“Things fall apart: the center cannot hold”
--W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming
“There are no rules, but the center holds.”
--me, a report from the field
5:30 am arrived with the news that Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian writer, was dead. I know only a teaspoon of Achebe’s prolific writing ocean--his most famous book which also happens to be Hannah’s favorite, Things Fall Apart. Throughout the day the phrase ran through my head as I considered the unlikely literary hero, an educated Nigerian speaking truth to power at both ends of the spectrum when colonial became post-colonial and a country wrote its own, often painful story with the instruments left in a hastily emptied desk.
In a 1994 interview with the Paris Review, Achebe noted that his love of stories led him to understand that they only reflected one point of view.
"There is that great proverb -- that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. ... Once I realized that, I had to be a writer. I had to be that historian," he said. "It's not one man's job. It's not one person's job. But it is something we have to do, so that the story of the hunt will also reflect the agony, the travail -- the bravery, even, of the lions."
The morning was still dark when it carried such a story to my door--weighty with life and chronicle. Next to its deserving subject matter, Rustin Dodd’s profile of KU player Travis Releford is most notably marked by its animated, yet effortless prose.
With the evening’s game still three meals and a thousand nerves away, Travis Releford’s story reminded me that even high roads have unexpected left turns and occasional detours. I remember when he was in high school, all AAU swag and post-season honor, an anointed Jayhawk in a town where the bird is even more mythical than usual. Who knew there would be time on the bench and a redshirt season ahead? That the day would come when all that seasoning would produce an unexpected harvest of wisdom, a joy perhaps sweeter because of its delay?
These lessons are not for the faint of heart and seldom are they for the young—perhaps the reason I was so moved. Here is a young man who did not wither, rooted in local soil and standing tall in our midst. With gratitude for the witness, I headed in to work.
Eight hours later, I left the office and drove through basketball fans to a stage just south with a slightly different performance scheduled. When I told a colleague I was going to the ballet, he shared that while he’d thoroughly enjoyed the program's first two pieces - a Balanchine-esque modern composition and a psyche-busting pas de deux, he hadn’t much cared for the more traditional Midsummer Night’s Dream that comprised the second act. Willing myself to objectivity, I laughed my way through dinner and headed into the freezing night with a cleared head. Thank God.
I’ve never been a dancer and I saw my first ballet only 3 years ago so my reaction is typically that of a child—raw response to creativity, talent and beauty—the fury of gravity defied, paragraphs spoken in a glancing embrace. It’s a language all its own, yet oddly, not unlike the conversation happening just a few blocks away with four quarters of choreography and breathtaking moves. Such highly specialized skills—such unspoken dialects. Put a boombox on a street in Nairobi and watch the people talk without ever saying a word. Roll a ball onto a playground and walk away. Come back an hour later and every kid there will be speaking basketball.
Magic—it’s a universal language.
And on a day when I thought I’d reached my enchantment limit, I got home and found a little more. Flipping through the channels in search of a KU game I knew was on (and never did find, thank you very much) I found something else instead—soccer in the snow. A World Cup Qualifier between the US and Costa Rica got caught in a blizzard in Denver and became yet another symbol of the surprises a day can bring. For the rest of my life I’ll remember with a smile the images of grown men playing a game they’ve known since they were children with a kind of joy I last saw in Riverside Park.
At the end, an hour into Saturday, there was one more gift, the best kind of all—one I got to give. Mary Glen got home from a 14-hour day and came upstairs cold and weary, landing on my bed in heap. The day before I’d listened to her dear friend Lizzie Quinlan’s band for the first time and knew that if anything could bridge the distance between Kansas and California, this might be it. I pressed play and watched her tearful cheeks mirror my own; familiar voices, notes and inspiration shimmering through the airwaves, love and gratitude sailing back. All I wanted was an anthem, somewhere to be from.