Reflections on Between the World and Me

This year the entire EMU campus is reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  First year students were asked to examine the author’s description of a particular landscape and then respond to this question: How might you, like Coates, explain a familiar landscape to someone who also knows that landscape well?  Here is one response from this assignment.

The Identity of Being Alive

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ landscape changes physically throughout this excerpt from bustling streets to            railroad tracks in Europe.  However these physical changes point to something deeper, point to a change of identity in Coates that I resonate with as I begin college.

Coates marvels about New York City.  He loves the diversity of skin tones and the summertime heat that creates a pulsing landscape of inventive fashion.  This city is covered with small restaurants that feel intimate, holding the customers in a sense of belonging. Everything runs at high speed making him feel alive.

Coates moves to Europe and the physical landscape changes from a beloved city to an unfamiliar continent.  

In New York City, he sees himself in the children running to the quick, hot beat in the street. Life is familiar. In that place Coates is caught up in the life of billions of people.  When he reaches Europe he is no longer in that safe landscape, he’s helplessly alone.  In that change he comes to realize that the identity of being alive does not come from stimulation outside his body, but from within even when he feels out of place. Being a human is the most exhilarating existence and so when that’s all he has to belong within he feels incredible gratitude. He can be absolutely terrified and still grasp the most important part of life, our ever-changing, unpredictable existence.

I remember when I said goodbye to my parents. My physical landscape changed from rolling fields of corn to mountains everywhere the eye can see.  The town is much smaller and everything seems

spread apart.  I miss my city at home where I knew where to get the best ice cream and which breakfast spot would never disappoint.  Now I’m surrounded by lots of southern accents and a ton of people my own age.  The dorm doesn’t smell like the spices of our kitchen or Dad’s shampoo.  My brother’s cleats don’t trip me when I walk in the door.  When I was dropped off I felt the change in identity masked by feelings of freedom, fear, and excitement. I was alive and therefore had what I needed to belong. Here, I’m learning what it means to belong to the family of me, what it means to be afraid and yet totally, joyously alive.


Maya Dula is a first year Biology major from Lancaster, PA.