Greg was having a terrible day, in which everything was going wrong. His friends rudely woke him up in the middle of the night; he went into a rage in front of his friends and ran outside. Read part 1 here.
I had a terrible day today. Well, technically the terrible day was yesterday now, since it was after midnight, but to me it does not feel like the next day until I wake up. Everything went wrong today. I did not understand something from the math homework that was due today. The book I needed at the library for my paper was checked out. Mom sent me on an errand to go shopping for a present for someone back home, and I could not find what she needed. And then, to make things worse, my friends were sitting outside my room at 1:00 in the morning talking loudly, and they woke me up. I lost it at that point. I threw a tantrum and ran outside after throwing a cardboard box that almost hit Sarah. And now I felt terrible that I lost control in front of my friends.
I had been sitting outside in my car for about fifteen minutes. I started walking back to the building, ashamed, holding my head low. I was tired. I needed to try to go back to sleep. I would apologize to everyone in the morning. I knew that someone would tell me that what I did was wrong, even though I knew that already. But I deserved to be scolded and shamed after the way I had been behaving.
I slid my ID card and opened the door to the lobby, and I stepped inside, quietly and slowly walking straight ahead toward the stairs. But I did not make it to the stairs.
“He’s back!” Sarah said in a loud whisper, jumping up and giving me a hug.
“Greg! Are you okay?” Krista asked. I nodded, slightly confused.
“Thank you, Jesus, for bringing Greg back safely,” Pete said, as Sarah and Krista sat on the floor and gestured for me to sit next to them.
“Yes, Jesus,” Krista added, placing her hand on my back. “Please give Greg a sense of peace, and calm whatever is on his mind right now. Take away his burdens, and clear his mind so he can hear from you.”
At this point, my brain finally started to process what was happening to me; maybe this was the clear mind that Krista had prayed for. I was still in the lobby; I had not made it to my room yet. The six people who had seen my tantrum were all here. Pete, Caroline, and Charlie were on the couch; Sarah, Krista, and Taylor were on the floor with me. They did not seem to be upset at all. They were praying for me. I wondered if they had been praying for me since they saw me run away, over fifteen minutes ago.
“God,” Taylor said, “I pray that you will send your Holy Spirit upon Greg, that he might know your love for him.”
“And I thank you for bringing us all here to Jeromeville, where we can get to know each other and be part of each other’s lives,” Sarah added. “I thank you for Greg, and all the unique gifts you have given him. And I pray that he will know that he is loved.”
“Praise the Lord,” Pete said. The others nodded and murmured in agreement.
“I’m glad you’re back,” Sarah said as she put her hand on me and rubbed my back.
“Thank you,” I said between sobs; I had started crying a minute or so earlier. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I lost control. And I didn’t mean to throw the box at you. I wasn’t aiming for you.”
“It’s all right. I know you didn’t. We all have bad days.”
I closed my eyes. I still did not want to face these people after the way I had lost control in front of them. Now they will think for the rest of the year that I am some kind of crazy person.
Pete began to pray again after about thirty seconds. “Father, God, whatever is on Greg’s mind right now, I pray that you will bring peace about it. I pray that you will comfort him and calm his fears.”
“Yes, Father,” Caroline added. “Bring peace in the storm.”
“And I pray that he will never forget that he is loved,” Sarah said, her hand still on my back. The others replied “Yes,” and “Amen,” and things like that.
“I can’t do this,” I said. “I want to give up. I shouldn’t be here. I should be locked up somewhere, where I won’t hurt anyone when I get like this. I’m sorry. You guys don’t have to stay up for me. You can go to bed.”
“No!” Krista said. “We’re your friends. We’re here by your side no matter what.”
“Yes, Greg,” Taylor added. “We’re here for you. And we should apologize for waking you up too. That wasn’t nice of us.”
“Yeah,” Charlie said. “I’m sorry.” The others all voiced their agreement.
“Don’t give up,” Sarah said, embracing me from the side from where we were sitting. “Jesus, I pray that you will show yourself to Greg, and give him hope, and strength to keep running the race. Take away these bad thoughts from his mind, the thoughts of giving up and not belonging here. Those thoughts come from the pit of hell, and I pray that you will bind Satan and stop letting him get inside Greg’s head.” The others again replied with a chorus of “Yes”es and “Amen”s as she let go of me.
I took a few more deep breaths, as the others sat in silence with me.
“You gonna be okay?” Taylor asked eventually.
“I think so. But I should probably go back to bed. We all should.”
