As an eighteen year-old high school senior, I tried not to give a lot of thought to the future. That's tough to do when colleges and universities from around 57 states are sending you course catalogues and slickly-produced pamphlets and postcards. Everything seemed to scream "FUTURE" while my mind wanted to stay focused on the here and now. After all I was a senior... popular... active... having a great time... not to mention that my girlfriend was a junior and would be sticking around high school after I had headed off to some unchosen institute of higher learning. I really didn't want it to end. I was going to leave a place where I knew everybody and everybody knew me, and be thrust into the midst of a place where I knew no one.
The compromise was to go to college with someone I knew and liked. And coincidentally one of the schools I was considering was both affordable and it came equipped with a few of my high school friends -- Ball State University. So I made my plans, filled out the forms and prepared myself for matriculation at ol' Ball U. One of my good friends and I decided we would room together, so we made sure to include one another in all of our student housing paperwork. I was not going to be thrown together with a dorm full of strangers.
Something I didn't consider was that the two of us were being thrown together into a collection of various and sundry characters whom I couldn't have invented with a pickup full of hallucinogens. The room on one side of us was the home for Bob and Dave. These guys were, shall we say, fans of cannibus. The sickeningly sweet smell of reefer smoke was a constant reminder that you were approaching their door. If they managed to come out for class or a trip to the restroom, a cloud would blow out into the hallway. Bob and Dave were harmless to others, but I can't imagine how many brain cells they still have functioning after all these years.
On the other side of our room were Craig and Gary. The two of them had been friends in high school also. Craig was a baseball player and kept a perpetual wad of "chaw" between his cheek and gum. He was rough around the edges, but a hoot to hang out with. Gary seemed to be the perfect compliment for Craig. Prematurely bald, Gary had a great sense of humor, likely developed from being relentlessly teased about his lack of hairline for years.
There were plenty of others just on our wing of the fourth floor. Mike, the techie with the lastest technology in his dorm room -- the RCA SelectaVision VideoDisc system (now known as, "What's that old piece of junk up in the attic?") Across the hall from him was Servando, who commissioned himself to paint a mural of the pegasus from the Steve Miller Band album, Book of Dreams, on the wall of the hallway. No one knew why he only worked on his masterpiece between 3 and 6 in the morning. At the end of the hall was Ray, the starter from the volleyball team. And mixed into the stew were Lenny (whom we quickly gave the nickname "Squiggy"), Paul (who was widely believed to be gay), Kevin, Jay, Brad, Brian, Jeff and a host of others who have faded into the recesses of my mind. What a crew it was!
We didn't all get along. A couple of those guys were rather intimidating. One or two others were just plain annoying. But we were all thrown together to plod along in a journey toward higher education.
Meanwhile, my roommate and I also had to learn to live together. Being with someone 24/7 isn't the same as hanging out at school or the occasional night of watching TV until The Star Spangled Banner played. And the longer we lived together, the more odd things we began to notice about each other. Well, I'm assuming he noticed odd things about me because I started filling out a three-ring binder full of things about him! Our friendship was a little strained because we each had those small and not-so-small complaints about living with the other. It was a bit of a relief when he told me that he wouldn't be coming back for his sophomore year. Except that again I would have to be thrown together with someone else and this time I couldn't close the door and keep them out -- I would have to deal with a complete stranger who would be there for most everything in my life.
It's funny that at least half of the guys I remember from my freshman year at Ball State weren't there for my sophomore year. A couple of good friends remained, but when I climbed the dorm stairs to the fourth floor to begin my second year of college it was like a movie sequel where a few things were familiar, but so much was different. Many of those people I'd been thrown together with were gone from my life forever.
I can't help but wonder why God puts certain people in our lives. What did I gain from knowing Servando, the Midnight Muralist? Was it important that I knew a guy who was forever saddled with a nickname because of the television show, Laverne & Shirley? Did I need to learn the intricacies of outdated technologies from a tech geek for a reason? Or were these people placed there so that I could be an example for them? Was the reason we were thrown together to benefit them, me, or both of us?
I'm so glad that God can teach me things through other people. That God can teach me a measure of tolerance by using a couple of potheads, or that He can show me joy and friendship through a rough-edged, tobacco-chewing ballplayer. It may seem like we've been randomly thrown together, but boy, it's incredible what God can do with a kettle of potluck stew!