Dorms bring people together in a powerful way, and God taught me the importance of getting a dorm attitude if I am to live and love as He desires. I was working at Western Carolina University several years ago and teaching a class at UNC Asheville. I decided it would be more convenient to stay in the dorm during the week and not hassle with the hour commute twice a day. I came close to changing my mind, packing my bags and heading home on Sunday evening, but I’m glad I decided to stay.
When I arrived on campus, I felt a sense of revival and couldn’t wait to begin preparing for the week-long class. It was a beautiful summer afternoon, so I decided to unpack my things and take a long walk. This was going to work out perfectly, and I applauded my wise decision to simplify the busy week. I was pretty smug about my wisdom until I was reminded that dorm life was a unique way of living with others and nothing like the quiet life I had been living since leaving my husband.
I finished unpacking and was relaxing when company showed up at my door. The knock had an authoritative ring to it, and I was taken back to my childhood for an instant. Was I in trouble already? I opened the door, and a very young and very surprised young lady looked past me into the room for signs of habitation. I imagine she thought a squatter had taken temporary refuge in her suite. Her living space was suddenly invaded, and she had come to get a look at the intruder. She was probably expecting a leftover freshman from The Summit Orientation and was prepared to get rid of them. That notion quickly fled when she noticed I was older than her mother. I explained I was teaching a graduate class for the week and would be in the room for the duration. Her demeanor immediately changed when she found herself face to face with an old teacher. She sweetly explained that she wanted to meet me since we would be sharing a bathroom. I smiled and agreed that it was important to know those who share such private quarters.
When she left, I wondered what I had been thinking when I decided to stay in the dorm. I knew the skyrocketing gas prices and the long commute were at the heart of my decision, but the thirty-year gap between my experiences in dorm living was proving to be significant. Things, especially me, had obviously changed. Shortly after my conversation with my suite-mate, I heard a concerned male voice. This added a new dimension of stress as his presence make the sharing more complicated. Naturally, I had to go to the bathroom. I would just wait them out or go somewhere else. Surely, he would leave soon. Minutes stretched out, and so did my bladder. I realized I was acting like the freshman she thought me to be earlier. I smiled at my panic and realized her boyfriend had more to fear than I because he was the one squatting. I opened the door and set off to find relief.
I had prepared myself for the inevitable confrontation and was almost disappointed at the empty bathroom. I was heading back to my room to prepare for class when a new distraction came from the neighboring suite. The community bathroom was next to my room, and a symphony of “Oh My God” permeated the air. I shook my head and seriously questioned my sanity in booking the room and wondered how long it would take me to pack and get home.
As day turned to night, I reconciled myself to the fact that I was completely surrounded by people who not only were speaking a strange dialect of my native tongue, but were also in a different time zone. I had the sinking feeling that I was not going to get much sleep. I’m not sure when human beings start to think about how much sleep they get, but I think it must be in their mid forties. Before that, we don’t think about it. Young people don’t worry at all about sleeping, and older folks seem to worry about nothing else. I realized, in the midst of my panic, there was a silver lining in all the chaos. The bathroom was sure to be free at six in the morning.
I decided to change my attitude, mostly because I was outnumbered. Besides, I doubt the the chancellor himself would have any sympathy for me. I had been working on being less rigidly attached to things and spreading telling my friends that my new attitude was making life more pleasant, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that God gave me a little hands on experience in being less rigid. Recognizing a test increases my chances of passing, and I decided I would ace this one.
Eastern philosophy proclaims that doing things you did as a child, allows you to transcend time and literally feel younger physically and mentally. The aging process not only slows down when you play hopscotch, eat an ice cream cone, or ride a bike, it actually goes backward a bit. I needed to think like and act like a college student; when in Rome, do as the Romans do. If I stopped worrying and threw myself into the dorm atmosphere, I could benefit from all the energy surrounding me. I decided to go with the flow instead of swimming upstream.
I put on some music to get me into the appropriate mood and turned up the volume. I stopped worrying about the clock, and it was great! I read, wrote, and studied to the music. It was way past my bedtime by the time I rolled into bed, but that didn’t matter. I didn’t have any trouble getting to sleep. Dorms don’t have bedtimes, and that’s what makes them so wonderful. There must be something to the mind-body connection those Eastern philosophers claim after all. Those who worry about how much sleep they have gotten and are going to get are always tired while those who don’t count the hours they sleep are never tired. Getting a dorm attitude taught me to quit thinking about sleeping and start thinking about more important things. I’ve always been able to write best in a restaurant or busy place. Writers know it’s much better to be surrounded by energy than silence when it comes to creativity, and dorms are the place where you find lots of energy. A simple change of attitude got my creative energy flowing, and sleeping like a teenager was just icing on the cake.