Autumn in Amherst: Entry #20
- Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
- Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
- Conspiring with him how to load and bless
- With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
- To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
- And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
- To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
- With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
- And still more, later flowers for the bees,
- Until they think warm days will never cease,
- For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells….
- Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
- Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
- While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
- And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
- Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
- Among the river sallows, borne aloft
- Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
- And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
- Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
- The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
- And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
–Ode to Autumn, Johnathan Keats
The ultimate praise, thanks, and gratitude is due unto the Creator: “It’s autumn in Amherst. Nothing more, perhaps, needs to be said.” It is the time for that annual ocular feast, when the eyes can tirelessly dine upon the yellow, the scarlet, the orange, and the green rolling hills surrounding the Valley. It is the visual crescendo before the long, cold, and somber winter sets in. Amidst the maturity of the season, the Valley also welcomes the college students and the youth they bring to the area. Granted many will dedicate themselves to bacchanalia and campus debauchery, but there will also be many young people who are entering college with exuberance and hope that they can make a difference in the world.
Perhaps it’s the medley of academia, of used bookstores, of youthful idealism, of droughts of intoxicating autumn air, and that foliage that contribute to that unique state of being that I’ve not remotely experienced anywhere outside of the Happy Valley. At this point, I am liberated from the ivory tower of the College and can enjoy Amherst life on my own terms. I could get to know the area much better than in my previous two and a half years there.
I would write at the time (in part probably inspired by some deep stretching exercises): “There is so much vision inside this body.” There were the memories of childhood, and the daily sights for one to enjoy and ponder throughout the area. Since I didn’t have a car, and usually was not in a rush to get anywhere (and winter had not yet come), I did a lot of walking. And that meant that the time and the sights could be savored. Among my favorite places to visit that fall was Atkin’s Farms on Route 116. It was, at least to me, the quintessential New England market. It sits almost at the base of the Holyoke Mountain Range. Inside local produce could be found. There was the smell of fresh cider and all sorts of other locally produced goodies that remind one of the old traditions of life in New England….
As I reminisce about that period, and I am reminded of times past, it is as if a hole in my heart is opened. Those evanescent days have passed, and all that’s left are the memories of another time. And memory was one of the dominant themes of the Journals. I would write: “There is so much vision inside this body.” That was probably inspired by one of those morning deep-stretch exercise sessions, in which embedded emotions and old faded memories would rise to the surface of my consciousness. Time is passing.
And my fear of perdition in the Afterlife is growing. I need to get right with God. I know that although I am trying to rectify myself, I certainly am not doing my best at doing so. I am going to have to overcome many weaknesses of character and be more self-disciplined. I know that I need to endeavor for my salvation, but at the same time, there is the problem of this… there is this obstacle that I must surmount, and that is this mundane world and my lower desires.
Do I really want to be a devotee of Citicorp and Chase Manhattan? Do I want to consider going to the ATM, like a visit to an ancient Greek oracle, thereby I would (allegedly) be informed of my terrestrial well-being? As one of the Valley Guys used to say at the time: “That’s not the way to go.” Furthermore, reading books, like, Dell Jones’, Black Holocaust: Global Genocide (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0963999583) and other conspiracy books didn’t inspire me with a whole lot of motivation and ambition to go live in a cubicle for corporate America.
At the same time, I understood that I needed to find my way through this world and take care of mundane responsibilities. I understood that I needed to do something to make my earthly life meaningful (and provide me with a means of sustenance) if I wanted to have those: “Power’s on, shower’s on” kinda mornings every morning. This meant that I could not compromise my values or sacrifice my ideals. I saw writing as the means to do that. Writing was helping keep me grounded—it focused my thoughts and provided me with a medium to express my ideals and my aspirations. As a matter of fact, the writing was a form of “remembrance;” it kept reminding me of what I wanted to do with my life (God-willing). Furthermore, my eclectic interests (and angst) could be explored… and there was the possibility of someday monetizing my passion without compromising who I am—or who I wanted to be. As I would write: “I must establish myself here, but also keep my heart on the world to come.” I need to live a balanced life.
Amidst the inner struggles, relief came in various forms. Among them was, a trip down to the Amherst College bird sanctuary with Delta. I was showing her where I would used to go to do my yoga and meditation routine during the previous two summers. Of the visit I would write: “Returning to the sanctuary was not an attempt to recapture the past but to be reassured about the cycle.” Delta, being the expressive person she was, kept me entertained by acting out her version of the “Isis” character from the Saturday morning program Shazam (she had a mystical bent about her, like that). Typically, in a lifetime, there are only a few people you can bug-out with over Saturday morning children’s TV programming, and Delta was one of them.
On a more serious note, one Friday while at the UMASS campus center, I encountered a student dressed up in full traditional Sudanese garb. It was Jumu`ah day, and he had on his turban and jalabiyyah. I approached him, introduced myself, and told him about the Brother I was learning with. He was eager to meet him, and within a few weeks, that “chance” encounter would result in a relationship that would forever change my life (maa-shaa’ Allah).
“Education,” meaning the furtherance of my academic studies, comes up a lot at this time. The plan, presumably, was to take this year (or possibly two) off and then go to graduate school. I attend a graduate school fair at UMASS that fall, and the “international education” program at Harvard strikes my fancy. I could work as a teacher and travel. Furthermore, I was already working at the School of Education at the University (with occasional gigs substituting at Amherst Regional High School). Although I am not passionate about classroom teaching, I do know that I want to be involved with learning and in an intellectually stimulating environment.
My real interest for graduate school was history. I was trying to develop a sort of “meta-history” of the world that I anticipated would be my Master’s thesis. The plan was to link ancient history, especially the civilizations of the Nile Valley and ancient (pre-Aryan) India, with Islam. Back then, I was intrigued by models of cultural diffusion in ancient times—in particular those “Afrocentric” models that challenged the very often racist status quo version of history.
My interest wasn’t simply in the retelling of past events, but it would be related to metaphysics and religion. The Western model of “civilizational evolution” needed to be reconsidered, for there is ample evidence that ancient people had developed advanced technology (e.g., the pyramids of Giza) and had a far more profound understanding of the universe than was generally acknowledged by conventional historians. Also, given the centrality of metaphysics and religion in the cultures of these ancient peoples, one could not understand their worldview unless one shared some of their sympathies. The conventional Western-minded historian couldn’t possibly understand people whose social structure was centered around preparation for an Afterlife, when the materialists make no allowance for anything existing beyond their senses.
From an Islamic perspective, Muslims believe that various communities of people had received Prophets, who came with the knowledge of Tawheed (the knowledge pertaining to the Oneness and Perfection of the Creator) and the call to worship the Creator alone and not any of the creations. For many of those Prophets, however, their teachings were altered and distorted through the centuries. This seemed to be in line with many ancient mythologies, in which they speak of enlightened men informing the people about the arts of civilization and the rites of worship. However, at some point those societies lapsed into idolatry, the worship of those “enlightened” men, or some other form of creation worship. I was of the mindset that the history of humanity needed to be radically rewritten, so that we could be reminded of our profound potential and not forget the momentous purpose of our life on this earth.
By the end of October, the New England winter is already making hints of its ominous approach. It’s something I am not at all looking forward to. Those mellow days of fruitfulness and bounty are winding down, and we would soon be besieged by New England’s frigid and barren hibernal season.