When I started Wabash, I remember the day my parents moved me into the Kappa Sigma house was a really hot August morning, and when we walked into the fraternity house, I remember being greeted by “Bill” who was like the Hulk and shirtless and immediately intimidated the hell out of me. I was a gangling munchkin by comparison, and something about fraternity life still scared me. When Bill walked across the green carpet floors of the living room, the whole place creaked, but it turned out Bill was a huge teddy bear, probably one of the nicest guys in the house. He asked me who I was, knew exactly where I should go, and offered to carry some of my things.
Because Wabash at the time was nearly 75% Greek, fraternity houses were used as dormitories until the end of pledge week. I moved in that morning and I never moved out. I don’t think I even looked at a single other fraternity. As Bill helped me schlep my belongings upstairs to “Upper North,” I was immediately introduced to a senior named Glenn E. “Hambone” Smith IV – or his pledge name, Poindexter. Yes, the Poindexter from Revenge of the Nerds. And there was a striking resemblance.
P.dex, as he was called, turned out to be a psychology major who could play any musical instrument he picked up. Guitar, bass, drums – he was really good at drums – and some part of me wants to say he could play the saxophone, as well, but it may just be that every time you walked into his room, either Charlie Parker or Stan Getz was blaring from the speakers. I’m pretty sure there was also a long phase in which P.dex listened heavily to Bossa nova among other random Brazilian jazz.
Midway through the first semester, there was almost a routine in place. As we sat in P.dex’s hunter green room, we chatted usually about music or God or studied quietly. P.dex was a member of Campus Crusade and never missed a Sunday morning of church – probably one of the only guys in the house who attended any church, certainly the only who attended regularly. And even though in hindsight, I know we were world’s apart on where we were theologically, by his senior year, he’d really figured a lot out about himself and was a mentor in more ways than one. So, we were paired pretty early on with what down south everyone calls “bigs” or “big brothers” in the Greek system, though at Wabash we called them “pledge fathers.” It came as no surprise that my pledge father was P.dex, given our shared interest in religion and music and the fact we were already roommates.
One of the more poignant moments of my freshman year came in the library. I was working on a religion assignment, and P.dex sat across from me doodling on a sheet of paper. He scribbled down the words, “Where are you going?” It was the second semester of his senior year. For P.dex, it was something of a literal question. What’s after Wabash? For me, with three more years ahead, I wasn’t ready to think about what was next. I’d only just declared myself a religion major. But the question still burrowed its way in and became something existential. At the time, I might have just as easily worded it, “What are you about?”
Back in the hunter green jazz room, Glenn broke out his guitar and started strumming and singing Dave Matthew’s song, the same words he’d doodled out in the library. A song that was so obviously a conversation between a guy and a girl was, to P.dex, a conversation between himself and his understanding of the sacred, of Something Greater, of God. Dave sings, “I know one thing, that’s where you are is where I belong; I do know where you go is where I want to be.”
Lately, that mantra has sort of settled over me, and I feel some of P.dex’s old dilemma. As I’ve said, my sense of God today is not the same as it was when I was that gangling freshman in college, and it never quite matched what P.dex believed. Still, I’ve always felt pulled, moved, directed by something bigger. This morning, one of my old TA’s posted an article he wrote for Huffington Post, and in the article he confesses: “Maybe God is imaginary. Maybe love is too. So what? The imagination matters. It shapes civilizations and the saints (and even the tyrants) they produce.” These days, I feel a little like I’m learning what it means to sit with my imagination, though it’s beyond what happens in my head. I wish there were a word in English for the kind of “imagining” the heart can do. There are days where I am haunted by the fact that I don’t have a clear answer to the question, “Where are you going?” But there is a phrase that is settling on me as a kind of constant reminder to listen to myself. It’s simple, straight-forward, and it’s not the answer I wish I had, but for now is good enough: Follow your heart.
So tell me, heart, where are you going?