“Seriously, though, we’re here for you,” Sarah said. “If you ever need to talk about things, just come find any one of us.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “Thank you so much.”
I woke up around seven-thirty, still a little tired since I had not slept until almost two. It was a Saturday morning, so I did not have a class to get to. After lying around in bed and reading for a while, I bundled up in a sweatshirt and got on my bike. It was early enough in the day to still be sweatshirt weather, although it was sunny, and being that this was the week of Fake Spring, it looked like it would get warmer in the afternoon. I rode out to the Lodge in the Arboretum and took the trail on the south bank all the way west to the end of the creek, which was really a very long lake in the dry creek bed running through the Arboretum. I followed the trail around the end of the creek onto the north bank, past the oak grove. I followed that trail east as far as I could, along the same route where I had taken my parents when they had visited a couple weeks earlier. I rode through the redbud grove, past the large succulents, past the live oak with the Native American meditation garden next to it, past the water tower and the law school and the administration building, and to the spot where the creek bed widens into Spooner Lake. I continued past the drama and music buildings through a grove of redwoods, crossing under the Old Jeromeville Road bridge. (I had heard that locals used to shorten the name of this road to “OJ Road,” but this name was falling out of favor now because it made people think of O.J. Simpson, the retired football player and actor who was currently on trial for murdering his ex-wife.)
East of Old Jeromeville Road, the landscaping in the Arboretum became much more sparse. The waterway looked more like a ditch with large patches of algae, and a paved trail immediately adjacent on each side. The ditch ended in a wider spot that resembled a cul-de-sac. (The word “cul-de-sac” literally means “bag’s ass” in French;I always thought that was funny.) I turned around, headed back west, and took a side path leading back to ground level. This path turned to the north, to the intersection of First and B Streets in downtown Jeromeville. The streets downtown made a grid, with number and letter street names; the buildings were mostly old houses from the early twentieth century, mixed with a few newer structures. Some of these old houses had been converted into offices and restaurants.
I headed north on B Street, past the two block long Central Park, much smaller than the similarly-named park in New York. I continued north to 15th Street, and then turned west past Jeromeville High School, through a neighborhood that looked newer, probably from the middle of the twentieth century. I turned south on Andrews Road, crossing back on to campus, and at Thong Bikini Hill, which was closed for the season, I turned left on Davis Drive. I turned right toward the dairy and the South Residential Area, and I went back to my room and showered.
I saw Danielle in the hallway later that day. “Hey, Greg? Are you okay?” she asked me. “Caroline told me about what happened last night.”
I looked down at my feet, avoiding eye contact. “I’m okay,” I said. “I was just having a bad day for a lot of reasons. And I kind of blew up when I was trying to sleep and they woke me up.”
“She said everyone was really worried about you.”
“I know. And I feel bad. They didn’t need to worry about me just because I was acting childish. I don’t want to be a burden on everyone else.”
“Don’t say that. We do worry about you. You’re our friend.”
I made eye contact with her again and saw a look of sincerity. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”
I had no plans for the rest of that day. I found Sarah, Krista, Pete, and Taylor at the dining hall with open seats next to them, so I sat down.
“How’s your day going?” Taylor asked me.
“Better,” I said. “I rode my bike and did some homework, and that’s about it.”
“Where’d you go?” Krista asked.
“The entire length of the arboretum, then up B Street to where it ends by the high school, then 15th Street back to Andrews.”
“How long of a ride was that?”
“Not that long. Took about half an hour.”
“That’s a pretty good ride,” Pete said.
“We were just talking about going downstairs to play pool when we’re done eating,” Taylor said. “Want to come with us?”
“Sure,” I said.
A while later, we all went to the South Area recreation room, downstairs from the dining hall. We were allowed to take a soft-serve ice cream cone from the machine outside of the dining hall with us, and I had one now, as did Sarah. We walked into the mail room, and Taylor and I walked to the Help Window where we could check out pool balls and cues. Megan, the RA from Building K with the fading green hair, was on duty.
“Hey, Greg,” she said. “How are you?”
“Doing better than yesterday.” I handed her my ID card in exchange for the pool equipment; I would get it back when I returned the balls and cues.
“Did you figure out that math problem?”
“No. And that’s okay.”
“Now you’re sounding like a true college student!” she said. Taylor laughed, and I chuckled.
“Do you know Taylor?” I asked. “He’s in my building.”
“Hi, Taylor. I’m Megan, from Building K.”
“Hey, Megan.” Taylor shook Megan’s hand.
“Have fun!” Megan told us as she gave us the pool equipment.
“I will! Thanks!”
