Yesterday I met the wonderful Artie Isaac, whom I discovered via his blog Net Cotton Content. As with any conversation between men in their fifties, our own turned to the topic of our children, whose stories weren’t ours to narrate we agreed. When it was time to bid adieu, Artie asked me, if he could give me a book – one that might enrich my discussions with my daughters around diversity. Being the shameless book collector that I’m I eagerly accepted his gift of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World And Me.
Later in the day, I found myself nearly 15 minutes early for my next meeting (a very unusual occurrence for me, as most folks who know me can vouch.) I cracked open the book and began reading. Right from page 1, the book written as a letter to his 15-year-old son grabbed me by the throat and sucked me right into it. All evening I struggled as to how best to describe the impact the book had on me. Then it occurred to me that others had been here before – and it was John Keats who so eloquently described his experience of discovering Homer’s work through Chapman’s translation. I reproduce his poem in whole below.
On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Much like stout Cortez in Keats’ poem or Keats himself reading Chapman’s translation, I too was transported to a whole another realm, held enthralled not just by the word picture that Coates painted but by the raw emotion, the immense clarity and urgent insight that he brought to me to understand what it was for a black man to grow up in Baltimore or the South-side of Chicago. In many ways, it brought back memories of seeing Boyz N The Hood back in 1992!
As leaders or even just as humans, all too often we lose sight of what’s important. Worse yet, we think we understand things – this book and Coates’ writing style brought me back to the simple insight, that there’s much we don’t know or even if we did, we don’t revisit it often enough to question our assumptions. Knowing oneself, the world around us and the others is an ongoing journey of discovery. Run out there and get this book. And thanks Artie for this wonderful gift!