The phrase is often simplified to one Akan word, “Sankofa” which translates in English to “go back and get it.” The symbol for the word, a bird with its head turned around, is sometimes carved into furniture or gold weights in Ghana.
When I was 12 and living in a Missouri subdivision, my dad decided to bury an electric pet fence for our dogs. I walked outside just as he was starting, a shovel in his gloved hand. I watched for a moment, then went to the garage, grabbed another shovel and started to dig next to him. We worked all afternoon and into the evening, talking and laughing our way through the four hour project.
As the sun went down, my back was sore and my hands, too small for the large shovel, were blistered, but I was thrilled. We stood in the middle of the yard, surveying the narrow mounds of dirt that covered the wire neatly buried all around the yard.
It has often occurred to me that we rarely realize we are learning lessons while we are in the process of learning them. We rarely pay attention to the details that will be forever embedded in our minds. The day Dad and I buried the fence was an ordinary day, but it has stuck with me as a symbol of the reward of hard work and the pleasure of working alongside someone you enjoy talking to.
Sankofa. To go back and get it. Return to the memories with the lessons hidden inside of them; learn from the past to face the future.
I don’t know what I will learn and experience as this semester closes, and I probably will be too distracted by life to recognize crucial lessons as they slip into my mind – and that’s OK. One day, when the time comes and the need arises, that lesson will be there, waiting for me to go back and get it.
Jessi Emmert is a senior journalism and history major. She also works at Our Sunday Visitor publishing company. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column reflects the views of the writer only.