Saturday, January 28, 2017
A Pleasant Return to Yesteryear
Yesterday, I walked--slowly, slowly! (ice!)--up to the chapel at Western Reserve Academy, where I taught the final decade of my career (2001-2011). One of best students my first year was Sulome Anderson, who, I recognized very quickly, was one of the finest writers I'd ever taught. She was mechanically flawless--but her sentences were sinuous, even complicated. But she handled it all with aplomb.
So I can't say that I was at all surprised--just happy!--to learn that she has recently published a book, The Hostage's Daughter: A Memoir of Family, Madness, and the Middle East (Dey St., 2016), a work that earned a terrific review in the New York Times, whose reviewer called it "a complex and engaging memoir." (Link to the entire review.)
Sulome is the daughter of journalist Terry Anderson, snatched by terrorists in Beirut in 1985 and held in grim captivity for seven years. Sulome was not quite yet born when this occurred and so did not actually meet her father until late 1991 when he was finally released.
I'm going to blog a bit more about the book itself in my "Sunday Sundries" tomorrow--but I'll just say here that I consumed it in two bursts in a single day. Rapid but revelatory prose.
Anyway, Sulome had returned to her former high school to talk with the students about her experiences, her book--and to speak with them, as well, about how they ought to go about their lives. The word empathy came up a lot in her talk (I silently applauded each time), a word she has a deep appreciation for because, you see, she is now a journalist in the Middle East, spending months every year in Lebanon (and elsewhere), facing danger and devastation so frequently as to astonish me. She radiates courage--but is far, far too self-effacing to aim the spotlight at herself.
She wants us to notice the forgotten ones, the ones who suffer more every hour than most of us do in a lifetime.
The students were very receptive, were full of questions, and, later, I was happy to be among those to have lunch with her (the chocolate-chip cookies reminding me how sweet sin can be). So great to talk with her again and to see that in fundamental ways she remains the Sulome I knew--but who, by finding the identity and purpose that she had sought in high school, has moved beyond potential into a most admirable adulthood.
She spent the entire day at the school, visiting classes, attending a student production in the evening of Twelve Angry Jurors (a play I used to teach in Aurora--Back in the Day), and socializing with so many of the teachers who had taught and admired her.
I can think of few experiences as important for students as seeing one of their own become such an inspirational but humble figure.