That old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing… Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.
~Wallace Stegner from Angle of Repose
Sixteen thousand students have appeared magically overnight on the campus where I’ve worked for three decades. Unfortunately a record was set for the number who ended up in the emergency room last night due to their celebrating the start of the school year a bit too aggressively.
How is it the start of a new school year can be wistful, jubilant and potentially hazardous all at the same time? There are always plenty of mistakes to be made and plenty to learn from, though sometimes at tremendous cost. This is a risky way to start an education.
More than New Year’s Day, the beginning of autumn represents so many turned-over new “leafs”. We are reminded of this whenever we look at the trees all over our beautiful campus and how their leaves are turning and letting go, seemingly joyful as they make way for the next stage of growth, the slate wiped clean and ready to be scribbled on once again.
Every autumn each emerging adult comes to the university with a similar clean slate, hoping to start fresh, leaving behind what has not worked well for them in the past. These are our future patients who we hope are open to change because they are dedicating themselves to self-transformation through knowledge and discipline.
It is a true privilege, as a college health doc, to participate in our students’ transition to become autonomous critical thinkers striving to better the world as compassionate global citizens. Their rich colors deepen when they let go to fly wherever the wind may next take them.
We who remain rooted in place celebrate each new beginning, knowing we nurture the hoped-for transformation…
…as long as we can keep them out of the emergency room.
You can hide nothing from God.
The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him.
He wants to see you as you are,
He wants to be gracious to you.
You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers,
as if you were without sin;
you can dare to be a sinner.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Life Together
One of my Monday morning jobs in our college health clinic is to meet with any student who got so intoxicated they had to spend part of the weekend in the emergency room. Alcohol poisonings are distressingly common on all college campuses, and ours is no exception. What I do during our morning-after visit is review the records with the student so they have some idea what took place before they woke up hours later on a gurney in a noisy smelly emergency room– alcohol is an effective amnesia-producing anesthetic when it doesn’t manage to outright kill its consumer. It is a humbling experience to read about what one said and did while one was under the influence of intoxicants and yet have no memory of any of it. That is why my time is well spent with the recovering and remorseful. Not only does their stomach lining still burn from all the vomiting, but their head hurts from acknowledging the risks they took in the name of having a good time. It is rare that I ever need to meet again with the same student about similar behavior.
This, in reality, is a very effective kind of hurting, one that is crucial to future decision-making: dangerous behavior is far less appealing when one still carries the scars. Priorities change for the better.
Today I won’t be able to work in several hundred now-sober students into this morning’s clinic schedule after the unfortunate and widely publicized events that happened just a couple blocks off our college campus a little over 24 hours ago. I suspect most of the students involved remember more than they wish to about their participation in a big-block-party-gone-terribly-wrong. They were part of an aggressive mob mentality threatening law enforcement personnel trying to disperse an increasingly rowdy and obnoxious crowd. Some are finding themselves in video and Instagram/Facebook documentation of their profane words and gestures, throwing potentially lethal objects, vandalizing private and city property as well as causing thousands of dollars of city resources to confront out of control drunk rioters. These students can try to lay low but there is no place to hide from their inner knowledge of what they have done, the part they played and the irreparable damage they caused to individuals, relationships, property and as well as the reputations of the city and the university. There is no comforting alcohol amnesia to hide within this time.
The only possible healing from an event like this is to come clean about what one has done, admit the mistakes made and work to make it right no matter the cost — to dare to acknowledge the sins committed and accept the consequences of one’s actions.
Hiding is cheap — guilt and shame remain behind the mask.
Grace and forgiveness is costly but there is no longer need to hide and be eaten away by a continually hurting soul.
My prescription for this day and in the days to come: changed priorities ahead. College is about obtaining a valuable and precious education, not about finding the biggest and best party of intoxicants.
Take with food and a large dose of humility.