Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison lectures at West Point Military Academy in March 2013.


The back to school season carries its own cliches with it, among them breathless urgings to be excited but not stressed, to be prepared but not rigid, to dream big but not expect too much. It’s all about the future and the contradictory ways in which we should receive it. 

It can be maddening to navigate such directives, and more maddening still to look to the future with tunnel vision, so I propose something else: Herald the new academic year by looking first to the past.

There is value in reflection, whether it entails a morning meditation session or gazing sightlessly at your ceiling before bed, when it is done with a purposeful lens.

Wandering the paths of memory can be as harmful as it can be helpful, but trudging through the graveyards of the mind with an intention to wring out some pattern or lesson or cause for gratitude is worth the bruises. At the very least, it is a better use of your time than deciding whether you must flinch in the face of the future or reach out to embrace it.

Lenses for reflection come in many forms. You don’t need a mantra or a religious ritual to delve into the past with purpose. Words are enough; a quote from some scrap of literature or someone’s Instagram story that moves you makes a fine enough lantern. The goal is to feel something, to ground yourself in an emotion before you wander the paths, and words can be the balm or the knife that you need to do so. 

There are countless writers and pieces you could call on, though I recommend the works of Toni Morrison as an excellent source of that necessary profundity.

Earlier this month, Morrison passed away at the age of 88, her loss reverberating across the Black community, the literary community and hundreds of other interconnected circles.

Most know her as one of the few Black authors to make it on to high school English curricula with her celebrated novel “Beloved.” Among her accolades are the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but no biography captures her essence as well as her very own heart-rending words. 

In “Song of Solomon” she writes, “Perhaps that’s what all human relationships boil down to: Would you save my life? Or would you take it?”

In “Paradise” she writes, “You do not deserve love just because you want it. You can only earn — by practice and careful contemplations — the right to express it, and you have to learn how to accept it.” 

Whether you want to reflect on failed relationships, on the thorny path to self-love, on what it means to be human amongst racial violence — Morrison is there. Whether you want to reflect on your progress towards further saturating the world with freedom, on making art that rings true, on surviving, Morrison is there. Ring in this new academic year by exploring things you once knew instead of trying to divine the future, and if you haven’t already, pay homage to one of the greatest writers of our time, and pick up “Beloved.”

Aroog Khaliq is a junior from Overland Park studying English and psychology.