Chinua Achebe: Let there be Light

When I was 35 I left a career and started college for the first time. Surrounded by 18 year olds, I worked hard to find my place in the most unordinary circumstances. It wasn’t always easy, and I wasn’t always happy. Yet the more I learned, the less all that mattered. I’d loved literature and writing for such a long time, and it was surreal to be spending my days writing creative stories and essays, reading Russian Lit, performing poetry, and discussing it all with others who loved it as much as I did. It fed that part of me that had hungered for longer than I cared to admit. I left Rollins College, carrying with me a new sense of the world, a constant curiosity and of course a ton of books.

Fast forward three years later.

I walk into the New York City Department of Education offices as a concerned mother, fighting to get her child into a middle school, after being treated like I’m from another world—I leave as a disgruntled New Yorker (fitting in so soon) with a brand new career, homeschool teacher.

Pulling out logoed spiral notebooks, scribbled post-its, and dog-eared Nortons, I created a lesson plan and built a blog for housing it all. School was in session. As Jordan and I started working together in our unordinary circumstances as student and teacher in those first days, nerves and missteps were the norm.  Together, though, we discovered a natural rhythm through stories.

Jordan reads Achebe. 2011

Embracing the warm sun on our rooftop terrace overlooking Manhattan, we began with the first reading assignment, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It had been one of the last stories I studied before leaving college and one of the most meaningful. As she read and we discussed, the world readily opened in a special new way for her. Perhaps offering reflection on her misconceptions of homeschooling. Or maybe she glimpsed the way we were mistreated at the Department of Ed. And I even guessed she thought about her excitement over our recent move and how she would no doubt experience a fantastic transformation into a true New Yorker, adapting in ways that her parents probably never will.

Seeing the good and the ugly side of things is not a bad thing. It helps the light shine through. I hope I was able shed a little light into Jordan’s world, sparking a lifelong curiosity and a sincere compassion for others, a true lesson from Achebe.

The Rollins Motto is Fiat Lux, Let there be light, fitting words to honor the legacy of such an important writer and inspirational individual. You will be missed Achebe.


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