Beyond Room 119

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Pranks, Josh Groban, and connections…oh my?!

I’m in the middle of a prank war with one of the campus police officers at work. It all started innocently enough a few weeks back. As I walked into my office one day, I noticed that my “Words of Wisdom” jar had been turned upside down. A little while later, Andrew, one of the police officers, walked by and flashed me an impish grin, and I immediately knew who the culprit was.

The next week, as I opened the door to my office in the morning, I noticed a water bottle on the desk. “That’s weird,” I thought. A moment later, I noticed Andrew sitting in the corner of my office and nearly jumped out of my skin. He later told me he had originally been planning to stand up and say something, but he thought that would be too much. (I don’t know if worker’s comp covers heart attacks, so I’m glad that he thought better of that.)

Soon after, I couldn’t walk into my office because a giant sandwich board was on the other side of the door, blocking it. I’ve also encountered a chair in the same situation once or twice, which means I have to awkwardly move the door back and forth to dislodge it just enough to sneak an arm around the door. 

Andrew’s next attack was a bit more in-depth. Before I describe it, though, some context is necessary. I’m a sticky note kind of person. If it doesn’t get written down, chances are it ain’t gonna happen. As a result, I generally have anywhere from 3-8 sticky notes on my desk at any given time, and that’s not even counting the motivational quotes and items I have for quick access taped just below my computer screen. One morning, I walked into my office one morning and found sticky notes all over both my computer screens.

None of these attacks have fazed me. On the contrary, I enjoy them and I’m pretty sure I’ve laughed out loud at every single one of them. But sometimes, a girl’s gotta strike back. Now, this is a bit tricky because Andrew has two very crucial advantages over me: as a police officer, he has a key to my office door. And second, he shares an office with all the police officers, so I can’t really attack his office space.

These two components eventually lead to me walking down to the parking deck last week in the summer sun with a full deck and a half of sticky notes in my hand. For the next ten minutes, I gleefully stuck them all over his car windows. As I walked back to my office, I laughed at my ingenuity. Little did I know that the joke was on me. Later that afternoon after I came back from my lunch break, Andrew had put the sticky notes all over one of the walls in my office. Every. Last. One.

“Well, shoot!” I thought. “I’ve been outmaneuvered – again!” So I did the only logical thing I could do: I called up an expert that very night. “Dan?” I said to my brother after he picked up the phone. “I know we haven’t talked in a few weeks, but I need help.” For the next 25 minutes, my brother listed prank after prank after prank. Some of them were too in depth, some weren’t feasible with the conditions at work, and some were just way too much. The pranks involved dead cockroaches, saran wrap, wrenches, freezing nuts and bolts, social media, anonymous notes, Craigs List, water, and so much more.  Finally, he shared one that I thought was doable. Before we hung up, I had to ask. “How did you come up with all of these off the top of your head?” Knowing my brother, I should have expected his response. “Oh, it was easy. I’ve done all of them before.” I thought back to the prank he described to me involving the parts of a doll, a dead cockroach, and notes signed raZ (with the Z in size 72 font), and I made the wise decision not to ask any more questions. (Plausible deniability is a real thing, or so I’m told.)

A few days later, I created a flyer. In big, bold letters at the top, it said, “PUBLIC MASTICATOR” and underneath was a picture of Andrew that I had found from his wedding website. Below that was my favorite part: “If seen, please call Campus Police immediately.” Now, to masticate means to chew or grind to a pulp. Thus, a public masticator is one who chews in public…or in other words, any of us. But for those of us who don’t know what a masticator is, well, it just sounds like a really bad thing.

Dan’s suggestion had been to put a hashtag on the flyers and post them all around campus so that students would actually start calling Campus Police. That was a little too intense for me, so I just posted a few of them on his car and again, laughed my way back to my office as I patted myself on the back for a job well done. Another police officer had warned me that Andrew was planning something similar for me, so in anticipation, I posted a few of the Public Masticator signs in my office before I left for the night.

The next morning, I entered the main office with a little bit of nervousness and a good bit of anticipation. Andrew was there, talking with our office assistant, ready to see my reaction. Without saying a word, I just shook my head at him as I walked in. Taped to the outside of my door were two pictures of Josh Groban, and I burst out laughing. Andrew had suddenly materialized behind me. “That’s only the prelude,” he warned me. As I opened my office door, I found pictures of Josh Groban everywhere. Andrew had cleverly taped some pictures of Josh over the pictures of himself on the Public Masticator signs. There was a picture of Josh hiding under my keyboard, and there were three different pictures around the room of Josh with another woman, who conveniently had my head taped over hers. As I kept laughing, I saluted him for a job well done.

