Pride is marbled so deeply through me, like fat in ribroast, that I am almost totally incapable of ever discerning my motivation. Sometimes in college I feel my brain is growing so big I want to scream to the world that I am indomitable; at other times I remember that I got a 29.5 percent on my geometry final last spring and that I am the only driver's ed. student in my town who the instructor wouldn't take onto the highway. Can I do everything?
As a mortal I am going to take a risk now and tell you a story that is hardly fit for printing.
When my flat-footed father was a young man, through an odd sequence of events that he probably prefers I leave out, he became an expert at castrating piglets. One weekend after acquiring this skill he came home to find his brother Marty who, it turned out, had just gotten three large pigs of his own and wished for my father to exercise his new skill on their behalf. Dad took one look at those full-grown pigs and knew he couldn't manage their weight. "Can't," he said. So they stuffed the three pigs into the back of my Uncle Marty's Gran Torino (took out the seats first) and went to the vet, who castrated the pigs easily and charged three bucks for the whole job.
To be impressive and seemingly indomitable is dangerous. My father may owe his bodily health to the understanding that it is nice, actually, to do what you can and leave the rest to the guy who will charge you three bucks. I am talking about the joys of admitting mortality.
We like people best who are not most impressive, but most mortal. I am fondest of the people who have magnificent propensity for getting the hamburger lettuce stuck in their teeth. They are not so far above me that I cannot reach out and touch them. I prefer anything to living alone, and they are people I want to enjoy.
Someone once told me that thirst is the deepest human longing. I don't remember who he was or why I believed him. I think the deepest human longing is for fellowship, and that the deepest human anxiety is, "Will I be alone?" Hell echoes with the certainty of aloneness, and it's too much to bear; but we feel disconnected even on earth. Through the mouth of Scrooge's nephew, Dickens told us that we are all creatures bound on the same journey. But how often do we feel that we are hurtling toward the finish all alone? We would feel this less if we worked less to impress each other with our invulnerability and worked more to truly see each other.
I sometimes think of the Patrick Henry student body as God's rain check to the world. Our student body, in all its dignity, jams into these sidewalks and pillars, stored up, waiting to go be salty and shiny in the world. In my time here I have scribbled down the people. Take, for instance, Laura. While playing the violin she is enviably attractive, like a mare running on the beach. Or take Ardee's unfailing amiability, round and orange as pumpkin pie, or Tony's singing. If we all sang, as Tony does, like exuberant loaded rifles, we might actually blow off the chapel ceiling so that any D1 chapel-skipping female might fall though the floor in her plaid pajamas. And every human is as fascinating as Laura, Ardee and Tony.
The temptation to impress, to pretend that we can control everything, is mighty for us, but like all sin, it turns to ashes in our mouths. We want others to love us and open up to us and give us grace - but by impressing them we bypass them altogether, for having their attention or envy is nothing like having their hearts. And of course, to elevate yourself is to give someone else a taste of Hell: a taste of alone. Thank God for our limitations and our mortal accidents. The foibles are well worth the fellowship. I have met another flawed human being. Do we have a chance now, to adventure together? Let's take out the seats, stuff the three pigs we can't handle into the back and hit the highway.
Chelsea Kolz is a student at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va.