Some things, being so much worth celebrating, so much more than what you had been hoping for, and yet, so much a part of a much larger story, are near impossible to communicate.
Should a casual onlooker have dropped by my apartment on a recent morning, he or she would have noticed a few things. Among them–three sets of shoes thrown about and a disorderly pile of clothes and books. If Waldo had been hiding in the corner, he’d of never been found. Yet, I remain a perpetually organizing, color-coding, stressed-when-a-room-is-cluttered neat freak.
All that’s to say, there is an inverse relationship between time I have to breathe each day and the cleanliness of my room. Less time begets a a bigger mess.
The routine of the semester has comfortably set in and the predictions I made about how I would spend my time are proving to be accurate. I recently met a paper deadline for a seminar class with about six hours of work, including all reading time. By contrast, I’ll usually spend about six hours just preparing to do thesis writing every Saturday.
So with a skilled mental division of labor, I chose not to think about how this week’s Veritas Forum would upset my schedule. Veritas seeks to engage the larger campus community with “life’s hardest questions” and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of it. Academics who lead the forums include pretty much all the vocal Christian intellectuals who you’d think would be into this kind of thing, the scholars who like to tell them that they are wrong, and the most popular professors on each campus that hosts an event.
I knew Veritas was going to be good. The marketing team killed it, the topic was provoking (science and faith), the guest speaker a genius, and it all felt right. Last year, 100 people turned out for the first-time event. This year, I fully expected 120-150 students and great discussion.
I showed up during the hour between final tech preparations and when people were expected to start arriving, just because I wanted some time to sit and pray in the room.
But it didn’t work. People started coming—super early. That never happens on a college campus. By the time the forum was underweight, 225 students had piled into the largest lecture hall on campus. It was standing room only.
They came from everywhere–grad students, humanities majors, science majors, social science majors, community members, and professors. They came with questions and objections. From my seat in the middle of the very back row of the stadium hall, I saw everything, and it was extraordinary.
During lecture, an open computer screen in front of me wasn’t on facebook. The kid was googling something the speaker said. He pulled out a notecard and wrote down his question for the Q & A. Friends kept quiet, running commentaries with each other during the presentation. A Buddhist student’s forum-related facebook status made me laugh out loud. Afterward, the biggest complaint I heard was that people had a questions Prof. Hutchinson didn’t have time to answer.
Crowds discussed the lecture at a reception afterward, and for all I know the cupcakes multiplied, because, for the first time in my life, the good food at a campus event didn’t run out.
Toward the end of the night, Abraham ran up to me with a stack of survey cards. It was so tall, I thought it included blank cards, but it didn’t. The survey asked the faith you grew up with, the faith you have now, and the biggest question the forum made you think about.
Despite having barely started a paper due the next morning, I poured through all 180 surveys, amazed at the responses. People from all kinds of faith backgrounds showed up, and, based on the questions they wrote down, they were walking away wondering about the most basic questions. What is truth? Where does it come from? How and why would Christianity fit into it? For a lot of people, it was personal.
Needless to say, I’ve never been so excited about data entry. Follow-up plans are already underweight and buzz from the event is still in conversation.
I wish I could say more. I wish I could explain how much this meant to me and how long I had waited for it to come together. I wish I could explain how that one single night fits into a hundred more and why it all matters.
Instead, I just have a messy bedroom.