It didn't make sense that I was sweating. Even though it was October the air bit with a ferocity that made me think I should be back at the apartment wrapped in a blanket watching Heroes. No, that was no good, I was on a quest.
My feet pumped the pedals of my classic road bike hard. I passed under a streetlight, watching my shadow overtake me before retreating into nothing. A sob choked out against my will, and feeling that in the back of my throat made me want to lose it completely. I tried to turn my mind away from the void threatening to swallow it, thinking instead of happier things. My stories, the sweatshirt I got from the Salvation Army with the sleeves that hung past my fingers, the away message I put up before leaving on this quest in the first place. Here I chuckled and actually spoke the words aloud, sending them off into the quiet of the night.
"Gone Jesus fishing."
I had to pull the brake early; my "classic" bike was not exactly top of the line. The student union was not nearly crowded as it usually was, but students and staff still filed in and out, changing their trajectories to avoid me. I let out a small laugh that was anything but humorous. People would avoid me, wouldn't they? Once stopped, I uncoiled my cable lock from around my wrist and threaded it through the frame of my bike, attaching it to the stand with the others there. I let out a tired sigh and rubbed my hands to warm them before entering the union.
I stood in the atrium entrance, suddenly at a loss as to how to go about this. My eyes scanned the information desk, the double stairway leading up to the food court, the posters lining the wall. Eventually they settled on the door of the campus coffee shop, Ink. A long shot probably, but I had to start somewhere.
The coffee shop was dark as I entered it, some abstractly soothing music playing in the background. People were chatting or doing homework, so I wasn't sure how to best approach my question at hand. Loneliness suddenly lashed through me like a whip and spurred me on. Completely forgetting tact, I raised my voice above the music and conversation so I was sure everyone could hear me.
"Excuse me," I all but shouted. "I was wondering if there were any Christians here."
Blank stares greeted me as I appraised what had suddenly become my crowd. A couple seconds of silence elapsed before I spoke again. "Seriously? There are no Christians here?" Shaking my head, I began to mutter under my breath, "They're all over the place when you're not looking for one…"
"Why do you need one?" A man in his mid-forties asked I assumed out of detached curiosity.
"I…" Trailing off briefly, I reflected on the best way to answer the seemingly simple question. "I just really want to have a conversation with one."
"Oh," He looked me up and down, probably trying to see if I was crazy. "Well, good luck with that." He turned back to the coffee just as everyone else returned to their business. I felt invisible, like a sentence spoken when no one else was around.
Upon leaving the coffee shop, I reflected back on my game plan. It had seemed simple from the outset: Go to campus, find Christian, converse. I sighed. Nothing was ever easy.
Briefly, I entertained the notion of approaching random individuals and asking them if they were Christian. I thought about Ink and the way people stared at me. My chest ached and my knees almost buckled. I couldn't handle this hit or miss stuff. I needed counsel, and I needed it immediately. My eyes drifted up to the information desk in the atrium and I paused. Could it really be as easy as that?
Not giving myself time for second-guessing, I walked up to the information desk and addressed the bored looking student sitting behind it. "Excuse me," I tried to control my voice as best I could, but the misery was not so easily dismissed. "This is going to sound weird, but do you know where I could find any Christians?"
She paused for a second, thinking, before calling to an open door behind her, "Hey Katie, do you know where someone could find some Christians?"
"What?" Katie emerged from the door, a look of confusion on her face.
I jumped in, "It's weird, I know, but I was looking for a Christian to talk to."
Her attention turned to me before her face clouded in thought. "Well…" Her eyes unfocused and I could see she was thinking hard. Suddenly, everything cleared. "Oh!" She exclaimed. "There's Christian community housing across the street. Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians—you looking for anything in particular?"
I shook my head, "Um, not really. I'm just kind of looking for someone who's pro-Jesus."
It had started raining through the darkness, the invisible drops of cold perfectly complementing my mood. I shivered in my jacket as I started across the street, scanning the various houses. Most were as dark as the night outside, except for one. A large picture window opened up onto the street, clearly showing the almost domestic scene inside. Four or five students sat on various couches in a rough circular format. I paused outside, suddenly gripped with indecision. What right did I have to barge in on them, on their world? I slouched down, touching my fingers to the wet sidewalk in frustration. I wanted to scream and cry and rage, but mostly I just wanted to stop feeling like this.
I slowly walked up to the door and rang the bell. As I waited, I studied the stone wall next to the door. A cross was carved there, along with what I assumed was the denomination of the house, although I couldn't make it out in the darkness. I didn't much care anyways.
