“You know Emerson is required reading here. Like the bible is in Catholic schools. Emerson is the god of prep schools and it’s half our grade. Get with it or get lost.”
Sitting in the lobby of our athletic building, I knew my boy was right. No matter how tired I was of re-reading ‘Self-Reliance,’ the importance of an essay like that at a school like ours could not be overstated. The history of the place was part of your tuition bill and whose alumni were the TED talks before their time type folks. High on the hilltop, they didn’t just produce graduates, they produces experts and we had signed our contract to be groomed as such the minute we walked across the lush green quad.
My English teacher at the time was a man who had gone through the same kind of schooling. He’d attended a similar school, steeped in history that had unknowingly produced a rebel connoisseur of literature, as well as Toure. At the time, I figured environments like ours even with varying degrees of difference attracted or produced the same kind folks: zealous and indignant intellectuals. At the time, as a scholarship kid who lived in a different world than the lush greens than most of my classmates, I had no time to be either.
The Ralph Waldo Emerson’s collection of essays we were told to by came in slim yellow and blue book but were denser than anything we’d gone through thus far. The assignment was to read Emerson’s manifesto and writing your own- required homework that felt like overkill. This was the kind of thing rich romantics did in fields over looking the Hudson, so far up it sounded like a babbling brook. I went home to house that smelled full of friend plantains cooked up for the week where I’d see my laboring parents twice a week for hours at a time.
While Self-Reliance was meant to be the star of the book, it was another essay titled “The Oversoul” that drew me in. Emerson seeks to answer the question that many of us often wonder: how do I know this life is not in vain? In one of his final paragraphs he wrote something that to this day is heavily bled over in neon yellow hi-liter pen.
“Behold, I am born into the great, the universal mind. I, the imperfect, adore my own Perfect…So I come to live in thoughts a, and act with energies, which are immortal. Those revering the soul, and learning, as the ancient said, that ‘its beauty is immense.’”
For the first time in the years I’d been at the school, I finally understood that I, imperfect, was a part the positives the culture had to offer. I was allowed to be a thinker, I was allowed to be both an intellectual and a do-er- in fact, I was meant to. To this day, I often have that revelation finding myself surrounded by brilliance and among the best. Every once in a while I have to grab that little girl with box braids and shea buttered skin and tell her, “your beauty is immense.” We all do. Because we all know what it is like to be surrounded by greatness. And in those moments we are all given the choice to feel estranged to it or partake. How awesome it is to realize that without you, this great work would not be complete.
Today, do not downplay what you bring to the table. Take pride in knowing that this world would be missing something without you.