Bats fluttered above the amphitheater.
The two dark figures rose and wheeled, dipping in and out of the trees in the dying light–so close I could almost see their faces as I tipped my own toward the sky.
I stood among hundreds of my classmates. Feeling alone in the crowd, I fought the unidentified emotion tugging at the back of my throat as I sang.
Every word uttered with the music translated to a repeated, burning question.
Why, God? Why do I feel this way?
Because it was still just the Saturday before school started and I was already overwhelmed. Disillusioned. Angry.
I had little to no interest in meeting new people, of “putting myself out there,” of participating and pressuring myself to go along with everything because I’d be hiding in my room otherwise. But it hadn’t really mattered during the summer, because I spent half of it in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona, and the other half on a relatively deserted campus crunching numbers.
But now, here were my peers, all showing up in excitement and enthusiasm, looking forward to a great year with their friends. Families had helped their loved ones move in. Couples strolled around campus with fingers interlaced. The air was filled with a stifling amount of high spirits and enthusiasm.
Not like I’m a grump and I hate that sort of thing, but it certainly felt a little sand-paper-esque to me.
I had grown accustomed to emptiness and moderate seclusion, partially from my summer exploits, and also because of the fact that the two-story house serving as my on-campus housing this year remained mostly inhabited for a good two weeks before anyone other than myself and my roommate moved in.
An altar call was issued that night in the amphitheater. The instructions were simple. We could make an origami fortuneteller with the provided paper and instructions we received upon arrival, and write inside it what we felt we needed to lay down. To let go.
I sat turbidly on a layer of concrete set in the grass, my back a little sore from standing and sitting upright for the duration of the sermon. I contemplating not having anything to do with the altar call. I wasn’t going to follow along with this. To let myself be inspired to press in, get closer. Again and again I have scoured my soul, searching for what’s wrong, taking everyone’s word as exactly what I needed in the moment I heard it. For years I have done this. Endless repetitions of playing along.
I know something specific is broken these days, but I’m still not sure what.
And I didn’t want to be taught to anymore. I didn’t want to hear a sermon and every single time agree wholeheartedly, to internalize and soul-search and aspire to follow the advice and figure out how I can apply what I heard like Christians typically do.
I wanted to leave as soon as the music stopped, but out of courtesy and an aversion to attracting attention to myself, I stayed through the message.
And when it came time to perform the altar call, I scowled inside, reached over, and grabbed one of the crayons provided. If I couldn’t think of anything, I wouldn’t write anything, simple as that. I wanted to be honest with myself, so I would be honest. Even if it felt like succumbing to a game.
Three words came to mind. Three words I had hoped weren’t actually the things plaguing my aching soul. But they came to mind, so I gruffly shoved my pride behind me. Broodingly, I picked apart the fortuneteller until I found its center, and wrote them down:
I’ve been justifying bitter feelings for quite a while. I just never pictured myself as a bitter person, and I loathed to think that I was capable of bitterness. Or that cynicism could truly start to turn dangerous. And fear—that’s always there, isn’t it? Just when I think I’m doing relatively well, fear seeps up through the floorboards like acid.
So those words have appeared, but I still don’t quite know what’s broken. I don’t understand why certain things that shouldn’t hurt still elicit a sharp stab when I encounter them. Why I still feel alone when I know I’m not. Why I run.
But since that night, though I’ve been frustrated, fatigued, and angry over the course of the first week of classes, though I still feel the chronic stabs, while I’m surrounded by droves of new faces, I feel something’s changed.
Not sure what that is, either. Perhaps I’ll never know, but for some reason I’m coming back.
Tentatively, warily, I’m coming back.