Jennifer Lemma is a philosophy instructor at Walla Walla Community College.
There is a delicious scent in the air as we sit down to open January’s container of insight. Feelings of security and sated contentment overwhelm us. Nostalgic, poignant, emotional and powerful, this month’s vessel holds wisdom from the kitchen. It is an edible cultural identity, nourishment for both mind and body. January’s philosophy is one of food, of course.
November’s backpack holds an invitation to a table celebrating gratitude and courage, some wise words from a former president and a whole lot of what Dr. Brené Brown would define as vulnerability.
Two years ago this month, we first opened the Philosopher’s Backpack. As we hit through the cycle, we arrive where we began: postseason baseball. This October’s backpack holds a Rudyard Kipling poem, a Red Sox baseball hat and — dare this Boston fan admit? — a pinstriped jersey with the Captain’s number 2 on the back.
Opening August’s backpack is fairly difficult because, well, we seem to have misplaced it. We retrace our steps, trying to recall what we were doing before we lost it. Nevertheless, for a panicked moment or two, we cannot remember where we put it. When we do recover it, the relief of finding it is obscured by the realization of its curious contents.
July’s backpack contains the right stuff. As with so many philosophical discussions, the right stuff is a perplexing load to haul. If the pack is carried one way, it is burdensome; when it is worn another way, liberating. This month’s philosophy is anything but trendy. It is not fashionable, but the right stuff rarely is.
June is a sneaky month of transition. It is the month wherein we celebrate a slew of graduations, enlistments and marriages. Paradoxically, it is also the month we take vacations, celebrate Father’s Day and look forward to warmer weather. We simultaneously celebrate profound rites of passage and look forward to benign distractions of non-commitments, of whimsy, of pleasurable summer pursuits.
We don’t open this month’s backpack on a vista, in a peaceful setting or during a moment of sweet contemplation. This month’s backpack is found in the trenches. It is inaugurated in schools and reinforced in hospital wings. It is ripped open and then gently passed from one soul to another in mourning.
April’s attitude is cheeky, defiant and contagious. It is like an unruly hairstyle that won’t fit neatly under a hat. It’s surprisingly substantive, however, despite its love-at-first-sight optimistic brashness and its throw-caution-to-the-wind spirit. Its depth takes us off guard.
March’s backpack was left outside by accident, so it is pretty damp, fairly muddy and kind of stinky. Opening it hesitantly, we are a bit apprehensive about its contents knowing the papers are rain-damaged and most likely ruined.
Chained from childhood to one another in a darkened space with a fire lit behind us, casting shadows on the wall, the cave becomes our representation of reality — albeit a false one.