Back to Ithaca

by Sarah Luna


According to some friends, there is “pretty snow” awaiting my arrival. I am ready to come back. I have a little bit of perspective and a vision for the upcoming semester.

It’s 0125 here in California. I’ve packed both my luggage and the boxes of books and gifts that will follow.

Packing always gives me a new sense of what’s important to me. Books, an electric blanket, old English papers. I have my travel outfit all set out–the same one I wore flying from Ithaca to California and from California to Texas. That kind of symmetry is comforting.

More than once I’ve (vainly?) wondered what Sherlock Holmes would think of me if he saw me randomly at an airport. I’m an unassuming, diminutive girl buried in coats but pulling only one small piece of luggage. A camera bag and a satchel fight for the territory on my right shoulder. My only jewelry is my Aggie Ring and a pair of mismatched China pearls. No makeup.

He would deduce that I was a student carrying lots of books. He would notice my affiliation with Texas A&M but know by my coats that I was living elsewhere. If he observed more closely, he would notice my posture and that I intermittently adjust my shoulders and hips to keep them aligned. From that, he would understand that I was either a dancer or an athlete. He would see that I talk to myself incessantly, moving my lips but making no sound. If he sat near me, he would notice the writer’s callus on my right middle finger and see that the book I am reading is not “light reading”. He might even guess my true intent if I bust out the flashcards I made.

flashing back…

On my flight back to California after visiting Texas, I sat next to a grandfatherly Black man with a lilting Southern accent. I had noticed that he carried a book titled An Introduction to Christian Theology and thought to myself, “I bet he’s interesting.”

He read his book, and I read mine. But as we descended towards Los Angeles, he asked me upon learning I was a California native to point out the Pacific Ocean, and we started conversing. I learned that he was attending an international conference on Black theology. He attended seminary and got his PhD in theology from Princeton and now teaches at a small college in Georgia and pastors. I stopped him at this point and inquired what exactly was “Black theology”? He response, as I understood it, was fascinating:

Black theology is the study of God in the context of slavery, emancipation, and segregation. How Black people interpret God’s presence in that context. It is the theology of an oppressed people. It began as the study of God and oppression specifically related to Black people, but the interesting part is that now these leaders are taking Black theology and applying it to other oppressed peoples in South America and Asia and reaching out to them.

We talked more on theology, and he remarked that “faith is seeking understanding”. He encouraged me to keep reading, discussing, questioning, and learning.

Each person has a story. I can choose to be anonymous and pass through people’s lives without leaving a trace. Or I can show just a little bit of Holmesian curiosity and engage in conversation.

So it’s back to Ithaca for me.  Though now I feel emboldened to be more visible and to have a bigger presence. I’m catching glimpses here and there of my purpose at Cornell, and I am excited to see what this semester will bring.