Earlier today I was doing something that is pretty unusual for me. I was walking on the far western side of campus, in an area I’m not all that familiar with. That’s because my office, the writing center I manage, and those places I most often frequent are located on the east side.
Suddenly, in these strange surroundings, I found myself face to face with a student. He was a tall boy who had to look down on me. His mouth opened and out came a question: “Can you tell me where Brazos Hall is?”
When students ask me things—and they often do in my line of work—I almost always have a satisfactory answer for them. In this case, though, I was dumbfounded. I sort of cast a frantic look about and said, “I’m sorry but I don’t really know.”
At that precise instant, a coed who’d overheard our exchange stepped up to us and said, “It’s over there.” Then she pointed in a northerly direction.
The young man smiled, thanked us both, and took off toward his desired destination.
On my way back to my office I started thinking about this encounter. The more I thought about it, the more upset I became. Why hadn’t I known where Brazos Hall is? After all, this is the place I work! It’s like the world I inhabit five days a week!
I like to think that I’m a kind of explorer, but in this particular instance, I seemed not to know much about this campus. And this made me feel really disappointed with myself.
The key phrase in the previous paragraph was “I like to think.” I like to think that I am curious and explore a lot, but this most recent experience, where I didn’t know something that I clearly should have, raises doubts about the veracity of the way I talk about myself when others ask me what sort of person I am. Does this mean I’m not the person I claim to be or think myself to be? Do I need to reassess what I think I know about the sort of person I am? Have I gotten lazier? More accepting of the idea that I know so little?
There is certainly some evidence to suggest that I get around and have discovered a lot about the world and my surroundings by exploring. For example, I have lived in five countries—often under very difficult circumstances—and that takes guts. Cowards don’t move off to live in countries like Poland, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt, and they don’t travel, as a tourist, to as many off-the-beaten-path places as I have without having at least a bit of moxie. But that period is now in my past. I returned to America about three and a half years ago and haven’t left since. I’m starting to think I’m beginning to look like the kind of person we think of as “rooted.”
I’ve had this job for nearly a year and a half and I still don’t know where Brazos Hall is! Clearly, when it comes to this college, I’m rooted in my little part of campus.
While writing all this I’ve made a vow—to get out more. To go to places that are off my beaten path. To find Brazos Hall all by myself and to go inside the building and look at it closely, to know its every nook and cranny. I want to know how many floors it has, what color its walls are painted, how it’s laid out.
If I don’t do this with Brazos Hall and with all the other places I haven’t yet seen—despite having been here long enough to know the place backwards, forwards, and sideways—then I’m going to feel like a failure. I’m going to feel like I’m no longer the Troy I once was. And I’m going to wonder where he’s gone. (Is he dead?) And, if he is, might he somehow be resurrected?