CLIFF’S EDGE: One for the Road and Back Home, Too

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Our daughter checked out the two audio books we took with us on our annual visit to a family reunion in Montana a few days ago. As I write this, we’re in St. Regis, Mont., one day out on our way back.

We finished one of the two books this afternoon. We may or may not get to the second in the 300 or so miles we have yet to go.

I’ll be satisfied with having gotten through the first.

It’s titled, “The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears,” written by Dinaw Mengestu, an Ethiopian émigré.

Based on the description of the audio book’s contents, I doubt that it would have been my choice for an extended road trip. That would have been my loss.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s what an audio book should be. We have listened to it. We have discussed it among ourselves in short bursts. We well may talk about it after we’re back home.

I’ve been rehashing it in my mind throughout the trip, partly as a result of the story it tells, but also because of the context in which we were hearing it.

It’s a tale of Sepha Stephannos, an Ethiopian, and two friends who have come from other African countries to take up immigrant lives near the historic Logan Circle district in Washington, D.C.

It’s an area rich in history, significant in the daily life of the nation’s capital, a popular tourist destination. But as Sepha arrives, at the turn of the 21st Century, it has become a low-income, decaying part of the city hosting an increasingly black-American population and immigrants.

What American cannot relate to this scenario or one similar to it?

From a historical perspective, such situations have been part of a thread in our nation’s tapestry and that of human existence throughout the world.

We’ve been among the boldest people in celebrating acceptance of new people to our midst, acceptance that has been tested at different times in different parts of the country.

Sepha’s tale of moving from one society to another comes out of revolution in Ethiopia where he witnesses his father’s abduction by soldiers in his own home in Addis Ababa, and leads him into the midst of a community’s evolution in America.

We’ve witnessed this tale before where comfortable situations become uncomfortable. Old inhabitants find the familiar suddenly unfamiliar. New inhabitants over create new familiarities. Old and new together redefine comfort.

That, in part, is Sepha’s story.

Another part is a reminder that these processes can involve major disruptions, even political revolution or social evolution .

But inevitably they come down to individual gains and losses, individual successes and failures.

Sepha’s experiences with both are the stuff of his story.

It has been good listening, and I’ll bring what I learned from it back to Burien with me where I will have cause to continue to reflect on it, I’m certain.

Cliff Rowe is a retired journalist and journalism professor. (He practiced both in a time before journalists and what they produced were considered “enemies of the people.”) He and his family have lived in the Shorewood area of White Center (then Burien) since 1969 when they returned to the Northwest after seven years in the Chicago area. There, following graduate school, he wrote and edited with the Chicago Sun-Times and with Paddock Publications in the Chicago suburbs. On moving here, he was with The Seattle Times for 11 years before turning to teaching journalism at Pacific Lutheran University for 35 years, retiring in 2015.

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One Response to “CLIFF’S EDGE: One for the Road and Back Home, Too”
  1. Avid reader & listener says:

    Bravo for recognizing this book and using it to open a door of discussion and consideration. Listening to a book brings the story to life in a personal way and gifts the listener with perspective and empathy. Most of us do not know a refugee nor have traveled to places where life is so drastically different from America although many of us have family ties to immigrants or refugees. We all benefit from understanding being a stranger in a strange land.

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