Dimly lit, at a distance, gleaming with inner light: Calvin on the horizon. Expectation built inside me in ways I didn’t understand. So much waited on the other side, but in particular, I had a secret hope. The hope was small; I didn’t know it well. In fact, it represented a tremendous fear for me. The hope was simple: I wanted to know exactly what I was against. I desired to discover a suffering worth having, a passion that was always greater than possible pain. I have always had some kind of academic talent, even if not extraordinary: I wanted to try myself against a place far greater than any learning I could accumulate on my own. I desired for something to mess with my head, to jar me out of what I expected from life. Higher affections called, and from well within the distant idea of going to Calvin, the voice of hope for better things seemed to call.
I didn’t know what to expect, but that’s because I had never truly had to expect anything before. I come from a tremendously stable and regular family. I have been homeschooled, so anything bigger than homeschooling feels like the whole world before me. Through homeschooling I have been given a tremendous imagination for what could be in my life. I’ve always been told the good life comes through application and submission to worthy disciplines and worthy teachers, respectively. So, looking at Calvin, I was overcome with the idea that not only would my horizons finally crack wide open, but I would also begin to see just what it was like to work, struggle and taste a little success here and there beneath truly excellent teachers.
In this act, only expectation existed. The dream began its test against reality my day of moving in.
I want to highlight the uniqueness of being, suddenly, on the interior of something you’d only understood from the outside previously. There’s something weird about suddenly becoming familiar with a place you’d only ever talked about before. Right out of conversation, out of debate, alleged merit, and supposition all becomes concrete and different: tangible, but unfamiliar in its unexpected diversity. I would say my imagination for how college could be was much more tame than the myriad it ended up being, but let me explain.
Never before in my life have I been so close to a place that represented the excellent tensions of life. In this tension, one struck between the wonderful and the awful, I found people of nigh-every position in life, each one hoping to see just where to settle. The camaraderie of fellow seekers made carving out space in my weekly routine to hear story and live alongside the members of my lovely floor a deep necessity. Drawn in laser-sharp lines, marks between old and new, traditional and cutting-edge, non-argument and true vision stitched people of many backgrounds, relational style and trajectories: Calvin is like a micro of everything I thought people could be, all the messiness intact. Sometimes there’s dialogue, sometimes there’s not — but always, always there is the stark impression of life, the strong sort. In bearing witness to such a crisp sort of living, every person struggling in the waves of high success and low trouble, a pattern emerged which was deeply surprising to me.
I found that to fail, to trip, to attempt and fall short of the goal was the worthiest of experiences in my education. Calvin is not always the safest of places to fail (grades, after all, do exist), but it certainly is at least as safe as any I’ve experienced — sometimes safer. The excellent tension of education, where the process of emerging stands for itself, without useless assessment or sole emphasis on performance, does exist fairly often at Calvin.
Rest. Let me tell you, the work is brutal. It is rigorous. It is occasionally ridiculous (or at least feels like it!).
But I can tell you. I can attest to. I can give good testimony —
It is so, so, so worthy. Academic bliss is more rare than sasquatch, but so well worth the price paid in constant assignments and seemingly never-ending translation! I saw it, here and there, just around the edge: the kind of value that goes beyond the intrinsic and dips into an almost prophetic value. The kind of intelligence that will not show up on tests. The kind of living that makes you humble.
Calvin’s intellectual climate, for those who are fierce to brave it, bears all the rigor that one could hope.
Really, all that’s left is to grit teeth, gird thyself like a human made imago dei and give yourself over to the best kind of challenge: one for the whole body, the whole mind, the whole spirit.
It’s awesome, in the old sense of the word.
And, oddly, more restful than any leisure I’ve known my whole life.
Finally, departure and rejoining. I live close to my family, but the return has demonstrated another element of my first semester at Calvin I think particularly important to mention: I bear fruit from my experience, already emerging in conversation. In many ways, I left home hardly a man, and returned only a little farther on — but I came closer, and now am more familiar with the scent of whatever that thing it is I am becoming. I have been given the confidence of having been tried against many a topic through hundreds of conversations with ceaseless choices to be made.
I have entered the scene behind the window I’ve looked into my whole developing life. I have handled some of the things I knew as adultlike: I have faced moments of outright adversity, awful days, shattered laptops, and an ear infection; I have paid ludicrous bills and at times wondered just how the other side will appear to me. Responsibility is not a question: it is required.
To respond well, really, is the most secret hope I have for all things in my life. I saw myself respond very poorly to the challenge: I have sinned often and without care many times this semester — but I have also seen the inkling of something beyond: a deeper affection calling for better living.
I tell you the truth when I say I am being wooed by reality, at times by means of Calvin’s specifically designed intentions, at times by how Calvin has made space (intentionally or otherwise) for the living, breathing people inside it, a more excellent response to hardship. The times we face are not easy: I see the news and a miasma within it — Calvin also has had its share of public hardship.
But I am learning to learn what is right, noble, true, excellent and praiseworthy. I bear young marks with me back to my family, to whom I am indebted for bearing with me in all things.
To Calvin I owe a debt of gratitude.