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When I was 18, I stumbled into a very special place: 111 E. Spring. Not much to look at on the outside: grey stucco, two inviting porches topped by two balconies and a lived-in look ... across from the legendary alley that led uptown. But that's not what drew me.
As a wide-eyed freshman on my own for the first time, I wanted to delve into this new life headfirst: on my terms. So, when two well-dressed, smiling young men showed up at my dorm's lobby to escort those interested in attending their fraternity's little-sis rush, I declined. I had already tasted other rushes, mostly for the free food and beer, shying away at the meat-market mentality. But these guys were different right off the bat. The showed up, not expecting us to arrive drooling at their door and thankful for the privilege of being rated, berated, accepted and snubbed. Rather, they offered an invitation to see if we fit.
Of course, at the time, I didn't see it this way.
111 E. Spring was off the beaten path and fraternity row – thankfully. It became my home away from home for four years, though its after effects linger and color my sense of community and belonging. All of that was stirred this week as I reunited with four of my best buddies from those days.
We were a motley crew, someone noted last night. That's the truth and beauty of the matter. We were such a diverse, eclectic mix under the guise of being middle-class white kids at a prestigious Midwestern university. Ok, so there was a little more diversity, but not much as this school attracted students from the same pool.
Look beyond skin color, economic and educational status, and there were all sorts of personalities: the partiers, the studiers, the artists, the scientists, the business majors, the studs, the wall flowers, the geeks, confident seniors ready to take off and new pledges finding their grounding. We played hard, worked hard, held each other up and, generally, grew up together.
As a little sis, I was not a member of the fraternity, more an auxiliary, which meant I had no part in rituals or decision making. Except that we ran our own organization and were encouraged to interact with the brothers. I never felt less than or excluded. Of course, many people believed it was merely a dating or convenience service. Some of that existed, but, in the bigger picture, it was a group of young adults forging their own community for the first time.
It worked, I believe, because we each arrived with our quirkiness and were able to accept that in one another. We were not get-in-the-most-popular fraternity or sorority material, nor did we want that. Just about everyone received a nickname, one that stuck, which meant we were open to re-creating ourselves. I loved mine, Rosie, and still feel different when anyone calls me that. It was at 111 E. Spring that I felt accepted and valued for who I am, not what I do, how good I am, what I look like, etc. I shone here because we were mirrors for each other, reflecting back the brightness we witnessed and experienced. I was stunned one year to be named the fraternity sweetheart. I am by no means beautiful or fit the typical model, except this group rewarded my inner beauty. That was a rare gift.
Last night, surrounded by my guy friends from 111 E. Spring, I felt that same sense of unconditional belonging. I have struggled in my faith community desiring that. Our rooting in old patterns prevents us from being that open, accepting and optimistic as when we were young. Since re-experiencing that, however, I plan to resurrect that part in myself. I believe the mirror still exists to reflect our brightness to one another no matter our age or circumstance.
• Where have I felt a strong sense of belonging in community?
• What helped create that?
• If I don't have that now, what can I change to create it?
• How can I resurrect the openness of young adulthood right now in my life?
• How can I nurture those kinds of relationships?
wide eyed and ready
now I wonder what for,
thankfully then, I didn't stop to consider
only dove in
into the sea of life
along with others
doing the same
and recognizing that
in each other
I don't want to hesitate