After over half a year in Philadelphia, I returned to Memphis over my spring break last week, and it was such a thrill. It was the first time – since moving away – that I could call myself a visitor to Memphis. I was only in the city for one full day, and much of it was taken up by professional matters, but I was lucky enough to see many old friends in my short time there.
It was so weird to be back! I think it must be like that for any place you leave and return to, as I have experienced it with Orlando many a time, and I am sure I will feel that way about Penn State when I finally make it back. It’s like nothing has changed, and you feel a sense of being welcomed home, and yet, you know you are not the same, and you no longer belong. Driving (okay, being driven) down the same roads I had been so used to taking felt so familiar, and yet, I didn’t even notice when my cab driver missed a turn to the airport. How many times had I taken that same exact route? (In my defense, I guess, I will say that it was 5:45 a.m. and I had been up past 2 a.m. gabbing with my old roommates.)
Memphis feels so warm to me now, just newly removed, and with so many dear friends still there. Will it continue to be this way, especially as some people inevitably move? Who can say? All I know is that in my 33 hours there, my heart felt fuller than it had ever been here in Philadelphia, save for when my family was visiting. I never realized how much I missed real hugs and real talk. It’s unfair to expect the same kind of relationships to have developed so “soon” here, I suppose, but I know that what I have with my Memphis friends (Memphriends?) – really, a Memphis family (Memphamily!) – is something precious and special. Fittingly, today, a friend posted a link to this photo, which I have now made my desktop background, the first non-default one I have had in over a year.
Though I did not get to see my own kids, I did get to visit a middle school, and I actually teared up in a classroom, looking out into a sea of little heads bent over desks, working on a test. In those uniformed boys, so dapper in ties and sweater vests, I saw miniature versions of my high-schoolers (for whom it was sometimes a challenge just to tuck in a white polo shirt…), and I could not have hoped harder for their education to put them on fulfilling, stereotype-defying paths. There is so much potential in the children of Memphis, the adults, the city itself. I wish even more people, both inside and outside Memphis, would recognize that.
I’ll be sure to catch my students on the next visit or two, which I am planning for May. Out of the blue, though, also during spring break, I got a call from some of them who were in Texas at a robotics competition, and in a week filled with countless highs, getting to talking to them was definitely near the top of the list. One student told me she’d been accepted to a summer program at Andover. I near-flipped out over the phone. Another reminded me of my promise to be there for her graduation in 2014. I assured her I would do my very best both this year and next. It’s things like that, and things like my trip “home,” that remind me how much I treasure my time, my life, in Memphis and everyone I had the opportunity to teach and work with and learn from and get to know.
I still feel so blessed to have been placed in a city I came to love quickly with people I also came to love quickly. For all the new – and current – corps members out there, my greatest wish for you all, on the personal, not professional, spectrum (but those can sometimes be close in relation), is that you find yourself at home in your region. On the hardest days, in the corps, after the corps, it makes all the difference to know there is a home for you somewhere with a family you chose. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the family I was born into, and I guess I feel connected to my “hometown,” which really is just where I went to high school and where my family happens to live, but there is some indescribable beauty in being loved by people you aren’t related to in a city that embraced you when you were an outsider.)
Teaching in Memphis was one of the true joys of my life, and I think and hope I will always consider it so.