I'm pleased to feature this piece from good friend (and real-life neighbor) Tony Kriz. For more from Tony, read one of his many pieces for Leadership Journal. For more on this topic, be sure to catch "Planting the New Parish," and "Mary, Martha, and Slow Church." - Paul
I miss my university years.
It has been twenty-two years since I graduated from college. I went to a state school in a medium-sized Oregon farm town. For me, it was a fantastic experience and my four years there were among the most meaningful of my life.
I cannot deny the fondness I feel. Is it just nostalgia? Maybe … in part. But when I sit now and reflect back more than two decades there are several formative realities of my university years that seem hard to come by in my modern urban world. And I am not alone. I have heard many others express similar feelings, though it is often hard to put language to this sense of lack.
Here is an attempt to define what made my college days feel significant and formative:
I was connected.
My state-school's world was only about fifteen-blocks by fifteen-blocks in size, if you took into consideration all the school facilities, living quarters, basic businesses, recreation, employment opportunities, and locations of leisure.
In such a bounded world, it was an amazing feeling (I didn't even know how good I had it) to get up in the morning and walk down the sidewalks and paths and almost constantly have someone to greet. Chance conversations were the norm. Unexpected encounters were simply a part of walking out my door.
If only life could be like that today.
My school was decent sized. There were over fifteen thousand undergrads, and on top of that there were graduate students, faculty, staff, and "normal" neighbors, but still, there seemed to be connectedness everywhere. If you pointed at a dormitory or a fraternity house, odds were that I considered one or more people inside to be friends. Like I said, I didn't know everybody but odds are that I knew somebody who knew almost anybody… and that is something pretty magical.
I believe this came from a few factors. One was simply the fact that my world was small. I didn't spend much time in my car, transporting from one isolated place to the next. It was also because my world was simple (boy oh boy, do I miss simple) so simple that abrupt transitions were all but unnecessary.
I was known.
It wasn't just that I knew people's names; relationships seemed fairly intentional back then (I don't want to be overly idyllic, since we were immature nineteen-year-olds, but still.) Not only did we strive to know each other's stories, we were also fairly interconnected through overlapping communities. If I was hurting, successful, stressed, sad, inspired or exhausted, you could bet that a web of people knew about it.
Pain was shared.
I can remember that a young man committed suicide my sophomore year. I didn't know him personally. A few of my friends knew him. Know him or not though, everyone was talking about it. Sitting in class there was a mournful buzz.
I also remember the day that Congress was voting whether or not to enter the first Gulf War (Desert Storm). We were all pretty upset about it. A spontaneous prayer vigil was convened that evening in the Student Center to beg God for wisdom and mercy. It was just a word-of-mouth thing. Hundreds showed up: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists. Most of us wanted to pray. All of us wanted to be together.