First-place recipient of the 2011 Jerry B. Jenkins Writer Award.
That’s time for a shower and a quick shave, I think, eying the red digits of the clock radio conveniently placed at the foot of my bed. I massage my temples and widen my eyes, willing myself to wake up as my feet find the floor. I have just achieved a grand total of four snooze sessions, waking every few minutes to check that I wouldn’t be late to my first class. I have a couple extra minutes (I usually get up at quarter-till), but my mind is strangely alert this morning.
I make the six-step journey across my dorm room to my computer, turn it on, and head for the bathroom with my towel over my shoulder. My computer always takes forever to warm up. I’m counting the days till it dies and I can buy a Mac.
When I return, I pull up iTunes, Gmail, and Facebook. I glance at the computer screen between pulling on articles of clothing to check the subject lines in my inbox. Don’t want to miss anything important. Ah, there’s the email from Facebook saying that seven of my five-hundred-some friends have birthdays this week. #32’s birthday is on Thursday, should probably plan something for it. I peruse the newsfeed, noticing that #211 has posted new pictures of our date last night, and skim past the verse #78 posted on his status (he’s always doing that). Looks like #432 will be in Chicago next week – we should plan a get-together.
Several minutes later, I’m feeling pretty good about remembering to brush my teeth as I stride across the plaza heading for Music Theory III. I see #330 and fall into step beside him.
“How’s it going, man?”
“Not too shabby. What class are you heading to?”
“Hymnology. What about you?”
“Music Theory with Denison.”
“Good class. I enjoyed that one.”
“Yeah, he runs a tight ship.”
“Enjoy. See you later!”
“Have a good one, man.”
I fob into the music building, wave my ID cheerfully at #17 at the desk, and check my mailbox. Sight-singing test results. Ick. I frown melodramatically at #17.
“Ah, the bane of my life!” I intone in a tragic voice, indicating the sheet of paper. She smiles.
“Don’t worry, this is your last year of it, right?”
I nod assent.
“I keep reminding myself of that. How are you this morning?”
“Kind of tired, actually. I want coffee.”
“Don’t we all. Have a good one!”
It briefly registers in the back of my mind that I just said that to #330, but I don’t think about it too much. On to theory!
I sit next to #46 in theory. Resting my backpack against the seat in front of me, I clap him on the back and ask him how he’s doing. He grunts something that sounds somewhat congenial for the time of the morning. He seems to be preoccupied with filling in the last few answers on his homework, so I turn to #6, who just came in.
“How was the concert last night? How’d your duet with what’s-his-face go?”
She throws her hands in the air.
“Totally missed the harmony on the third stanza, but he sounded great.”
“Wish I could have been there. Had a date with you-know-who.”
“Ha, I see where your priorities lie!” she shoots back, petulantly waving her hand in my face but unable to stop herself from grinning. #6 is always fun to banter with. I think momentarily about the comment wars we get into on Facebook and smile in amusement.
The rest of the morning moves along at a good clip. I sit with #211, #2, and #501 during chapel, make some plans behind #32’s back for his birthday, and joke with #460 and #93 behind us about #345’s new hairstyle.
As I enter the elevator on the fourth floor of the music building to go visit #2 at work I notice I have just said “have a good one” for the sixth time. As the elevator slowly rumbles down the shaft, I question myself. Where is that phrase coming from? What do I mean by it? I remember #22, whom I met my freshman year. He once said that he sometimes wanted to shock people who asked him how he was by telling them how he really was. Sometimes he just wanted to say, well, I feel like crap. I absentmindedly pull a push pin out of the fabric-covered board and insert it back into its hole. Do I really care that people have a “good one,” whatever that is? Do I really want to know how people are doing when I ask them how they are?
The elevator door opens on the first floor. I walk up to the desk where #2 is sitting, guarding the premises from identification-less trespassers. He starts telling me about the coffee dates he’s having with several of his friends. I pretend to be interested.
“I’m trying to figure out how to be more intentional with my conversations. One part of me really wants to tell them that I understand what they’re feeling, that I’ve been through it before…”
Shoot, I still have to finish studying for that test on Monday.
“…But I also realize that when I do that, I risk pulling the conversation around on myself. I want to focus on them, on listening to them, on ditching the shallow stuff and going deeper with them, you know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I think so,” I say, looking thoughtful. If I skip that recital tonight I can get another hour of studying in, or I could even bring my notes with me and pretend to listen.
“Speaking of which, I feel like I haven’t had a real conversation with you in a while. Want to do coffee sometime?”
“Um, sure, I’ll check my schedule and get back to you on that…”
Just then, #250 stops by the desk, and I remember that I need to confirm a practice with her.
“Hey, we still good for tomorrow around two?”
A couple minutes later I’m on my way back to my dorm room, absorbed in planning out my day tomorrow. On the elevator up to the fourth floor of the dormitory, I exchange pleasantries with #137, commenting on the weather and my plans to go rollerblading later.
When I reach my room I toss my backpack to the floor and flop onto the sofa. I’m kind of glad my roommate isn’t back yet; I need to plan out my schedule and sort through some of these thoughts flying around inside my head.
I slide my computer onto my lap and open up Facebook again. I sink back into the cushions, not really looking at the login screen. I wish I could just talk out all the things I’m thinking right now with someone who cares about me, all of the anxieties about school and relationships and all that. It just isn’t convenient to do that, though, not with all the homework and practicing I have to do. And besides, which of my friends would I talk to? I mean, I can’t just focus in on one relationship when I have so many.
I glance out the window at the clock across the plaza. Only about a half hour until the student dining room opens.
I want to be known, to be told by someone observing my life that I’m doing all right, that all the seemingly mindless little things I’m involved in actually add up to something important. But if I actually find someone interested in listening to me, I know I would have to listen to them too, and I’m way too busy to start a deeper relationship with one of my friends. Besides, I have too many people to keep up with as it is.
I sit for a while, feeling rather alone. Ironic, that I would feel this way when I have so many friends.
I find myself wondering what it must feel like to actually pay attention to someone with the goal of knowing them better. Not knowing about them, knowing them. Maybe that’s what #2 was talking about. What was it he had said again? I hadn’t really been paying attention. Maybe I should have been.
I sigh and turn back to my computer. Time to put up a new status.
I pause with my fingers poised over the keys. For a second, I wonder if anyone reading my status will ever really know what I’m trying to say, will ever really know me. What’s the point?
“Test, three papers and a Schubert piece due on Monday. Wish I had more time to spend with friends, but such is the life of a 21st-century college student…”
Five friends “like” my status within three hours.
I can’t even remember how I know three of them.