If I can even remember this story...
I really wanted to tell a story. It seems like it's been a long time.
I remember my high school graduation ceremony. We sat out on the football field which was actually at Fred Moore Junior High School. Fred Moore had the swimming pool, too. And he was my uncle, but that's beside the point. Fred Moore (the school, not my uncle) was in Anoka, right in town. The high school was out Seventh Avenue, a new, modern building in the eighties. For gym class, you could take canoeing on the high school campus, but when we did swimming, they bussed us into town, to Fred Moore.
Anyway, on the evening of our graduation we sat out on the Fred Moore football field, uncomfortable metal folding chairs under our behinds and dark, damp grass under our feet. The sky was black; beneath it, stadium lights glared down on us. I don't know how many people were in my graduating class. Probably about 800. Being an introvert, I knew approximately fifteen of them.
During the graduation, different people spoke. I suppose there was some music, but I don't remember it. Our parents sat in the bleachers, the ones where we had all attended football games, under which much teenage sin had taken place over the years.
I tuned out. There in a sea of eighteen-year-olds clad in burgundy caps and gowns, I felt utterly alone and miserable. "I have to go to college," I thought. "Why are people celebrating? What's to celebrate? Now we just have to go to college, and it is going to be even harder than high school, and it will cost money."
They started calling names. People began to walk the stage. Hooting and cheering filled the stadium. I thought, "Stupid fools." I know that is not a very Christian thought. I was not very mature in Christ at that point in my life. Also I was bored and scared, an awful combination of emotions.
I don't remember actually walking. I just remember sitting there on that uncomfortable metal chair with gnats around my head, noticing how the stadium lights clearly articulated each blade of grass as the night dew condensed.
At the kitchen table at home, my father told me, "When you get to college, you need to join a Christian organization."
I was going to the University of Minnesota, a megatropolis of academia. I was going there because
(a) it was my cheapest option,
(b) I did not want to go to college, and expected that I would be miserable, and
(c) I wanted to spend as little money as possible making myself miserable.
My dad was all about helping me find friends, about making this gargantuan campus of over 60,000 students (his own Alma Mater) a small and friendly place. "Find a Christian organization," he told me. "The Navigators are the best. If you can't find them, sign up with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. And if you can't find them, I guess Campus Crusade is all right."
Dutifully, upon beginning college, I checked the posted signs in Coffman Student Union for information about Christan groups on campus. I didn't find any Navigators, so I ran my finger down the list a second time, looking for Intervarsity. It was there. I compared the times Bible studies were offered against my class schedule and picked a group that I thought would work.
Let me insert here: I did not date. I was not the dating type. I do not know if this was because I was ugly, or because I was shy, or because I was too serious. Perhaps I stank. I'm not sure what the issue was, but I did not date, and I had never had a boyfriend. Also, my dad wanted me to be a doctor (never mind that I go all woozy at the sight of any injury).
So I went to the first meeting of the Intervarsity Bible study. It was not their main meeting, which I quickly learned was held at a different time in a larger room. This was just a small-group Bible study, and only two others attended besides me. They were the co-leaders, Steve and a girl whose name I can't remember. They said, "Let's go around and introduce ourselves and tell a little about ourselves."
Steve went first. He said, "My name is Steve. I'm a junior in Computer Engineering, and I have a girlfriend named Nancy."
Then the girl went (I am totally making up all the specifics here): "Hi, my name is Lori. I'm a senior studying Nursing, and I have boyfriend named Joe."
Following their pattern, I said, "Hi, my name is Ruth. I'm a freshman with an undeclared major, and I don't have a boyfriend." Then I realized how dumb that must sound, so I tried to backpedal. I continued desperately, "My dad doesn't want me to have a boyfriend. He wants me to focus on my schoolwork. He wants me to be a doctor."
I think it is even worse to recall such a conversation at age 46 than it was to be there in the moment.
Kindly, they just laughed. Steve said, "Oh, we'll get you a boyfriend."
I said, "No, really. Please. My dad doesn't want that." Awkward.
The next week I was running late for the meeting. I had long, fine, thin hair which I still wore in plastic barrettes, pulled back above my ears on the sides. My bangs were cut and curled to be fluffy 80's bangs, except that nothing about my hair ever has been or ever will be fluffy. I wore jeans, sneakers and a red windbreaker, not enough to combat the chill on that windy October day. I remember running breathlessly over the Washington Avenue pedestrian bridge to the Union, my nose and cheeks windburned, and my hair hopelessly tangled. I was huffing and puffing as I tore up the stairs to the room where our Bible study was scheduled to meet.
I opened the door, and there at the table with their Bibles were Steve, Lori, and this tall guy sporting a clean-cut haircut, a letter jacket and white high-tops with red laces.
My backpack slid off my shoulder and hit the floor.
"Oh my word, Steve, I'm going to kill you," I thought.
Actually, a jumble of thoughts raced through my brain cells: "That didn't take them long," and "Really?" and "I wonder if there is snot running out of my nose..." (you know how that happens when you enter a warm room after exerting yourself in cold weather?) and... "This is so stupid. Well, I might as well do the Meagan experiment."
Meagan was a sweet five-year-old whom I babysat the previous summer. "Do you have a boyfriend, Ruth?" she used to ask me. She would sit on my lap and play with my long hair, braiding and unbraiding, making it even stringier than it already was, and she would say, "But you're so pretty. You need to have a boyfriend."
When you have never been pretty in your life, it is a nice feeling to have a five-year-old idolize you, however misguided you know she must be.
"This is what you need to do," Meagan used to say. Meagan, my relationship counselor. "When you meet that boy, you just have to look right straight into his eyes with your beautiful big, brown eyes. Just like this..." and she would peer earnestly into my face with her lovely little-girl freckle-rimmed eyes. "And then..." she could barely contain herself, "and then he will look into your eyes and he will see how beautiful they are, and he will just go... 'awwww'... and he will fall right in love with you. Just like that." She batted her eyelids and folded her hands beneath her chin.
So you see, I figured I had nothing to lose. It was all too awful and awkward and annoying, so I just sat down, got out my Bible and looked right straight into the eyes of this tall kid.
I was not much for looking deep into people's eyes. I'm still not, to tell the truth. It was quite a startling experience. I don't think I'd ever done such a thing before.
He looked back at me. His eyes were steely blue above high cheekbones. He had beautiful Scandinavian coloring and strong features, a strong chin and forehead. The irises of his eyes were very round in his strong, Scandinavian face. He met my eyes and he held them with his gaze. My stomach flipped a little. I thought, "This is too weird. Do I like this? I'm not sure. Maybe I do."
His name was Shawn. He was a sophomore studying Electrical Engineering. He did not have a girlfriend.