah’s Matinee at the link below and a piano solo of Ave Maria: