Wednesday, August 22, 2012
As the new academic year approaches, I, like many of our incoming class of 2016, have been reading the First Year Reading Initiative selection Ten Thousand Saints by IC faculty member Eleanor Henderson. Many themes and threads run through the book. Music, drugs, sex, spirituality, friendship, family, connection - are but a few. Students interested in LGBT themes, or in public health or history, or those intrigued by tattoos, will likely be drawn in to the story and its characters, too. So much ground is covered (literally and figuratively, for some of the characters), that even fans of the Mets or of singer Bob Seeger will find brief mentions of these within the layered design of the storyline. And those keenly attuned to aspects of equality and respect may briefly become concerned when a character uses an anti-gay invective within the first chapter. But readers who continue will find that this and other details serve to paint the picture of a particular time and place, one far removed from today's awareness of bullying and name-calling, one in which it is likely this type of language was much more common.
Finding one's way is an idea that comes up frequently for students here at IC. In this book, that's what many if not all of the characters are doing on various levels, too. Navigating relationships, ideas, passions. Grappling for understanding, forgiving, finding compassion. Wrestling with ways life, people, and relationships can be messy and complicated. And responding to the unexpected, both the good and the bad, in people, institutions, and society.
Just before the close of last semester, I had a conversation with a student about to embark upon a journey of sorts. It wasn't a journey about any of the specific themes of this book, in fact it was about something not really in the book at all. At the heart of this particular student's musings, though, was the theme of finding one's way. How do we find connection and community in a world from which we may at times feel profoundly disconnected? What does it mean when we may share particular beliefs or identities, but differ on what these mean? How does one reconcile deeply holding ideas within oneself that are seemingly at odds? We ended our talk that day this way, not unlike what some may take away from their reading of this book: I am on my path, you are on your path. We are all finding our way.