It was during the next semester that I finally got to talk with Paul. He walked into my office, hoping to apply for RES Life. He wore flannel, khakis, and sandals: the staple attire of the school. I was sitting at my desk sorting through new housing policies when he dropped off his paperwork.
“Hello, Paul! Good to see you in here. How can I help you?” I tried to sound jovial, and not like I was being strangled by the constant incoming requests for late student housing. It still came out gruff.
He kept his smile on the entire time and did not flinch for a moment as he handed in his papers.
“And what is this?” I asked.
“The announcement said that RES Life applications are due at the end of the week. So, I’m turning mine in now.”
He was punctual, you had to give him that.
I closed the tab on my computer and gave him my full attention.
Paul continued talking. “I just wanted to turn this in to you personally.”
I’m glad he did. “I’m glad you did. I have been meaning to talk to you about the whole-“
How do I phrase this? “-incident.”
Paul remained unmoved. “I don’t know what you mean, sir.”
“Well I know that last semester ended on a sour note, so I just wanted to make sure that you are doing alright. Have you heard from Stephen at all?”
“Well, I haven’t heard from him since. I wish I could have done something more to help him, but I guess he had his own issues he had to deal with on his own, and I just hope God is with him wherever he is.”
I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something wasn’t quite right. I could hear his words, and they were very intentional.
Me: “Well, you still have my condolences. How is the new roommate situation working out?”
Paul: It’s working out pretty well, sir. Barry and I get along great, despite our differences.”
“I’m glad to hear.” I stood up from my desk and grabbed a clip board with a questionnaire on it. Walking around to the front of the desk, I sat on the edge, facing Paul. “Have a seat, this will take a minute or two.”
He politely sat down.
I’ll be honest, I don’t remember the questions, but I can certainly tell you how Paul answered them: Intentional. Every time he answered, he took a moment to think, then slowly spoke, gaining strength with each syllable. Out of shear tone and pacing, whatever he said sounded credible and well-though out, even though the answer itself was simple. But there was one question that made me reconsider my opinion of Paul.
“Alright, and finally, what would you do if one of your close friends was doing something that broke school policy?”
This time, Paul answered without hesitation. “I would try turn him in and try to get them help.”
My mental train hit a penny on the tracks. “You would…turn him in and then try to help them?”
“Yes. Whatever they are doing is wrong, and needs to be fixed, so in order to start, they would need to stop what they are doing, and then I could get someone to help if the problem continues.”
I don’t know how this feeling got there, but I was at some sort of cognitive dissidence: “Why not help them first?”
“That’s not my call, that’s RES Life’s call. All I can do is enforce it, and do what I can after the fact.”
I put the pen and clipboard down. I could feel the trembling in my throat, but I wasn’t going to let Paul hear it. So I choked it back and spoke in a somber tone. “We still have an interview process with other staff, but you’ll do fine. Congratulations, you’re exactly what we are looking for here in RES Life.”
“I made it!” Paul exclaimed.
He came rushing in to tell Mary, and to her dismay, he was all excitement.
“Slow down, cowboy.” She began. “Do you know for sure?”
He slid into the seat across from her and leaned across the table. They kissed briefly, which was all that school policy allowed.
“I got an email just now and I made it!”
“Congratulations, you deserve it.” Mary continued to eat her cafeteria salad.
Paul wasn’t to be burdened so easily by the sarcasm though. “I knew I would. As soon as the Dean told me that I was exactly what they look for, I was confident I would make it. I prayed and prepared my heart for the interview and you know what?”
“God answered my prayers!”
Mary smiled back at him. “PGFWABF.”
Paul cocked an inquisitive eyebrow.
She explained. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
Paul: “Well, its nothing. I knew it before but its starting to hit me now. This RES Life thing is just a lot of responsibility, and I don’t…there are somethings that I know I’m not ready for.”
Mary: “Like what?”
“The guys on my hall; their problems. How am I supposed to be a spiritual leader to them when I don’t know what they go through?”
“You get to know them and you do the best you can.”
Paul shook his head. “I knew Stephen, and I thought I did my best, but now I don’t think I can.”
“What happened to Stephen wasn’t your fault. Sure, there is always better was to handle things, but you are going to have to let it go at some point.”
“As cheesy as it sounds, I still ask the simple question: What would Jesus do? Or would have done?”
“You’re not Jesus.”
“And how do you know that? Have you met Jesus?”
“I’ve met you, and I know you, and I would like to say I know Jesus too, but to compare yourself to him is impossible. Its a game you will always lose.”
“That still doesn’t answer my questions.”
Mary pursed her lips and thought for a moment. “Sometimes there are things that don’t end well because of the world we live in, and regardless of what you would have done, the results would have be the same: He’s still gone. It was his choice. He chose the lifestyle he was living and like the Bible says, ‘What you do in secret will be brought to light’.”
“But why did he want it brought to light?”