Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nostalgia / Vertigo

I have just spent my late morning wandering the UNF campus. My alma mater, my academic crucible, my spiritual community. I have no car to call my own on this trip and so my mom dropped me off at the library, ostensibly to do work while she went to the west-side. Granted, I stepped in the library first, but the pull of memory dragged me out. I walked, nay, sauntered across campus, each nook and space charged with some moment from a time when I had yet to look the hard-nosed economy of the working world eye to eye. A time when I coasted on my cerebral coattails, reluctantly meeting deadlines and soaking up all the communal affirmation I could wring from our little para-church InterVarsity group. Not to say that I didn't have legitimate spiritual interest in the group or the various small group bible studies I co-led, but fundamentally, in my heart of hearts, my wounded inner child needed them more than they needed me.

I walked slowly, with laptop and manpurse slung over shoulders with straps crossing sternum in a black x, from the library to my freshman dormitory, the path I would have walked to class nearly 8 years ago. I walked across the campus green, past where our IV large groups used to be--the space is used for classrooms now--remembering countless weeks of inductive bible study and acoustic guitar worship. Past the renovated cafeteria, lakes, the oldest and smallest of all the dorm buildings. The sun bright and weather a balmy 83, the smell of pine and palmetto Florida wetlands all around, geese with matured young all waddling in disorderly columns. I walk past the second oldest dorms and past the fountain my friend Karissa complained about when we were 18 because didn't Florida have enough water shortage without this thing. Across the street and beside another stagnant retention pond to my first home away from home, a three story concrete and brick triangle with a covered and air-conditioned inner courtyard where they used to play Epic Duels and the second floor walkway where Andrew Roberts slept by stacks of historiography. I slipped in, illegally maybe, walked around, went up to third floor where I lived along with Matt Hartley and David Trautman. 8 years. The Navigators are now using the building for a summer internship program. I looked in the common rooms where we had bible studies, where I met close friends and was filled with young folly.

I left, walked back to campus, past the senior, apartment style dorms where Matt and Taylor used to watch the Return of the King trailer before they went to sleep. Where I made a teary-eyed phone call to my IV staffworker in the immediate wake of a heartbreak. The smells, the Florida smells and little lizards that scurry which I never took notice of until I lived in the north where the reptiles fear to tread. Through the Arts building that was new when I started, passe now. I head back across the green towards the history department, my haunt my last semester at the school. I don't run into any of my old professors except the English prof who went to Spain with Andrea & I in 2005; her husband died the summer after and I ask her how she is doing, but this is a surface reconnect and I don't expect her to open up to me. She is fine. We exchange pleasantries and I stumble with explaining the ACNA to her, an (former?) Episcopalian who doesn't seem to understand what it means that my seminary is Anglican but not Episcopal.

I walk past the classroom in building 10 that I took a disproportionate amount of classes in. It's now office space.

I take a walkway to the Philosophy department but Julie Ingersoll isn't in. Then past the Honors department where they still have that corner room with beanbags and computers that I never spent any time in as an honors student. Too bad I didn't choose history as a freshman instead of as a sophomore. Then I step outside, having eaten the roastbeef-swiss-horseradish sandwich I made before I left this morning, and the vertigo sets in.

Four towering new buildings greet me, Wackadoo's* and the parking lots gone. The two-tiered Student Union, the Health School extension and the Education building line a new horizon and elicit anonymously-directed interjections of incredulity from me. I wandered the union, mostly, taking in its large interior spaces and dramatic, metal-and-glass angles. In the intercultural gallery a tall black man with an African accent asks me what I am looking for and I think of the short Swiss doctoral student who was my boss when I worked at FSU. I tell him I'm wandering, and he says okay, but I felt like he wasn't all happy that I was just walking in and out of places. I spend several minutes perusing new hallways like they were some art gallery, smelling of fresh synthetics and occasionally marked with flat screen televisions in the style typical to sports bars and gaudy restaurant chains. The new construction spins my head, but at least I don't find out the dead woman I'm obsessed with double-crossed me.

I cross the street to the fitness center, and peer in to see the interior I remember. Finally, something apparently unchanged.

Next to the fitness center stands the arena, also relatively unchanged, the last place I was on campus for official undergraduate business (graduation, August 2006). Reaching it was cathartic. Like I had made a pilgrimage, taking account of all the years I walked those grounds, looking at my college self through my seminary lens wandering what I would have done differently then and what I should do differently now. I couldn't help but think about my fledgling desires to do church work near a campus, reaching out to students with the support of working adults and families in a congregation nearby. Bishop Alden Hathaway exhorted us on our quiet day early last semester to look at universities as mission field and to be the church where new Augustines and Augustinas might be discipled to proclaim the gospel to a brilliant yet decaying culture. His words ring in my head as I take in this campus with a different mind than I once had, detached enough from the pressure of school to think purely in gospel terms.

*Wackadoo's was the strangely named campus restaurant that served burgers & beer and a regular part of my undergraduate life.

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