I’m taking an English class this semester at Lewis Clark State College. Most of you know about it already. Creative Non Fiction 309. One of our assignments is to write about a person or place that left an impact on us. I struggled to think of someone (well, someone besides a relative, God, a friend, boss, etc.); and I struggled to think of a place (trip, journey, house, apartment, etc). Both failed to pique even my own interest; I was certain that to write about the vast, featureless landscape called my life would surely bore anyone unfortunate enough to have to gaze upon it in print.
Finally, a spark. I toyed around with the idea to write about a dorm fire I went through when I was a freshman in college at Grand Canyon University. Putting Facebook to a meaningful task for a change, I asked some guys for help recalling some details and to share about their own experience with the blaze. The piece got pretty lengthy right off the bat. I wrote up some notes, and compared them to the other guys’ replies. Then started the main essay.
It came surprisingly easy––the writing. From waking up in a fire to waking up in a car a week later, and everything in between. Pieces fell into place, memories were confirmed, little known facts emerged, surprises surfaced, nobody died, and miracles happened.
I was reminded again how many of my friends––then and now––view everything through the lenses of faith. I did at one time too (maybe still do to some degree), although, my faith goggles are smudged now and often the things I see through them lead to more questions rather than answers. Not to say I don’t have faith, I just don’t practice it with the same fervor they do. They have faith in their faith; they have a ton of faith. Whereas, I just have a little faith by comparison. They have more faith than I.
The backdrop of the fire raised a couple of unexpected questions of my own. Mainly about me.
First, following the fire was about the same time I started putting walls up and withdrawing, deploying a subconscious defensive buffer around me. Before then, for the most part, people were granted my trust almost by default. We shared common beliefs, and prayed to the same God. We went to the same school, and drove to church together on Sundays. Our faith in God was our common bond.
But God’s children are far from perfect. In fact, they are quite far from close to perfect. I learned this once the hard way a couple years earlier when I was “fired” from a band. I was in high school and in a Christian rock band. We worked hard and played a few gigs. We prayed together. Studied the Bible together as much as we practiced. Everything was fine until the guys prayed about it and God told them another direction would be taken and I was to be cut loose. My brothers in Christ––these spiritual guys, trusted friends, bandmates, believers––told me I was unneeded. Out. “Go with God, whatever, just go.”
So what did I do? I buried it. Promptly. My mom asked me why I wasn’t practicing with the band anymore. “I quit,” I told her, obviously too embarrassed to admit to being on the business end of prayers. And happily trucked on down the will of God highway. Maybe I sucked at bass guitar. Maybe I couldn’t sing. Maybe a new, sexier Christian dude had a “ministry,” (quotes intended) and had no room for my walk with God. Whatever the reason, the resonating footnote I swallowed with my faith that day was that I was disposable.
Flash back to the fire. A moment came up where victims were all in transition and some friends decided to move in together. My roommate and best friend among them. Four friends, minus me. Tragic, huh? Oh well, sure, go right ahead. I’ll make do over here. It smacked of that same, wretched, loving, thoughtless, aftertaste that screamed I was disposable.
I buried that too. Rejection (real or imagined) seems to get a formal and immediate burial deep within my psyche. Events, like flame and smoke filled escapes from dorm fires, if close enough to rejection, also get filed away into the abyss.
I spent 20 years of my life not thinking about the dorm fire. Not thinking about how it affected my life. Not thinking about how I was treated by fellow Christians, or how I reacted after that (like it didn’t bother me). Not thinking about the my walls (going up brick by brick, rejection by rejection, offense by offense, faithless act after faithless act). Remembering that I felt disposable; then, and other times. Not realizing that maybe my faith in God’s children burned down too, along with my dorm.
For most of those 20 years my closest friends always sparkled brightly in a positive light; but now after a deeper look into the particulars of a shared experience, those same friends, and others, begin to look diminished in the reflection of flames.
My 40-something wisdom today gives them and me a lot of slack too. How can I not? Expecting teenagers and early 20-somethings to always do what is right is expecting too much.
The essay, Kachina Dorm Fire, explored all of it; until that is, I edited it out. When I hand in the essay that doesn’t say anything, I’ll be thinking about this blog post.