(In response to student requests that I provide them with my own answer to a reflection essay on the topic.)
I have no simple answers to the simple questions.
Alaska. Michigan. Ohio. Wyoming. Oregon. That is where I am from.
My father is African-American, apart from some Cherokee and traces of Thomas Jefferson on his mother’s side, and either Quakers or Puritans on his father’s side (hence the last name). He spent twenty years in the Air Force before working for the State of Ohio and retiring again. My mother is Irish-German, probably Jewish-German given her maiden name, but the family secret for a while was that a few generations back there was some Blackfoot, too. She works in early child education. They divorced the year after I graduated college. I have a younger sister who is an Air Force captain. Who they are is a part of who I am.
I went to college at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. I majored in German and religion, and studied abroad in France and Germany. I sang in a Christian men’s a capella ensemble, which was at least as cheesy as you imagine, and was a brother in a dry fraternity. (Yes, that kind of dry.)
I spent the year after graduation waiting tables, apart from two weeks attempting to sell cars.
I moved to St. Louis for grad school: a Master of Divinity and, after a year as a Starbucks barista, a Ph.D. in historical theology. My nine years in St. Louis are the longest I have ever lived in one spot (by four years). I met my wife (and our dog) there.
Enelia was born in Colombia and moved to the U.S. when she was twelve, first to New Jersey, then to South Carolina by the time she began high school. Through her work in graphic design, she has taught me to seek beauty and order in visual things. Emma is our “little miracle,” half Beagle, half German Shepherd. (Miracle indeed.) In protest of the commercialization of romance, our Valentine’s Day tradition is to stay home, eat fast food hamburgers, and watch a new Tarantino movie. We run together. We cook. We finish each other’s sandwiches. We travel, in the U.S. and abroad. Shenanigans ensue, like when the LAPD bomb squad evacuated our terminal at LAX en route to our honeymoon. We help each other in our work (I’m her go-to “idea guy,” though most of my ideas are terrible, and she is my copy editor). We sing, we dance, we speak our own language, all in the privacy of our own home. We have entire conversations comprised of rehashed movie quotes and misremembered song lyrics. Without her, I was lost alone in a jungle of mystery.
I have wanted to be many things: when I was six, I wanted to be a wizard; eight, a detective; twelve, a scientist; sixteen, a novelist and poet. I am none of these. I am all of these. The last mystery I solved was the case of the Protestant nuns who blamed themselves for the Holocaust. When the book is out, if the readers are in their right minds, the tale I tell will cast a spell. It is a story of joy.
I speak four languages and can fumble through reading another two or three. And I want to learn more.
I am a lefty. I eat every two hours, except for when I sleep. I swim. I play the viola and am learning to play the piano.
I remember all of the 1980s, back before vampires became lame.
Sometimes I feel others’ pain more acutely than my own.
* * *
I am a stranger. You know me well.
I am your brother. Your somehow cousin.
I am your beardless Dumbledore, your pale Morpheus. O captain, your captain!
I am a sign beside the road, pointing the way to God knows what.
These are not the answers you are looking for.
I share no simple answers because I have none to give.
The questions worth asking never have easy answers; but the answers are still worth seeking.