leaves

The Game of the Century

It’s Friday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, the day before Alabama plays LSU in what has become known as “The Game of the Century,” and what am I doing? As a current Alabama student, you’d think that I’d be out in the sunshine enjoying the festivities. But, by choice, I’m not. While Kirk Herbstreit, Erin Andrews, Urban Meyer, and the rest of the ESPN College GameDay crew entertain a live audience just a few hundred feet away from my apartment, I am sitting on my couch…reading.

But I’m not just reading anything. I’m sitting here (perfectly content, I might add) reading about achievement gaps in education and ways of turning public education’s failures into student success stories. Why am I reading about these things? Because last week I did something I never thought I would do – I submitted my application to become a Teach For America corps member. If I’m accepted, I will spend the next two years teaching in low-income schools. I became one step closer yesterday when I received an invitation via email to a final interview, scheduled for the last week of November.

As I read these articles that are a required part of the application process, I am reminded of two things. The first is an extra-credit paper I wrote for a class I took last spring. There was no required length, format, or topic for the paper, and I didn’t even need to write it to boost my grade…but I chose to write it anyway, and what I chose to write about was education. After reading nine books about topics as varied as technology, elitism, multiculturalism, childhood, and competition, education was the thread I saw running through each and every one of them, education as not only one of America’s great problems, but also as one of America’s great solutions. As I read these articles now, I feel as if I am reading my term paper, which, by the way, was a whopping 10 pages long.

The other thing I am reminded of when I read these articles is that there are waaaaay more important things than college football, just like there are waaaaay more important things than seeing your name in print, which is one reason I’ve recently decided to leave journalism behind and pursue teaching as a career path.

Oddly enough, I turned in the paper described above on April 27, or what I like to call “tornado day.” It was with my professor, who had our papers in his satchel, and the rest of my classmates that I sat on the floor of one the academic buildings on campus, listening to the ever-present tornado sirens and crouching in the kitchen as we watched video footage of a big, gray cloud making its way our direction. I’m not saying the tornado changed my career path. I was obviously thinking a lot about education beforehand. I’m just saying it’s funny how interrelated the tornado and my new life plan seem to be. Everything I ever wrote – papers, creative pieces, journalism articles – everything was destroyed by the tornado. But I don’t even care. They were pieces of paper with my name on them, and though I enjoyed writing them, I doubt anyone will ever remember them except for me.

With all of that said, I will be in Bryant-Denny Stadium tomorrow no later than 4 p.m., as I paid only $5 for my ticket and love college football more than anyone. Accidentally wore a purple scarf today, but no big. Wearing red tomorrow. Roll tide.

river

A Reflection About River Towns

Do you have a favorite body of water? Mine is the river. I love rivers especially because of what they do to cities…that is, they authenticate them, give them resiliency, knowledge, history, life.

Let me explain. For the most part, I hate cities, especially big ones. The ones I do like (Nashville, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Birmingham, to name a few) are located on or very near rivers. So are Paris and London, two of the most well-loved cities in the world.

This river-city connection isn’t something I discovered until I moved from the big (non-river) city of Houston to the river town of Tuscaloosa for college. The first time I visited Tuscaloosa, I was fascinated by the Black Warrior River, and to this day my favorite places in town are the River Walk and the all-wooden trestle bridge that crosses the river and connects Tuscaloosa to its sister city Northport. My favorite street is Jack Warner Parkway, the only street in town that follows the river from city limit to city limit. My favorite thing about the city (and other cities with rivers) is the people who seem to care not about money or prestige, but about community, the environment, art, history, and, most importantly, other people.

These aren’t typical characteristics of cities, which tend to isolate and seclude rather than bring together. No, the citizens of river towns are the ones who seem most attentive to the passage of time and the importance of people. The citizens of river towns seem most aware of the fact that every human being is fallible, but precious. The citizens of river towns are the ones who understand that nothing is ever created in isolation.

It’s almost as if the river – whose waters change every second of every hour of every day, carving new shorelines with every flood of its banks and revealing in stages tree roots that have previously been buried for centuries – reminds its city that nothing is stagnant. Even today, an age when motor vehicles have taken over and rivers transport less than they used to, I can look at the river every day and see barges pushing cargo across miles and miles of land, just like travelers, goods, and ideas were pushed down rivers decades before now.  How can we not be reminded that history is made in the present?

One month ago today, a half-mile-wide tornado ravaged this river town where I’ve lived the last three years, the place I’ve come to call “home.” It left 41 residents dead, including six University of Alabama students. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, including the homes of at least four of my former professors, as well as my own.

Since April 27, Tuscaloosa has received steady amounts of praise for pulling together and for helping neighbors who need help. But this praise comes as no surprise to me – it’s the river town in us. We don’t need a tornado to tell us what’s important. We already know that wallowing in self-pity does nothing. We already know that what is destroyed can always be rebuilt. We already know that what is bad can always be worse. We already know that there are things more powerful than us.

In this case, we know that more students and residents could have and probably should have died when we survey the damage, and we thank God they didn’t. Personally, I know that my house is gone, but I also know that my favorite parts of this city, both tangible and intangible, are still here. We still have the river, its huge trees, the Historic District, and downtown. We still have our community, our parks, our art, and our history. We still have our spirit.

As I start my fourth and final year at The University of Alabama, I’m living in a town that many people have said is unrecognizable. I say it’s perfectly recognizable, at least in spirit. Physically, it’s only a matter of time before it will be recognizable again. New Orleans overcame Katrina. Nashville overcame its floods. Tuscaloosa will overcome its tornado.