Sunday, October 25, 2009

Brother West Rocks the East Coast

 "It's not Brad Pitt that gets me hot. It's Cornel West."
--Quote from Flickr

 (May 5, 2009 - Photo by Stephen Lovekin/
Getty Images North America)

I concur. Pretty doesn't go nearly as far for me as brilliant-beyond-belief. Yesterday's Boston Book Festival featured, among its many sessions, a panel composed of Christopher Lydon, Harvey Cox, Mary Gordon, and Cornel West. The topic was spirituality. It amuses me that they believed they could have a truly rich conversation about God, religion, atheism, and the future of spirituality in one hour. But God love'em for trying.

Smart is sexy. And intimidating. And without perhaps really even noticing, women largely like intimidating. Big, overbearing men, unbelievably pretty men, controlling men...there's a woman for each of these types of intimidating men. And then there are those of us whose motors are revved by men who are too smart for their own good. I fall into that last category of women. I love a smart man.

And so it is with someone with like Cornel West. Yesterday Boston made me proud. Standing in line at the Book Festival at the Boston Public Library, no one asked me if I was in line for the talk on spirituality. Everyone asked if I was in line for Cornel West. Yes, yes I was. And Dr. West delivered. Patient and clearly deep in thought, he is someone to watch. People couldn't keep their eyes off him. They leaned in when he spoke. They clapped before he finished sentences. They nodded fervently when he made points that were political, economical, religious, and racial. To see a room 90% full of white folks nod in agreement about the "vanilla suburbs" is something.

I don't always follow what Dr. West says--purely because his knowledge is so vast and deep that I just don't have the context to keep up. Instead I take away little nuggets--his plays on words, his subtle grabs at pop culture. He talks about "spiritual malnutrition," and I think yes! While listening, I think about how amazing it would be to sit and talk with him over a cognac--and then instantly shiver with the fear of actually having a conversation with someone so intelligent. Oy, I would eff that up not be able to keep up my end of the conversation.

Dr. West is a class act. He's the kind of person you want to please. If you were speaking and he began to nod, you'd feel like a million bucks. If you made him laugh, it'd be a jackpot. In trying to describe him to a friend, the only word I could come up with was animated. He is called a "provocative public intellectual." An excellent job title, no? And perhaps what is equally impressive as his intellect is his ability to speak. And I mean speak. My friend and I marveled after the talk over what it must be like to be one of his students. He could talk a group of thugs into painting a church and a team of Hell's Angels to learn ballet. He just exudes a love of life that is seriously inspiring.

As a reviewer on Amazon stated, "By his own admission, he is a bluesman, a man who loves hard, speaks truth, questions unapologetically, and a servant of the people." There just aren't enough men (or women) who live so intentionally.

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