During the twilight of one of the last nights of my freshman orientation, I was timidly shuffling down the Mall, trying to look confident, trying to forget my overwhelming homesickness, trying to look like I belonged. Suddenly a roar, such as only could emerge from young masculine lungs, burst out from the direction of the Science Building, and two tall, old, wise junior guys bolted toward each other. As they rolled around on the uneven bricks, shouting and laughing, I heard a voice behind me say something to the effect of, “oh yeah, they are just back from Rome. They haven’t seen each other in a year! Before that they were inseparable.”
At the time, I remember doubting that you could miss your college friends quite that much — enough to make a public spectacle of yourself and your excessive joy (on the Mall of all places!). I remembered this scene later my freshman year when I found myself saying a final goodbye to a dear friend in the rain. My friend was going to Rome in the spring, and I in the fall. A year seemed like a really long time that day.
I remember coming back to campus junior and senior year. Junior year I bear-hugged friends with just as little dignity and as much love as I observed in the juniors my freshman year. Senior year it got worse; I couldn’t wait to get to Braniff and start running around the offices, desperately trying to find those professors who I missed so much during the break.
The other day, a handful of seniors and I were walking back across campus from the rugby pitch when I realized that I had left something on the field. I ran to catch up with them, but as I climbed the hill to Carpenter I slowed down to take in the scene before me.
I realized that before me was a group of my dearest friends. This group in white, walking confidently into the darkness, unafraid and united, represented many of those people who I love most in the world. Their laughter was caught up into the night as their arms swung at their sides, letting the burdens of life and academia slip away. These were my friends — the ones I traveled Europe with, the ones with whom I had pulled my first — and many subsequent — all-nighters. They were ones before whom I had radically messed-up, and they are the ones who loved me anyway.
But at that moment, I saw them as something more — something that had too often escaped my notice. I saw that these friends who had been my classmates and family for four years were now “all grown-up.” In a moment of no small surprise, it struck me that these, my friends, would be leaving soon and beginning another part to their story. Some would soon be husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, priests and missionaries. They would be utterly dispersed to the east and west coasts, Spain and Rome, and an absurdly large number of states across the United States. They will experience times of great joy — weddings, births, opportunities. They will face uncertain times, hard times, a world where martyrdom is real and suffering always present.
I wish that I could prevent them from ever feeling pain. Or feeling lost or doubting themselves or doubting that they are loved. I wish that I could protect them and always keep them safe, because I love them and I never want them to be hurt. But I can’t. I can only keep on loving them, and thanking God that I have such a group of people to love.
Thank You, God.