Sunrise is something that cannot quite be described as only a physical experience. It is not simply the accumulation of different aesthetic sensibilities. The hues painted across the clouds by the sun’s rays signify more than just their external appearances. It is the rotation, an entire shift of perspective. It is a change of reference. It is the beginning of a new day, something that is humbling and, at the same time, exciting to witness.
It was something I needed after a night of delving into black sites and waterboarding techniques.
Back on July 6, at 7:00am I enthusiastically clicked on the register button for my fall 2016 course. It was the first Johns Hopkins experience that I was able to participate in. One of the classes I chose was expository writing. This is a unique writing course that introduces students to the form of the argument that allows them to develop their writing skills in a class of 15. Also, the class takes on many forms. Each section that the class is split into has a different topic. I chose politics and violence. Not only was the professor, George Oppel, praised on ratemyprofessor.com, but I also had a distinct interest in learning more about the topic.
Last night I was kept awake by a chapter in Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side: How the War on Terror Became a War on American Ideals. It described in vivid detail the treatment of Abu Zubaydah, a known conspirator in the 9/11 attacks and the first high profile U.S. detainee. The CIA, under the direction of the Bush Administration, subverted both American and International law in order to extract information out of Zubaydah—by basically any means possible. Was it worth it? Should it ever be deemed as worth it? It seems impossible to tell if the ends justify the means. In the end, they were unable to gain any actionable intelligence by breaking him. But what if it did? I had to grapple with these absolute American, enlightened ideas of morality. I had the idea that we held the world to a standard. On the other hand, was the fear of an eminent attack justified? If it meant saving lives, innocent lives, where do we draw the line?
The assignment was meant to be fun in a way, to get us to think. However, even at the end of four pages, I struggled to discern what was right from what was wrong. I printed my outline as I saw the blinds begin to lighten. It was 6:30 am. At 7:00 am, halfway into the fall semester, 3 months since I had registered for the class, I sat on the steps of the Homewood museum and stared out towards the ever changing, but serene sky. In the mist of the morning, blanketed by the yellows, oranges and creeping blue I found peace. This is a place that challenges us not just academically. Expository writing is not just about the grade. It forces us to think, to grapple, to struggle with our beliefs and our opinions, things that we may have thought of as obvious or self-evident. Knowing the answer, holding in our possession some type of absolute truth is not necessary, but being aware always will be.
P.S. On those steps, I also discovered that expository writing is definitely my favorite class this semester.