Prairie View

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Where the Land Has Muscle Tone

A former writing teacher of mine coined this wonderfully poetic description of Kansas. He wrote about it in a poem about Timothy, who lived in Sylvia, Kansas, and committed suicide, and he repeated it in an essay in a college newspaper, ending with the sentence below:

“But for now, I must continue to live in Sterling, Kansas, beautiful Kansas, an epiphany to all things good, where the work is pleasant, the salary low, and the land has muscle tone.”

–Suhail Hanna

One of our ministers, Gary Miller, quoted Dr. Hanna in a recent sermon, and it initiated a cascade of memories about the time in my life when our paths crossed. It happened at Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas.

After church I dug out a volume of his poetry on our shelf. It was titled Albino Cockroaches and dedicated to Howard Cosell, the nation’s number one word jock. On the title page he had autographed the book and included some very nice words about my writing. It was dated 1979.

Dr. Hanna and his wife were both born in Palestine and came to the United States as refugees. He arrived as a child in the late 1940s, with his family. Her family came during a later conflict in the 1960s. They were Arabic. Already in the late 70s, people who looked like Dr. Hanna were subjected to airport searches, apparently even when their countenance reflected benevolence as his did.

When I knew Dr. Hanna he was a committed Christian, and his life reflected peaceful domesticity. Twin sons were born during his years in Sterling, joining two older children in the family. Dr. Hanna moved to Liberty University in Virginia (where the salary was presumably not as low as at Sterling), and is apparently now teaching at Geneva College in Pennsylvania.

I learned something about Dr. Hanna’s past when I chanced upon an article he wrote for Eternity magazine. The title was “An Open Letter to Abbie Hoffman.” In the article he reminisced about their shared past as student activist organizers during the tumultuous years of the late 60s and early 70s. Abbie Hoffman went on to gain widespread notoriety for his social and political protest activities, some of them violent and illegal. At the time of Dr. Hanna’s writing, Hoffman was a fugitive from the law. In the Eternity article, Dr. Hanna wrote about his own conversion to Christianity and shared with Hoffman that he had found an agent of change far more powerful and effective than any they had known or dreamed of together.

In our fiction-writing class, Dr. Hanna read aloud our submissions and critiqued them as he went. This sounds scarier to me now than I remember it being at the time. I suspect that he was kind enough at heart to make the experience palatable for everyone.

A well-toned muscle is slightly tense even when it is at rest–potential energy waiting for the signal to become kinetic. That image perfectly describes the impression I have of Dr. Hanna’s life–at rest in Sterling, Kansas, but eager to become active in the larger arena of life, and displaying ever-so-fine mind and muscle tone when he undertook a writing task.

I’m glad I knew him, and I'm happy to live in a place where the land has muscle tone.


  • Suhail Hanna is a dear friend and a wonderful teacher and writer. I graduated from Geneva a few years ago with a writing degree; not only was Suhail my adviser, but I also had him for the bulk of my classes.

    He and his classes are indelible--some of my college education is already slipping away, but not what Hanna taught. I'm glad to see others have been touched by he and his family as well!

    By Blogger Jason, at 8/20/2007  

  • Jason, I'm delighted to hear from someone who has had recent contact with Dr. Hanna. Even an internet search didn't reveal much about what he's been up to recently, so this is news I've been waiting for.

    I'm curious--How did you find this blog entry?

    Miriam Iwashige (aka Mrs. I.)

    By Blogger Victor, at 8/20/2007  

  • Oops. I did it again--failed to notice that the new guy in the household had signed in on my computer.

    Miriam I.

    By Blogger Mrs. I, at 8/20/2007  

  • Well, I work for Geneva's public relations department--I keep tabs on any mention of Geneva in the news, using the Google Alert function. Your 'blog showed up for it. (It's not part of my job to intrude on peoples' personal writing, but I looked because I saw Hanna's name and was instantly intrigued.)

    The next time he and I have lunch (soon I hope!) I'll mention you, if you don't mind.

    By Blogger Jason, at 8/20/2007  

  • Please do, and give him my warm greetings. Tell him my maiden name (when he knew me)was Miller. I am Amish Mennonite. That narrows down the crowd of former students quite a bit, I imagine.

    By Blogger Mrs. I, at 8/23/2007  

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