Thursday, September 17, 2015
The First Days Are the Hardest Days
There has been so much positive energy here at Kent to begin the year—from the bell-ringing welcome of Early Week to our first classes of the academic year leading up to formal dinner tonight. Unfortunately, I’m going to take all of this positive energy and go in a totally disturbing direction. I can’t help it. Tonight I begin with a confession. It’s a hard one to make, but here goes.
I watch a reality show called…Naked and Afraid. I watch it often, sometimes one episode after another.
How many of you have seen this show?
I can hear Mr. Booth’s voice as I make my confession tonight.
“What is this rubbish?” Rubbish, it’s a good word. He says this on the soccer field, maybe in the classroom too.
Well, this rubbish is now the top reality show on television, moving ahead of I Am Cait, which I’ve never seen. Some day they will make a reality show about boarding school, and we’ll all be stars. On a positive note, I do not watch American Ninja Warrior or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Even more disturbing than the Naked and Afraid show itself, as a presence and muse in my life, I sensed a chapel talk was coming out of my regular viewing this summer.
Here’s how the show works; here’s what kind of rubbish it is. One male and one female participant are dropped into a wilderness area. They lose their clothes in exchange for just a simple satchel and one chosen item for survival. Fire starters are a popular choice, along with the machete and hatchet. In each episode, the pair is left to fend for their survival in the jungles of South America, Africa, or the tropics. The camera crew gives aid only in situations of medical emergency, and a participant may tap out at any time. After twenty-one days, the survivors have to make it to an extraction point where they are evacuated back to the normalcy that we take for granted. If this isn’t enough for you, there is also Naked and Afraid XL, my favorite. XL is a format which has twelve contestants who have to work together, or separately near each other, over a period of forty days (the same as Jesus in the wilderness). Jesus and Naked and Afraid are now in the same sentence. God help us all.
Finding a water source, building your first shelter, making fire, finding fruit, eating insects, killing your first animal. These are the challenges. Maybe your challenges here at Kent are not so different. Some of the participants cover themselves with mud to avoid the heat and sunburn of the environment. They become mud people. I might give this a try this year; we’ll see how things go.
So everyone is just a little Naked and Afraid this week. Homesickness is real for many students, and nearly everyone goes through it at some point. Kent is a great place to be a student—and a teacher, but it’s never easy to be brand new. All beginnings are hard, but that’s where the opportunities are to grow. Being new at Kent can feel very awkward at times. If you are a returning student, brimming with confidence and optimism, take the time to help the people around you. If you see someone eating alone in the dining hall, take the opportunity to join him or her.
Keep things simple at first, one step at a time, one day at a time. Uncomplicate your lives and needs. Like on the show, finding a good water source is the place to start; I like Dickinson second floor. That’s a really nice drinking faucet; a long, steady stream. And it’s cold. The water horse—I think that’s what it’s called--on South Field is a drinking delight. You have to put your whole head in the spray to find your chosen stream. I think the football team has one of these on the north side of campus. Oh here’s a good tip, don’t drink water from the river. Maybe nobody told you in orientation, and it’s not in the handbook anywhere. I looked.
Be resilient in the weeks to come; don’t get too high or too low. Something new will come out of the anxiety at the beginning of the year; maybe it already has. Success in something will bring you out of your worries. And then you deal with new challenges as your survival rating increases.
By the second week, however, the situation with protein must be faced. On the reality show, you’re going to have to kill an animal. Personally, I would start with fishing the river. Ok, this doesn’t really apply to us with a dining hall in our regular orbit. However, we did have a student a few years ago named Hunter White who learned to live off the land as he found edible plants surrounding the campus. I never saw him in the dining hall. If you have an interest in this kind of crunchy lifestyle, you should talk with Mr. Klingebiel to find out what’s good to eat and what to avoid. If you’re looking for extra protein in the wilderness of Kent, I suggest a visit to Chris the hot dog man who works near the Patco. He has been working this corner for thirty-eight years, since he was twelve years old. I recommend the kielbasa with onions.
In the Matthew reading tonight, Jesus gives his primary teaching on anxiety. This was two thousand years ago, but stress is nothing new for our species. We’ve always faced it. Jesus points out the harmony and beauty of nature, its essential goodness; if God so cares for the natural world, how much more does he care for us? According to Jesus, the universe is rooting for you. Nature is on your side. Ok, that may be a little much to hear with the food chain and animals eating other animals—now that’s stressful. But ours is a God who is always willing to help, a God who loves each of us unconditionally. Prayer can definitely help your cause, and many of the participants in Naked and Afraid take time to pray. Chapel at Kent is a time to catch your breath, to refuel, to pray, to imagine wholeness in what is broken right now. At the most difficult points in my own life, I have always found new room for religious faith, that it may actually grow; that I have a belief in things unseen, and all I have to do is move forward faithfully for God’s love and care to be manifest in the most surprising ways. And it is. It’s never quite what I’m looking for. It’s often something better.
Getting along with others is crucial on the show; in the wild, it is everything. You don’t have to like a person to get along with them. And sometimes in the getting along, the liking comes. Cooperation is in our DNA. Seek the positives around you, and positive thinking will draw positive results over time.
I wish all of you the best as you begin the year, clothed and optimistic. I hope to see you moving forward on the savanna.