Tomorrow, this time, I will be on my way to Memphis. I will be completely done with my first year of law school and completely free for five beautiful summer days in a city that still, inexplicably yet somehow predictably, has my heart. I think it might have something to do with the idea behind this line I read today: If you can’t be yourself in Memphis, you can’t be yourself. In Memphis, I really was true to myself – and the best version of myself. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that back.
I envy all the new corps members who will soon arrive for Memphistitute and discover the wonder of the Bluff City. I hope they fall for Memphis as quickly as I did and make the most of their time there, whether it’s two years or a lifetime. I envy those I taught with who are still there, those I know who have made their lives there (for now, or forever). I don’t know if this is a case of the grass always being greener, but I do believe that I could have been very happy if I had just stayed put.
There has been no shortage of Memphis pride lately, what with the Grizzlies’ triumphs and ascension to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Their redemption story is the redemption story of Memphis; their heart, and grit, and grind reflects the same of every Memphian I know. I was there to watch the Grizzlies force a Game 7 against the Thunder, only to lose in OKC (conference semi-finals, 2011). I was there to witness the disappointment blanketing the FedEx Forum when we lost Game 7 to the Clippers after coming back from 3-1 (first round, 2012). I remember watching this season, though, and feeling like something like Fate was orchestrating a different story this time around. Clippers dispatched in 6. Thunder in 5. The road home is sweet – and victory sweeter.
The glorification of sports stars runs rampant, especially among my students, some of whom still haven’t quite realized their shot at going pro is equivalent to mine. And while I hesitate to encourage idolatry, I kind of like that my students might be learning a little something from these Grizzly men. They are a team people had counted out just a few seasons ago, a team maligned for its trades (see: Gasol/Gasol and Gay) and contract decisions (see: Conley) and underestimated for its ability to succeed without big stars (adios, Battier… see you in the NBA Finals?).
So many kids in Memphis have been counted out by their own city. That there is even debate over saving Pre-K is maddening. Cut something else if you must, but don’t cut the education of our youngest, most precious, most valuable assets. So many kids have been maligned for the dumb actions of a few, or worse, mere stereotypes, and underestimated for their intelligence and will.
On Sunday, I will watch my first class of students walk across a stage to collect their high school diplomas. I attended the commencement ceremonies each year I taught and had a handful of students graduate each time, but this will be the first time I get to see at least a couple dozen of them sporting caps and gowns. There’s something about graduation and seeing students so… grown up that fills my heart with the hope that anything is possible for them, that happy endings are out there.
I am well aware of the sobering reality. Last July, I attended a vigil for the teenage brother of a student of mine. It was the first time I’d been to one, and he was the first teenager I’d had any of kind connection to who had died. It made everything feel so hollow: what good was teaching math or ACT prep or life skills when our kids could die in their own streets at any time?
But maybe there’s some redemption still to be wrung out of Memphis, city of the inescapable Growl Towel. GRIT. GRIND. WE DON’T BLUFF. Our schools, our officials, our children just need to follow our team’s lead. We all need to Believe. It’s an exciting time to be in Memphis, to teach in Memphis.
My corps was told at Induction: this is the time, Memphis is the place. It’s still the time, it’s still the place. See you in 24 hours, Memphis.