Responsibility and abandonment

Before returning to Geneseo in the fall of 2021 as a sophomore, I completed the task of reading through the syllabi for my upcoming courses. When I approached the syllabus for INTD 105, a first year seminar that I would be taking as a second year student, it occurred to me that this course would focus its energy on the growth of the students in the class. The course epigraph, a quote from Song of Solomon that would suggest the theme of the course, immediately caught my attention. The epigraph for this semester’s course is, “You can’t just fly on off and leave a body” – Toni Morrison. At first glance, this sentence was powerful to me and sparked my interest in finding out the context behind it. To me, I immediately correlated the epigraph with the harmfulness of abandonment. When I got to the first day of INTD 105, Dr. Beth McCoy introduced the syllabus to the class as a whole, including the course epigraph. She explained how that sentence would be relevant to our class from that day forward. From that day on, I have been using the epigraph as well as the other important course concepts, not only in INTD 105, but in the rest of my courses and outside of academics. The course epigraph has helped me grow not only as a student but as a person due to its influential message of owning up to your personal responsibilities.

As a second year student at SUNY Geneseo, I have not had a ‘normal’ educational experience in two years. My senior year of high school was cut short due to the covid pandemic, leading my first year at college to be modified in a sense. Having to wear masks everywhere,

restrictions placed on social experiences, and having half of my classes online was not ideal for my growth as a college student. These setbacks hindered my ability to hold myself accountable to all of my school work and responsibilities as a first year student. Generally, my approach to my education was not where it should have been, which needed to shift for my second year at Geneseo. When I came back to start the 2021 fall semester, I knew that I needed to hold myself accountable to my educational obligations. Even though this year has not been normal compared to past years, I have more responsibilities than I have ever had. All of my classes are in person, the workload is heavier, and my classes are progressing in difficulty. As well as being a student at Geneseo, I am also an athlete as a member of the Track and Field team where I have many responsibilities as well. This year we have normal scheduled seasons, meaning I am practicing everyday throughout the whole year. So, I am not only occupied with more school work, I have less time in my day to complete it. I knew these were going to be the circumstances for my sophomore year of college and I needed to shift my way of approaching academics, but I was not sure of how I would change my outlook on my school work. Fortunately, the course epigraph, “You can’t just fly on off and leave a body,” gave me a new perspective on how to apply myself to my responsibilities as a second year student athlete at Geneseo. 

When Beth first introduced the syllabus to our class, she explained how the epigraph would be an integral part of our course throughout the semester. She also asked us to think about what we thought the quote meant to us at that point in time. Since we would be reading Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison for this class, the epigraph would play an important role for us. When we were asked to think about what the quote meant to us, I immediately thought of abandonment. At the time I did not know the context of the quote, whether there was an actual body that was being left or not, but I did know that leaving that “body” was harmful. I associated the quote with the importance of fulfilling your personal responsibilities. Because we had not yet explored the quote in its context, this made sense to me as it could be an ethical theme for our course. As we went on in the semester, the course epigraph continued to be present in our studies. We began to read Song of Solomon for the course, piecing together what the epigraph meant to us.

Throughout the book, flight is mentioned multiple times, both literally and symbolically. In each of these occurrences, flight is used as an escape from adversity. In chapter one, an insurance agent, Robert Smith, jumps from the top of the hospital wearing a pair of wings, taking flight for a brief moment before falling to his death, escaping his responsibilities that we learn more about later in the book. Then, scattered throughout the rest of the book, characters including Milkman and Pilate, often mention flying away from hard situations in a metaphorical sense. At the end of the book, Pilate is shot by Guitar as Milkman is next to her. Milkman realized how special Pilate was as she was dying because of her ability to fly. As he is kneeling next to Pilate as she is drifting towards death, Milkman grasps onto the realization that Pilate is special, “Now he knew why he loved her so. Without ever leaving the ground, she could fly” (pg. 336). He became aware of how Pilate was capable of “flying” without leaving anything behind.

When the epigraph is first mentioned in Song of Solomon, it is explaining Pilate’s dilemma after giving birth to her daughter. The father of Pilate’s child was not in their life after their daughter was born because of the advice he gave to Pilate. When Pilate was a young girl, her brother and herself ran away from home after their father was murdered and killed a man in a cave out of self defense. She felt guilty about this and her child’s father understood this. He gave her the advice of “you can’t just fly on off and leave a body,” causing Pilate to return to the cave as an adult and collect the bones that were still present. The last time the epigraph was mentioned was when Pilate had Milkman in her basement after he killed her granddaughter, Hagar. As Milkman is locked in the cellar, he is thinking about what Pilate had mentioned to him about flying off and leaving a body. He realizes that her way of thinking is all wrong as she is not actually carrying the bones of the man that she killed, but the bones of her own father. Milkman tells Pilate this and she is shocked. She realizes that she left the body of the man whose life she took and was carrying the body of her father who she missed dearly. After she comes to realize this, she leaves the room and returns with a box of Hagar’s hair to give to Milkman, so he has a part of the body that he killed.

Based on the context of where the quote, “You can’t just fly on off and leave a body” is located in Song of Solomon, I had come to realize that in a literal sense, it means exactly what it says. Because both Pilate and Milkman had taken the life of another person, they needed to have a part of their body with them as a sort of atonement for taking their life. In a metaphorical sense, I have come to believe that the epigraph means that you cannot abandon or forget the things that you have done in the past and that you have to carry those experiences with you and grow from them. 

The interpretation of the course epigraph is deep in many senses, but is applicable to this INTD course and academics in general. In our course, there are many course concepts that go along with the course epigraph, including acting in good faith and caring for accountability to the course, yourself, and your peers. Using the meaning of the epigraph that I have established for myself, not abandoning past experiences and responsibilities and growing from them, I have been able to connect all of the course concepts and used them in all of my academic courses this semester. Because of the meaning that I have correlated to the epigraph, I have connected this meaning to the rest of the course concepts in order to hold myself accountable to all of my responsibilities, academically and personally. Having these notions in place this semester have helped me grow as a student by compelling myself to complete all of my work in a timely, effective, and good faith manner. 

Overall, taking this course and applying its epigraph to my academics has improved my role as a student tremendously. “You can’t just fly on off and leave a body,” the powerful driving force in our class this semester has more influence than one would assume based on its dynamic message of staying with your responsibilities and the discouragement of abandoning them.

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