In the summer of 1997, I was completely DEBT-FREE. My credit cards were paid off, I owned my car (a 1991 Saturn SL1), and I had just gotten back from a Navy Reserve duty in Stuttgart, Germany (with an extra week spent in Paris and Bretagne, France). Man, those were the days!
Okay, so I was working at a hotel job I hated for $6 an hour. That was okay work while I was attending school full time at Georgia State, but not what I wanted to do with my life.
So, in answer to a prayer that I had made to God in December 1996, it was to attend BYU and so I did...
I've been questioning God a lot lately. I'm wondering where did I go wrong? As much as I love the friends I made at BYU, as much as the difficult experience there as a religious outsider (despite our common heritage in the first 14 years of the church's existence) was a growing experience, it is the college loan debt and nothing but low wage jobs in the years since that have brought me to this point of near, total, utter emotional devastation. People at work are noticing how unhappy I seem all the time, but I can't help it. Everytime I find something to be happy about, it's taken away from me. The only thing not taken away is the debt that I carry. The debt that began occurring when I went to BYU. What do I have to show for it...other than a few friends (well...the ones who still keep in touch, that is)? I'm actually wondering if I'm the only person who's actually making less with a college degree than I earned without having one. I keep wondering when my degree is going to pay off with a good salaried job? Or do I have to incur even more debt and go on to grad school?
The honest truth is, had I known everything the past ten years would have entailed, I would not have attended BYU. The college loan debt and credit card debt just aren't worth the headaches. Sometimes I wonder if that was the voice of God that I heard, or the trickster?
On the other hand, when I think about the experiences I've had there, the spiritual growth I noticed after my time there, and the friends I've made in Matt Baker, Janell, Mandy, Brooklyn, Jantzen; the lady I dated (Yudelka Casto); the times I actually cried when I came out of the testing center after bombing a test; the trials I've had with a few difficult roommates; the interesting submersion into complete Mormon culture that was so foreign to what I was accustomed to; and all the times the prompting of the spirit led me to some good self-knowledge about how the spirit world works...all of that has added something important to my life. So yes, that part of my experience was worth every cent (with deferred interest).
I can't believe it has been ten years since I took that journey, starting with a four-day roadtrip from Atlanta in a fully packed car, with no worries that I might have a wreck or a flat. I just went...and almost got sideswiped by a speeding taxi in Memphis TN. I had to cancel plans to visit the Oklahoma City bombing memorial because of a torrential downpour as I drove through the city. But I did get to spend a couple days in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which I loved. And then I took part in the Honors Program intro, and then the Freshmen indoc program (at which point, I felt way too old for those fresh out of high school 18 year olds). I was a 25 year old Freshman. But those were the days. I lived in Deseret Towers and the first week at BYU, I felt like I was truly among aliens. I never had culture shock when I first moved to Germany and also to Italy, as I did at BYU. I guess I had no idea just how far apart our two churches were. I grew up thinking that we were like Canada and America, where the only noticeable difference was the way one pronounced "about" (aboot), but beyond that, the similarities were striking. Not so with our two churches. I also realized that I'd feel lost in such a large church and came to truly appreciate my own in the years since. We may not be perfect, but it's perfect for me. Small, interconnected, and complete freedom.
In 2000, after our internship ended, my roommate Jantzen asked if I'd ever go back to Provo, Utah for a visit. I told him that it was too soon. The pain of the loneliness I felt there was too fresh. Not just the loneliness, but the intolerance I felt for not joining "the One True Church" (I actually thought people would have accepted an RLDS at BYU without a need to convert me to "the dark side"). I said maybe in 5 years, but definitely by my 10th anniversary. So, I'm contemplating it for October. I really do want to walk the campus again and see how my perceptions have changed, to see what memories are brought up, and to see how different (if at all) this new batch of Freshmen are from when I attended. Most of all, it would be kind of like an emotional "homecoming"...more of a measurement of how much I've changed and have grown from the experience of attending there. I might be "richer" in terms of emotional and spiritual development, but I'm still waiting for that to translate into real dollars. I want my degree to lead me to the job of my dreams. Back then, it was to be a loyal political aide to President Gore. Now, I don't know what...but I'm still every bit as passionate about human rights as I was when I took my favourite course in college: the Human Rights one taught by Darren Hawkins, who made no apologies for his liberal views.
Those were the days. God bless 'em!