A light shined as the door opened and a young girl my age poked her head out. "Can I help you?" She asked.
I took a deep breath in. "I hope so. I know this is going to sound really strange, but-"
She smiled and gently interrupted me. "Here, come on in and we can talk all about it."
Slightly startled, I followed her into the warmth of the house. Inside were the couches I saw from the sidewalk, but also some things I did not see. In one corner was a small kitchenette and in another was a computer, very close to a stairway that presumably led to the second floor. Before I had time to examine more, there were people around me.
They weren't all smiling, and I was glad for it; that probably would've creeped me out. Some were smiling, and those who weren't were regarding me with a gentle curiosity that for some reason comforted me. Brief introductions were made before Angela, the girl who welcomed me in, took my coat and gestured for me to take a seat on one of the couches. I sat, as did everyone else. "So," Angela said. "What brings you here?"
I paused here. All night I had wanted nothing more than to have a long discussion with a Christian, and now that I had my chance, I felt a wall build up within me. I glanced around desperately at these strangers whose house I had invaded. Water dripped from my hair and landed on the couch and I stared at the wet mark it made. The pause stretched out into actual silence and before I knew it I started to panic. I could not make myself talk. I shook then, and I couldn't tell whether or not it was from the cold.
I looked up at the group of people, and again they weren't all smiling. However, I saw something in their eyes that I hadn't seen all night, genuine interest.
"I'm incredibly lonely." As soon as the words came out, the wall came tumbling down and I felt as if I could suddenly draw a real breath. Slight warmth returned to my voice as I continued. "I've always been pretty spiritual, and I believe in God, but I've always had a hard time with Jesus." I looked around at the group again, drawing strength from them. "See, I write a lot, and so I'm familiar with stories. Whenever I look at the bible and Jesus, though, that's what I see. Another story." More strength now, I was on a roll. "But whenever I see a Christian walking around, they always seem really content, really happy, and I was wondering why that was. Is it your connection to Jesus? What is it?"
The silence I was met with was not blank and disbelieving like the one in Ink, but rather, thoughtful. Finally, Doug, a young looking kid with short hair, spoke up. "I think the reason we seem so happy to you is because we're committed to something greater than ourselves."
Another guy, Charlie, jumped in. "We believe that we're sinful by nature, but if we believe in God and follow the teachings of Jesus, then we know we're doing good in the world."
I watched them carefully, the certainty in their voices. "You make it sound pretty simple."
"It's not." Angela said in a less than reassuring tone. "Being a Christian isn't like a magic wand you can wave to make your problems go away. Faith is something you have to work at."
An odd feeling came over me at those words that I couldn't quite identify. I thought about the stories I'd heard and read throughout my life, and about how the hero was always given a chance for an easy path that would ultimately destroy him. Learning that it wasn't as easy as "find Christian, converse" some how lifted some of the loneliness, though not completely.
"Do you want to sit in on our bible study?" Doug asked.
This time, I appraised him curiously. "Sure." I said.
Angela grinned at me. "Would you like a marshmallow fish?"
"What?" I asked, confused.
She leapt up from the couch and ran to the kitchenette. Grinning, she brought back a small tan object and handed it to me.
Stunned, I stared at the small rice krispy treat I held in my hand, carved in the shape of a Jesus fish. My eyes rolled briefly to the heavens before I burst out laughing.
It was still raining when I left the house an hour or so later. My mind buzzed with the stories I had heard and discussed as I crossed the street to my bike, undid the chain and began to ride back to my apartment. I had a hard time concentrating on the things around me as I continued onwards, even the groundwater my back tire spun up at me, soaking the seat of my pants.
I wasn't depressed anymore, but I wasn't exactly happy either. I couldn't figure out exactly how I felt. It was only when I pulled up to my apartment and locked up my bike that the name for my feeling struck me. I was at peace. I entered the complex and dashed up the stairs to my apartment, closing the door behind me.
I hung my soaking jacket to dry and quickly changed into a new set of clothes. I tried to think about the things the Christians told me, but it all seemed a jumble in my mind, really too much to take in all at once.
Then I thought of Angela's smile as she opened the door, Doug's quiet curiosity, and everyone's absolute conviction. I smiled to myself as I thought about how they took me in to their home without any explanation. I briefly wondered whether I would return to that quiet home of love and faith.
"Yeah," I spoke aloud to the empty apartment, savoring the words as they drifted away. "I just might."
Still smiling and shaking my head, I sat at my computer and checked my away messages. Nothing. I shrugged and closed the window. Time to stop being away.