When we were back in the room with the pool table, Taylor asked, “How do you know her? Is she in your math class?”
“No,” I explained. “I just know her from seeing her around. And there was this problem I couldn’t figure out, so I asked everyone I knew who had taken 21C before. She’s a chemical engineer, so she would have taken it last year.”
We took turns playing, with Pete and Krista first, which gave me and Sarah time to finish our ice cream cones. I played against Taylor next. I came close to winning, but I still had one colored ball on the table when Taylor sank his last striped ball and the 8 ball. We continued taking turns, two of us playing and the other three watching and just talking. We spent over an hour there, and then walked back in the dark to Building C. We sat in the common room for another hour, just talking.
“What’s everyone doing tomorrow?” Krista asked at one point. “This is the week you’re going to start doing worship for college group, right, Pete?”
“Yeah,” Pete said. “I think I’m ready.”
I had not heard this term “doing worship” used in this sense. “What’s this?” I asked.
“The college group and Sunday school class at our church, Jeromeville Covenant,” Pete explained. “I’m going to play guitar tomorrow for the class, when we do worship music.”
“Are you still going to church at that Catholic Newman place?” Krista asked. “And Danielle goes there too, right?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“How do you like it?”
“It’s good. It’s not all old people like the church I grew up in.” The others laughed.
“That’s good,” Taylor said. “So you have friends there.”
The conversation reached a lull, and everyone just kind of looked around. Sarah was smiling. “Friendship is special,” she said. “Tonight was fun.”
“Yeah, it was,” Krista concurred.
“Thanks again for inviting me along,” I said.
“Any time, Greg,” Sarah said. “You’re always welcome to hang out with us.”
“Yeah,” Taylor added. “And we’re here for you if you ever need to talk.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I really mean it.”
We went back to our rooms shortly after this. I lay on my bed reading. Currently I was reading the book Forrest Gump, by Winston Groom. The book, written about a decade earlier, was relatively obscure until last year, when it was adapted into a movie starring Tom Hanks. The movie went on to win numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. I had seen the movie once, back home with Catherine about a month before I left for Jeromeville. I really liked the movie, and I thought it would be fun to read the book that it was based on.
As is often the case with books made into movies, the movie was significantly different from the book. Many of the details of the story were completely rewritten for the movie, but the basic premise remained. Forrest was a man with low intelligence who tells the story of his childhood in the 1950s and his young adulthood in the era of civil rights and the Vietnam War. Forrest’s naive perspective on the world gives a unique perspective on historical events unclouded by many of society’s biases.
I felt a bit like Forrest at times. I often did not understand the world around me. I often missed a lot of subtext and unspoken communication behind various situations. And sometimes the way that I viewed certain situations showed a lack of understanding of the cultural background of such situations. In the movie, there is a scene where Forrest is the only white man in a lively African-American gospel choir, and Forrest’s first person perspective never mentions any of the social implications of this. He just does his thing, going to church, praising the same God he grew up with, and spending time with the family of his deceased African-American friend.
I wondered if I would stick out like that if I ever went to Jeromeville Covenant Church or Jeromeville Christian Fellowship with my friends. I still wondered if these were the kinds of Christians who got up and danced, or clapped to music, or spoke in tongues, or weird stuff like that. But even if I did stand out, if I was a little different, after tonight I knew one thing: my friends’ love for God and for others was real, and they would accept me unconditionally into their lives, no matter what. No one had ever gathered in a group to pray for me like that, not even my Catholic friends at the Newman Center (although, to be fair, they never saw me that angry). If Taylor and Pete and Sarah and Krista and Caroline and Charlie were still standing by me after what they saw last night, and if treating me like this was part of what being a Christian meant to them, I knew that we would stand by each other for the rest of our lives. That kind of love lasts through hard times, through bad decisions, through life handing out the proverbial lemons, and even through not understanding Lagrange multipliers. This tiny bedroom in which I was reading right now was not exactly luxurious, but for now, at least, Building C was home.
This story was inspired by something that actually happened to me, and Jeromeville Christian Fellowship is based on an actual group that I did get involved with later in my university years. A few years ago, I was invited to speak at that group’s Alumni Night, and I told that year’s group of students about this night, which was the first step in a long faith journey. I used that story to encourage them to reach out to the people around them, especially those who are struggling or those who do not fit in. The world is so full of outcasts, loners, people who are a little different, and so many of them just need to know that they are loved and cared for. Reaching out to the outcasts, as my friends did to me that night, saves lives, both in the sense of Christian salvation, and in the sense of turning someone’s life away from a path of self-destruction.