Today, I witnessed a tragedy. I never said a thing, and details varied on what people did know; I don’t think anyone close to Stephen would ever speak about what really happened, but somehow word still got around. It was like a ghost still haunted the campus, and it was both the best and worst possible version of him. Those who were friends with Stephen kept their good opinion of him and stories from them circulated over the semesters, making him seem like the most vibrant personality that had left too soon. Others, however, only pointed out the factors that made Stephen stand out, and made sure that they were all in a negative light.
I was in the cafeteria, eating alone, surprisingly enough; usually I am meeting with other staff members, or students, or people from the RES Life team. That day though, I was at a table alone, with my back to most of the cafeteria. A place so crammed full of students is usually a cacophony of conversations; a blur of noises, each indistinguishable from the next, blending together into a single solid sound. But that day, I heard very clearly what was happening. I tell myself now that I probably should have done something, but at the time, I guess I was just so shocked at what was said that I never really had time to react. It was as if all my ability to act was spent taking in information.
As I said, I in the cafeteria, and to my back was a table of students, I knew the voices, I had heard them often, and I knew them all as good godly people. Among them, and possibly most important of all, was Paul.
“It wasn’t like that.” He sounded defensive.
Another voice kept up whatever the offense was. “I mean, since you apparently knew him better than us, please, tell us what it was like.”
Paul: “It was just like any other roommate you’ve ever had.”
Someone else: “Except you slept with your roommate.”
“Real funny.” He said with bitter sarcasm. “We slept in different beds, and I had no idea.”
“But I thought you knew him real well?”
“Like, biblically well?”
Paul was starting to get angry; I could hear it in his voice. “No, we were just roommates. It wasn’t a big deal.”
“Not a big deal? If my roommate was gay, I would think that’s kind of a big deal.”
“Can you imagine? Statistically, he probably slept with some of his boyfriends in your room while you were gone.”
Paul: “No, he wasn’t like that.”
“So you were okay with his boyfriends being there?”
Paul: “No, he would never do that.”
“Sounds like you accepted it.”
“How are you sure you weren’t one of them?”
Paul slammed his hands on the table, which unfortunately garnered him more than the attention f just those at his table. “I was just roommates with him. WAS. We were not dating; we weren’t even really friends. I don’t think his whole ‘being gay’ thing was right, and I’m glad he did what he had to. It got him out of my life at least.”
The air hung in heavy silence in our corner of the Caf somewhere between three seconds and eternity. Afterwards, everyone just muttered and went back to eating. The wave of noise crashed back, and it hurt. The worst part of it all was something that I wish Paul could see for his sake, but out of the corner of my eye I could see Maggie, sitting alone, wiping her eyes with a napkin. She had heard everything, and it had cut deep. I would talk to these kids later; call them all into my office and explain what the godly thing to do was, but honestly, who was I to tell them that? And judging from their actions, I realized that they had a one tract mind for righteousness, and no one else was going to change that. The only person that could be immediately helped was Maggie.
I spat my food into my napkin, it was bad anyway, and stood up from my table. I walked over to where Maggie was sitting and sat down with her.
“He’s going to be alright.” I told her. We both knew who I was referring to. “No matter what they say, there are those of us know who he really was.”
She gave no response, but bowed her head and clenched her hands together. It was like watching a weeping saint in action. Her lips moved with inaudible words, and her head leaned ever forward until it touched her hands, and then eventually drove the both of them down onto the table for support. Eventually the prayer just turned into muffled cries.
I was always awkward with these type of things, but at least an honest encouragement was something I could do. “Sometimes, I guess, prayer is the only thing we can do for Stephen.”
“I’m not praying for Stephen.” Her voiced was cracked and distant; as if she could barely breathe though all of the passion. “I’m praying for them.”
“All of those that denied him, those that never knew him, those that refused to know him. Why should I be worried about Stephen? It’s these here that need the most prayer, because they don’t know… they don’t know what they have done, or what they are doing.”
She said nothing in spite, nor in anger, but in an emotion that I wish I could feel for someone else. To this day, I still lack the maturity she had in that moment. I’m sure God listens to her, if anyone, so I had to ask.
“Will you pray for me then?”
She tried to smile and wipe away the tears. “Sure.”