FAREWELL (Entry #26)
I am in the final weeks of my stay in Amherst. I know ahead of time that I am going to miss this place, so I am trying to make the most of it while I can. A few days after the return from Camp, a now sophomore student and I head down to the Oxbow of the Connecticut River to get in an evening of catfish fishing. For those who don’t know much about catfish fishing, it is much more relaxed than the sort of trout stream fishing I described earlier. When fishing for catfish, you just throw out some bait (I am thinking that we used shrimp) and just wait some something to come along and take it.
The Oxbow of the Connecticut River
The Sophomore and I get our lines in the water, and then proceed to chat about life at Amherst. We talk of the almost enchanted nature of Amherst in the autumn—the crisp air that the lungs joyfully quaff, the bright starry nights, the peacocking foliage, the youth, the optimism and the hope. We speak of rockin’ the Eastland moccasins, the over-sized Amherst sweatshirts, and khakis. The Sophomore and I exchange fantasies of snuggling under blankets with our J. Crew model girlfriends (or in my case, wife) at the Amherst College homecoming game. We are, at least for that evening of catfishing, living out the life.
Life would have to move on, however. As much as I loved Amherst, I knew that I would have to leave the “Womb.” I would write that I have to pursue knowledge that is beyond books. And I have to seek love that is beyond women—I would have to seek the knowledge and love of God. This knowledge and love would be the ultimate, and I would not being doing right by myself, if I did not seek that which I needed most.
Nonetheless, I was seeking balance. During this time, I would be a guest lecturer for a class that the Mentor was teaching at UMASS. I spoke about the black presence in Ancient Europe and the Middle Ages (the latter being largely the Moorish influence on Western Europe). Although, the lesson was largely “book knowledge,” I liked teaching. I liked learning, and I liked transmitting what I learned. I wanted for myself to rise out the darkness and chaos of ignorance and confusion and attain the light of clarity and understanding, and I wanted that for others, as well. So although I wanted something more than the knowledge found between book covers, I knew that if I wanted to earn a living, teaching (in the more conventional manner) would probably be the more sensible thing for me to do. The other interest I had was writing, and upon being liberated from the ultra-intellectual and hyper-critical environment of the College, I had over the past year felt free to explore myself and my interests in the best way I saw fit. I was beginning to find myself.
I was hoping to bring this newly “coming into self” person to Philadelphia. My intention is that I could work at the Islamic school for a year, and then go to graduate school. My aspiration would be UPENN, but if I didn’t get accepted there, I could go to Temple. Temple was the home base of “Afrocentricity,” and I was hoping to be able to put my own Muslim spin on the history of Islam in African and the history of black folks. After graduate school, I assumed that I would look for work teaching at the university… such were my plans… such were my plans.
In those final weeks in Amherst, I do for the first time, a serious read of my previous Journals (I typically didn’t read my Journals upon completion). The Journal entries of that summer are filled with memories of the early days of Amherst and even the days prior to matriculation. Sometimes Homeboy and I would drive up to Amherst via the scenic Route 116, and sometimes we’d take the highway to Northampton and then Route 9. As we would drive up Russel Road, the high rise dorms of Southwest would appear—I knew then that I was where I wanted to be. During one of my post-acceptance letter visits to Amherst, I record in my Journal the impression that it made upon me when an Asian student, a senior, was asked by the clerk at the Amherst College bookstore what were his plans after graduation, and he said, going to law school, and when she asked where, he said, “Harvard.” It made me realize that these were the kind of kids I would be sitting next to in the classroom, having lunch with in the afternoon, and perhaps having deep conversations with in the evening. I was entering a “new normal.” I was going to have to have different expectations for myself.
Since that time—that is, prior to entering the College, then graduating, and then spending a year in town—I had undergone so many changes. I had grown and been transformed in ways I could not have previously before imagined. Things had not turned out in any way remotely like what I had anticipated or wanted for myself. But I did feel that I was closer to the Truth now than I had before I had started at the College. Unlike when I first arrived at the College, I had realized that there is a Truth, and that life only becomes truly significant when one seeks to abide by it. A person must cut through the layers of skepticism, the opinions of others, and self-doubt, so that one can realize the Truth. I would need perseverance and sincerity (and the Creator’s Mercy) if I hoped to live by that which I deemed to be true—or the Truth.
“This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, one with herself.”
–Henry David Thoreau
On the 21st of August, I would experience one of those delight imbibing days. I would write:
“I’m at Amherst College… and very few people are here. It’s been a more than memorable day. Today, regarding the weather, it can easily be classified as one—if not the—nicest day of the cipher. It’s in the mid-70′s with a steady breeze from the north and much-much sun. Finding a cloud in the sky would be difficult.”
I believe I had taken the bus to the UMASS campus, and then I found myself walking back to town, and then to the Amherst campus, and then to Brittany Manor. The walk is over three and a half miles, but the day was delectable. And as I walked through town and campus, I would cast my vision as far and as deep as I could. I wanted to take it all in. Wherever I looked, I saw memories; I saw that which had impressed my mind and had molded me, whether it be the cafes where I would write, the libraries where I had read books that had changed my view of myself and the world, the quaint boutiques, or the rolling hills off in the distance. It is time to give thanks. And it is time to say goodbyes with my eyes.
I reflect that soon there will be a new class on campus, and that someone among them might set forth on the path of Islam and yearn to attain a state of piety. And as I entertained such thoughts, the optimistic lyrics of Donald Fagen’s, “I.G.Y.” (“What a glorious time it will be….”) are dancing around in my mind. I won’t be around to see them, but I wish those students all the best.
On that day I would sit on the fire escape of the Octagon, a place where I would meditate during my shifts at the Black Cultural Center, and look off into my beloved Valley.
The view from the Octagon fire escape: a former meditation perch.
My departure is imminent. I would write that Amherst will cease being food for my mental eye, and that I need to give thanks to the Creator for this layover in the Valley, but the real home isn’t here but the perpetual abode of Paradise. I would now need to go to Philadelphia to seek the route to that Garden of everlasting bliss.