These pranks have no deeper purpose than to get a good laugh, but each time one has happened, it’s brightened my day immensely. As I was thinking about it the other day, I realized this is for two similar reasons. The first is that I grew up with five older brothers, where teasing was synonymous with “I love you.” I was never bothered when one of the boys said something silly to me because I knew that if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t bother. It’s a comfortable feeling to get to that level with someone outside of your family.

The second reason relates to connectedness. I’m in the middle of Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly right now, which is about shame and vulnerability. Before she gets into her research on vulnerability, she first defines what she calls Wholehearted living. She writes, “We’re hard-wired for connection – it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The absence of love, belonging, and connection always leads to suffering.”

As human beings, we crave connections with others. In elementary school, connection looks like playing with other kids on the playground or eating lunch with your friends. As we grow older, the ways in which we connect evolve and multiply. We might connect with others through volleyball, through a book club, through meaningful conversations at work, on long walks with friends, and so on. In this instance, Andrew and I are connecting with each other and creating a sense of belonging based on laughter, childish glee, and playing tricks on each other.

Are Andrew and I best friends, and would I suddenly trust him with my deepest secrets? Of course not. There are different levels of connection and various types of friendship, and very few make it to that highest level of friendship. In fact, Aristotle says that in our entire lifetime, we’ll be lucky if we have even a few of what he calls “perfect friendships.”  But connections exist in a number of different ways and serve varied purposes. Ultimately, our lives are richer for those connections, as they create the beautiful tapestries of our lives.

Now that I’ve got this connection solidified, it’s time for my next prank. It might be time for another phone call to my brother…

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A friend texted me the other day and asked me if I had any prayer intentions for her, since she was headed to Fatima, where Mary appeared to three shepherd children 200 years ago. The first one that came to mind was for my godson and nephew, who turned eight that day. He also made his first Communion last weekend, so I figured any extra prayers for him could only help him along his journey.

Then I tried to figure out what I wanted her to pray about for me. Now, I’ve had more than a couple ups and downs over the past few months and many, many conversations with God lately. I have a feeling that when my name comes up on his prayer caller ID, he just shakes his head and smiles now. I’ve been all over the place about issues at work, jobs, friends, dating, family, life – pretty much the whole gamut. Suffice to say that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.

“A lot” may be of a bit of an understatement, actually. It got to the point where I decided I was thinking too much and I just needed to stop thinking and be. I told a good friend that, and her response was, “I wouldn’t say this to anyone else, but I think that’s a really good idea.” A week or so later, I told another good friend about my “less thinking, more being” experiment, and he said something to the effect of, “Do what works for you, but also remember that all of that thinking stuff is part of what makes you great.” (I also told a guy I went on a date with about this, and he was just really confused. Lesson learned there: Filter things until people know you better. Oops.)

My revised approach has been to find the balance between the two, which is quite a bit easier said than done. Recently, there have been a few things in particular that I’ve been working through, and I think this whole newfangled balance approach has worked well for them. In these situations, I thought through them as much as I could until I hit a thought impasse. Then I had to decide to let go, which was a struggle in itself. The mindset of “I can work through this!” has worked well for me in the past, but I’ve realized there are just some things that we can’t process; we sometimes need to stumble across them, almost by accident. It’s surprising to me how often a decision to let go can give us the clarity we seek. For me, the answer to both situations hit me when I was least expecting it – one at a concert, the other in the middle of Mass. And as I sat with each decision in the hours and days that followed, I felt at peace.

It’s one thing to say, “I think this is the right course of action for me right now,” and it’s quite another for that path to appear for us to take. Sometimes we have to machete our way through the jungle to make it appear, while other times, I truly believe that it needs to come into existence on its own, stone by stone, step by step. In those cases, our role is to make ourselves ready to trod that path and when it’s time, to have the courage to take that first step in faith.

Circling back around to my prayer intention, I realized that morning that I need more patience. I thought I had patience in spades (After all, you can’t survive teaching 24 seven and eight year olds if you don’t), but I’ve realized that there are different types of patience. There’s short-term patience, which is the kind you need when you see the same student 12 times in a week and tell them the exact same thing, wondering why they don’t take notes about the actions steps, dates, and deadlines being discussed, even after you’ve handed them the pen. This one, I’ve got down. Then there’s the long-term patience. That’s the kind where a situation may go on for days, weeks, months – you get the picture. Maybe you could say long-term patience is synonymous with trust. That’s where I need to grow a bit right now.

I need the patience to trust that I’m doing the things I need to do right now to get me ready to be where I need to be. I need the patience to continue believing that the things that feel right in my heart will indeed come to fruition. I need the patience to continue to live in a way where I don’t feel like I’m waiting for the next thing, but instead to live each day joyfully while looking towards what is to come with anticipation.

I know these things in my head. Most of the time, I hear these things in my heart, as well. I think I just need my heart to be a better listener sometimes. 

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves.” (Rainer Marie Rilke)