Whether it’s a standalone vignette or just a simple moment they can’t let go of, we asked students across campus to tell us a story in 150 words or less.
The night of the Northwestern Community Ensemble concert, I was set to perform my first solo. Whenever I have a large performance in front of people, my heart pounds to the point where it feels like it’s actually beating my chest. I thought of several ways this could go poorly: Were the the notes going to be too high? Was I going to sing loud enough? Was I going to look stupid onstage?
The first time I practiced the song with the choir, I was still trying to figure out my expression. After sleeping on it and practicing on my own, it began to feel as if someone else was singing but using my body to do it. It was more than just an increase in confidence; it felt as if I was being guided by the Holy Spirit. The choir could definitely tell the difference.
There just came a point where I had to let go. The more I focus on my own performance, the more I consider my failure rather than looking toward worshipping God. It’s a gap that preparation alone can’t bridge. My goal in singing the song was simply to sing it well, but working of the Holy Spirit is to find an elevation and guidance outside of my own personal realm of possibility. Gospel music just has this way of bringing all of the emotion and passion out of you that gives you this laser-sharp focus to make the song a time of worship. Performing at the concert, I didn’t have to care about my nerves or what I looked like. My heart was so focused that everything else melted away.
The Spirituality of Spontaneous Concert Tickets
It’s my first weekend in San Francisco, and the city is welcoming me by hurling Home Depot-sized buckets of cold rain down my back. Even when my roommate and I get back to the one-bedroom Airbnb we’re sharing with two more roommates, it’s still pouring.
I’m one of those people who buys tickets to a concert without figuring out how to get there. It’s a bad habit that I blame on my inability to curb my own optimism. This time, I bought tickets to HAIM before I knew my roommate would agree to accompany me, but now I feel bad for dragging her out to Berkeley and into the storm. We’re standing in the pouring rain for two hours in translucent plastic ponchos, just to see my favorite band. I’m grateful that she didn’t let me go alone, that this is one thing I didn’t have to experience by myself.
I’ve been waiting for this song the whole night. It’s the song where every band tells everyone to turn on their phone’s flashlight, to stop and appreciate the moment. The three sisters huddle closer to each other at the center of the stage. Goosebumps from both the cold and the reverb of the guitar sprout onto my arms, sealing my body in that moment with an ease that only music can drift me into. I’m listening to this song in the rain, in my childhood bedroom, in an attempt to make sense of feeling empty and complete at the same time. I didn’t come here for answers, but this one is telling me that feelings disappear as easily as they emerge, just like this one will. When it’s over I leave, say goodbye to this night, so long to what I’ve been trying to ignore and bring it back home with me.
Three Trips to God*
I’ve had inconsistent results searching for God. One time, I put a tab of LSD on my tongue. My friend did the same and ended up explaining how the world is a spider web.
Another time, I went to my friends’ apartment and ate some mushrooms. I laid down on a carpet with another friend and read him a book for three hours. The book was about God, but I got real nervous because the narrative of ascendence didn’t feel like my own. Or like it ever would be. So, I got depressed and ate some dining hall cereal and went to bed at 7 PM.
The third time I went searching for God, I went biking with two friends. The stuff we put under our tongues didn’t really do anything. We ended up on this little sheltered beach on the Potomac River where we stripped our clothes and waded into the water, warm as the air. And when we put our ears close to the surface and stirred the shells with our toes, it sounded like Pop Rocks.
Later, it started raining and we dashed to put our things under some rocks. We kept our shirts off and ran around the forest. Huddled and shivering, we whirled a hammock over our heads like those beach-ball-colored parachutes in third grade gym class. Our world shrunk to the pinch of air between our three bodies, the rain thumping on our cocoon.
That first time, I thought my best friend was an unstoppable idiot. The second time, I woke up and cooked my roommates a huge breakfast to apologize for being MIA for 24 hours. The third time, I ducked calls from my dad while he freaked that I was out in a monsoon. It’s always a relief to come back to Earth. I’m getting tired of trying to leave.
Leaving the Nest
As a Hindu growing up in Christian school, my concept of spirituality fluctuated throughout my life. There was a day in elementary school when I came home crying because my Christian schoolmates teased me for thinking there was more than one god. I always thought spirituality had to do with trusting in a higher power, focusing on something larger than the material world.
As I grew up, all of my grandparents were diagnosed with cancer, one by one. Hearing every day that another one of my idols was about to die was surreal. My whole life felt like it was being pulled apart. While they were at peace with their lives, I was not. Every day I prayed to the gods to relieve my family’s suffering, but nothing happened. Were the gods not listening? My entire concept of spirituality was uprooted; I was forced to reinvent my definition.
I began losing faith. Why should I pray if it would only lead to tragedy? I developed a new version of spirituality that led me to focus more on myself, my inward thoughts, and how to become a better person.
With this newfound knowledge, I guided myself not only through tragedy, but my entire adolescence. I was still focused on the higher powers I believed in, but now I think they’re supposed to aid me in seeking peace within myself, rather than me praying for them to give me internal peace. I almost think of my shift in thoughts as “leaving the nest”. I still rely on my sense of support, but I now I don’t feel dependent on them to attain the wholeness I seek.
As cliche as it is, in losing my religion I found my relationship with God. I grew up attending an Episcopal school in a nominally-Christian family divided between a Catholic dad and non-denominational Christian mother. I learned that I was supposed to love God, and I truly think I loved what I knew of Him, but there was always a pervasive sense of confusion at the idea of believing in and communicating with something so distant. And thus, as far as I was concerned, I believed that if I went about life trying my best to be a good person, I would go to heaven.
This was turned on its head when I met one of my closest friends in seventh grade. She was adopted and had moved countless times before even turning 13, yet she was the most authentically joyful human I had ever met. She was truly radiant, and she gave all the credit to her “relationship with God” and “identity in Christ.” I wanted what she was having.
With an intense hunger for answers, I agreed to attend bible study with her. I was floored! I had been going to church as I had no idea that Jesus was so important, that I could have an active relationship with God, that Christianity is based in grace and that I even needed a savior in the first place. From then on, I continued my search for answers alongside my best friend.
*Name omitted to preserve anonymity.