By David Terrell
“There is so much we do not understand. And so much unhappiness comes because of that.” -Alice Walker, The Color Purple
While I spent the summer working at the University and traveling throughout the southeast, I could not escape the tunes of the seasons and seasons past. One song found its way onto my “Conversation in a Cafe” Spotify playlist: “Too Good” by Drake featuring Rihanna. When I first heard the song, I thought it was the typical mid-tempo with easy-to-chew lyrics and a trendy inspired Caribbean beat. But the words did not have an impact on me until I had a conversation with some friends on the porch of Stirling’s.
We gossiped about friendships that went south over the last several months and how the probability of them returning north was nonexistent. While the other two talked about the games and the lies they had dealt with for too long, I began to press play so they could listen to “Too Good.” They appreciated the lyrics’s simplicity but blunt honesty of the song’s story of troubled relationships in life. The song and conversation challenged me to think about Sewanee relationships and how many become stagnant, sad, or eventually become nonexistent.
Pondering the subject matter, I had to analyze the reason for writing on this topic. Why do I feel people need to hear about this? Throughout my three years as a Sewanee student, I have heard many stories of the sadness of relationships ending, both platonic and romantic, and both parties accepting it. This silence could possibly encourage a further notion of perfect assimilation in this environment in which we live. As Hannah Montana states, “nobody’s perfect!” Furthermore, nobody or nothing is perfect in this world: friendships, institutions, locations, or our lives are nowhere near perfect. At The University of the South, human interaction is necessary to survive. Our relationships are close and tight. Following that, it’s difficult knowing that some relationships have expiration dates.
Over the years I have seen relationships last through graduation, or shorter, but once they end, individuals on both sides act as if nothing had previously occurred. How could that be? In relationships, you give your time, energy, body, soul, finances, food, emotions, and much more. But many of the current students and alumni, including myself, have been able to watch our friendships circle the drain for other pursuits, outside pressures, and possibly reasons of which I have no knowledge. My love for the university stems from my close relationships with faculty, staff, and students. Unfortunately, most of these relationships will not last after May 14. The same goes for the other classes commencement, bringing an end of the road for the journey you have built with other people.
Once you enter the gates, you tap the ceiling of your car, you release an angel. But what else do you let go? Being without proper communications (networks and social media), relationships from another location are strained. With effort, those relationships can be repaired. Communication on this campus, however, is constant. Because of the isolation of this mountain, we are forced to deal with each other on a daily basis. With nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, you face everyday exposure of self and other. Possibly, here lies the start of forced relationships. There are benefits for us being in this tight-knit community. For one, relationships with professors are easier. At bigger institutions in cities, communication with professors are either non-existent or are lackluster. On the mountain, you have the benefits of growing closer to faculty and staff. In return, they give opportunities such as house sitting, free meals, recommendations, etc. Regarding the staff, many go by their first names, they are some of the greatest individuals to ask for advice or just a hug, individuals like Danny Anderson, Hagi Bradley, Barbara Banks, just to name a few.
As students arrive on the mountain, we have to make a choice to be open or reserved with new kinship, but based off of that scale, you might be judged by their reception. This perception can cause individuals to not be completely honest with new people or old. If you can’t be honest with other individuals, are you really friends? Nights when I ride around in BACCHUS, many “friends” place their “friends” on the van and shout to the driver a location and proceed to leave the van. These individuals that are placed on the van are inebriated and not coherent. I have seen this at parties as well, where friends leave their friends drunk and alone. As Biggie Smalls puts it, “Dumbing out, just me and my crew cause all we wanna do is party and bullshit, and party.” While I enjoy a great party, it does concern me that others will party without their crew once a member gets a little too “turnt”. Maybe it’s not just the location. It could be something more.
Our environment fosters perfection whether we know it or not. EQB, “behold how good when brothers and sister dwell in unity.” The pursuit for perfection at times forces us not to be ourselves. Coming from a performing arts school, perfection wasn’t voluntary. There was no choice but to be the best, and by any means necessary. The construct of perfection typically means there is a top to seek. “As years go by too fast,” I have seen many students fight to get to the “top.” But what is the top here? What is this secret position that I can’t find? I’ve witnessed and studied many stories of students tearing each other down, for benefits, whether social or physical, and other useless things to become popular. At my alma mater, Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School, Dr. Booth, an administrator, taught us that hard work garners attention and place. At Sewanee, we emphasize hard work in academic study, but socially I believe it is a missing factor. Perfect in scholarships and unpredictable in social skills, it truly confuses me. As Drake, or his ghost writer, puts it: “Yeah, these days I don’t know how to talk to you, I don’t know how to be there when you need me.” We’re so focused on academics and our studies, we forget to think about the other parts of life.
This semester we have a leadership course taught by Karen Proctor, BUSI 385: Special Topics: Collaborative Leadership and Social Change. She’s filling a crucial need for students to learn how to be around each other and learn how to talk to one another. But once she leaves, will we still hold on to the values and the lessons that she taught? Or will we continue to have students becoming leaders without proper transitions from the positions before. The various organizations, big and small, leadership overturn is quick and ineffective. As a person who has had many positions in organizations, this is the honest truth. It is also true that non-transitioned leaders make up the rules as they go along due to their egos and lack of training. The rules come with social consequences from above and below, some positive, some negative. As a leader your place on the pedestal is to be aware of how often one feels attacked or appreciated by others. Because of deficits in social morality, many students do not run for office again because of the self-sacrificing nature of their positions.
Leaders are supposed to have respect and trust for the student body, but where deans and administrative staff have the opportunity to go home, away from the daily life of Sewanee, students cannot. They must take responsibility for the nature of perfection. Additionally, leaders must know they’re seen as the “top” and fall prey to judgment. And if you’re not strong enough, you won’t survive.
Writing all this makes me wonder if I am making a big fuss out of nothing. This could just be an observation of human nature. But is it human nature to have a relationship for years and end it abruptly? Make new friends weeks later? To start over at the drop of a dime? To not fix the problem of these close relationships? All this makes me wonder and question my friendships in the past few months. Have I been used? Have I used someone else? Should I bring it up in conversation? To be frank, I’m scared of the answers—maybe, for the most part, because I know the answers to many of these questions already
As Liza Anne states, “I’ll be hurt if I leave him, but turn cold if I don’t. He’s the sweet of a morning kiss, but there’s a poison it holds sticking thorns into my spine but I won’t let go, sticking thorns into my sight, but I’ll keep my eyes closed.” Gendered pronouns aside, human interactions here have levels of toxicity and uncertainty that go untouched from beginning to end.
I wish for the impossible; the wish would be that we walked around with expiration dates of our friendships and we were completely honest in the beginning. For example, let me know you are going to be fake with me so I can effortlessly prepare and possibly be fake with you. I know that sounds irrational, but as we move toward the future, it’s possible our lives for our lives to be much better and more sound. Our lives were never meant to undergo this much stress and pain. If we had at least the opportunity to have seamless relationships, it could alleviate our health. Whatever the matter, we must change our experiences here on the mountain or it will seem like we just wasted our time reading and writing, as opposed to creating substance among common folk leading to a good life.