I woke up promptly at 8:20 a.m. Saturday to a text message sent in my house group message: “SOS — Is anyone awake and can zip up my dress?”
Out of town and therefore unable to help, I read the text and thought the chances of anyone being home, awake and available were slim at best. Within the same minute, to my surprise, another housemate immediately responded: “Haha, me — Come on up.”
This act of service wasn’t grand — it was neither a large request nor a monumental fulfillment. It was a hand given in the early morning — one lent to another — in a former closet-turned-single bedroom of a 1920s house off of 15th Street. However, what made this exchange awe-inspiring is that it was not the first time help was requested and freely given, nor will it be the last. That small act of kindness finds itself within an enormous history of needs, gifts and sacrifices. Alone, zipping up a dress is not difficult. What is difficult is to be willing for an entire year — to choose over and over again to offer what one has, to engage and to care.
Thirteen girls living in one house sounded like a good idea to almost no one last May. I could see the panic or doubt spread wide across listeners’ faces when I admitted how many people would be living in our “Friend Zone,” the name dubbed to honor the shambles that became our home. But we had fiercely chosen to take on the task, and we would not be deterred from our high ambition of living in that space together.
What I don’t think I realized the first time I chose the Friend Zone was that I was not making a singular isolated decision. In reality, I was laying the ground for a choice I would need to make daily. I only had to choose once to move my stuff into my second floor bedroom, but I had to choose over and over again throughout the year whether or not I would share life with those of whom I chose to exist within feet.
I didn’t have to wake up every morning and decide to keep my little desk next to the window. But I did have to choose whether or not to ask my housemates how they slept, how their day looked or how I could help them — if at all — when I passed them coming in or out of the bathroom door at the crack of dawn, the hour when selfishness reigns. I had a physical dynamic established around me, but the creation of a community was a daily decision.
These girls I chose to live alongside of and care for so many months ago would choose each other again and again. In the midst of financial stress, we would choose to buy toilet paper for the downstairs bathroom or lend someone pasta sauce. In the midst of busyness, we would choose to put down papers due in mere hours and listen to another eager to confide in someone. In the midst of personal sadness or joy, we would choose to celebrate another’s victory or comfort someone else in their tears. We did not choose perfectly, and we definitely did not choose with unfailing consistency, but we chose again and again.
Times I chose to look and act outside of my own interest to commune in our home have crafted the best memories I have of my second year. They are the setting to laughter that hurt, to adventures that deepened relationships and to countless acts of generosity in the face of need on all scales imaginable. Looking back at the semester, I am also all too realistically and painfully aware of all the days, hours or moments I didn’t choose to share my life in our house. I know there were text messages I ignored, conversations I bypassed to get something done I felt was more important and opportunities to help the girls around me I either didn’t respond to or obliviously missed.
Living in a community, however large or small, is a gift. To walk alongside others through college and life is an honor. To know and be known is an incredible privilege. Unfortunately, we, as people, are not always the best recipients of the gifts we have been given. We have to choose to give and choose to receive.
Life isn’t shared passively — it’s actively offered and accepted. I am thankful there are people who choose me even when I’m not choosing them — even when I’m choosing something else or simply myself. I am thankful for the moments we lifted our heads out of our own worlds to choose to live together. Some moments will be more difficult than others, some moments will be painfully humbling and some will be joyful beyond belief. Let’s choose each other.