Dear Gerig Hall,
This morning, I woke up, glanced bleary-eyed at my alarm—at that particular alarm.
And smiled. (Which, I should add, in case you are one of those ridiculously cheerful morning people, is not normal.)
But let’s go back exactly two years ago. April 29, 2012. College junior Amy (shorter hair, slightly more cocky) is sitting at her computer, writing a blog post for the next day. For background, you should probably read that blog post, because in it, she challenges herself to a social experiment: get to know people in a dorm called Gerig Hall. (That’s you.)
This experiment consisted of a year of theological conversations, stargazing, Easter eggs, breakfast at midnight (but basically nothing else from the Taylor Swift song, thank everything that is good and right), worship nights, frozen yogurt, trash chute serenades, and board games that involved killing aliens, bioterrorists, outlaws, zombies, and each other.
By April 29, 2013, I considered the experiment a rousing success.
I remember hearing an upperclassman grumbling about how the dorm wasn’t what it used to be, and how many problems there were, and I thought, Well, of course. It’s a place full of people.
And I loved those people. That’s what made the difference. You did a good job of loving me, too, even on the days when I was not loveable.
Oh, you remember those days. When I burnt the bacon early in the morning and set off the fire alarms, yes, sure, that day. But also when I needed your approval so badly that I was willing to steamroll over people to be impressive or witty. When I gave advice I couldn’t follow myself. When it was late and the game was still going on and goshdarnit, who are you to tell me that I’m being too competitive and overanalyzing things? It’s called strategy! (Or, you know, pride. Maybe that.)
When I was hungry, when I was too loud, when I was easily angered, when I was confused and lonely and afraid of the future.
You loved me then.
Probably all of you can think of your own “whens”—those times when you were distinctly unloveable and couldn’t hide it, because you couldn’t get away from these people. It’s harder to hide, isn’t it? Harder to pretend.
Funny—in the “real world,” it’s easier to be fake. Or, at least, you have to work harder to be yourself around others and not be afraid.
But remember something, once you graduate and leave Taylor University: the glory days were never all that glorious. The people were still human (and sometimes annoying), the days were still long, the frustrations and fears and failures were too many to list, even if your rose-colored memories drop them out of sight.
Nostalgia can trap us in a past that never will be again and never really was. It can keep us from being fully present where we are.
And yet, I still have an 8 a.m. alarm labeled, “Gerig Breakfast.”
It’s not because I want to go back in time two years. When I turn off that alarm on a Saturday in Minnesota, alone in my little apartment, it doesn’t make me regret, to wish I was going to breakfast with those strangers who became friends.
It reminds me that those people are here too. Wherever I am—that is Gerig Hall. It has to be.
It has to be home.
This morning, though, I woke up on the second floor of Gerig Hall. I turned off my alarm, smiling. And I went to breakfast with some wonderful people who can still finish my sentences and talk about theology and pretend it’s normal that I eat my Cheerios with peanut butter and jelly.
You were once strangers, and now you are friends. And that is a gift too.
This isn’t about Gerig Hall, or the community dynamics of a small Midwestern college. That’s too narrow. It comes down to this: God is a good storyteller. That’s the main reason I think my social experiment had such a happy ending.
No, not all stories end this way and not all friendships start this way. But I do believe that love covers over a multitude of awkwardness and uncertainty and fear and loneliness. When we step outside of our comfort zone to get to know others, that is a very good thing, something that mirrors the entire story of the Bible.
Jesus died so that our relationship with God would change. Once we were strangers; we’re now family. But he also died to change our relationship with each other.
Gerig Hall is the church, the body of Christ, the way Christians are supposed to relate to each other when things get hard…or when things get specific and you realize that “loving others” means loving your neighbor. Right there. That one.
Sometimes, you will have to love the people around you “when.” When they talk about stuff you care exactly nothing about, when they do that one thing you can’t stand, when they will not admit you are right even when the crushing weight of logic and all of historic Christian belief is on your side. It’s hard.
But then I remember college junior Amy writing that blog post exactly two years ago. And I think, Yes, it’s hard.
But in the end, doesn’t it make a good story?