It’s about 40 years since I went away to college – long enough that I forget how anxious and uncertain I was, and especially how lonely I felt – even though I was tremendously eager for my family to climb back in the car and depart. The memory and realization came back to me, though, when I encountered a young man wandering in our Chapel, then eventually sitting with his head in his hands. When I stopped to speak with him, he wept.
This did not seem like a young man with mental health problems, or someone in the midst of a crisis. He was just a young person, away from home for the first time. No one from his hometown had come to this college with him: everyone who knew him, who shared memories or experiences, was miles away. The homework in a few courses seemed daunting – and who could he even ask what to do about it?
This young man – sturdy and handsome – will probably be in someone’s class this week, looking composed and attentive – or bored, or excited. The one thing his appearance is unlikely to reveal is that deep inner question that we all ask at some time or another: “Will I make the grade? Am I good enough.”
I am grateful for this chance encounter with someone whose name I never learned. When I walked into the classroom this morning, I had a new awareness that the faces I saw were only part of the reality. It opened my heart for prayer in a new and deeper way.