Finding shades of gray: A farewell letter

We use these Sony HD video cameras in Basic Video Production. And I really hate them.

Don’t get me wrong: they aren’t bad cameras. They’re easy to use and they shoot sharp, clear images. But they’re not Canon 5Ds.

The 5D shoots these beautiful, dramatic, film-quality images with a huge range of colors: the Sony, by comparison, looks flat and washed-out. It’s not a bad thing–it’s just not my taste.

High-contrast isn’t just my artistic taste–it’s my lifestyle.

I was homeschooled for 12 years: grades one through 12. I loved being homeschooled and I still love that homeschooling is part of my history. I know that being homeschooled made me the person—especially the scholar—that I am today. But the sheltered life at home can take its toll: constantly surrounded by media, ideas, and people who shared the same values as my family, my cultural “color balance” got pushed to extremes.

I had no experiences with shades of gray when I came to Olivet. Wrong was wrong. Right was right. Plans were plans.

And Olivet did exactly what a college is supposed to do: it challenged my ideas and perceptions.

In the classroom, my conservative ideals were challenged. For example, I entered Olivet as a young-earth creationist. Now, I’m not sure what I am. Twelve years of Baptist education hammered in a seven-literal-day creation week that one reading of Coming to Peace with Science can’t eradicate. I’m not immune to sound logic; I’m just not quite ready to make the leap to a theory that has been demonized in my science curriculum since year one. Instead, I have learned to live in a gray area. I’m not a scientist, and so, I am blessed with a beautiful luxury: Knowing how God created the world does not change the way I live my life. Knowing that he did does—and that’s all that matters to me.

Outside the classroom, friends and acquaintances challenged me too. Nazarenes asked questions about my Calvinist background—not always in a loving way. Boyfriends questioned my moral standards and physical boundaries. Friends made decisions I feared would harm them.

Most challenging of all was meeting a gay person for the first time. Like evolution, homosexuality was attacked in my conservative circles: homosexuality is a sin, and the people who engage in it are sinners.

It’s so easy to say “you are wrong” until you have to look a person in the face and say it. As I started to forge friendships with people of all sexual backgrounds, I stopped seeing sins and started seeing people. People I loved and cared about. People with stories.

It’s called sonder: when you look at someone and realize they’re living  their own life, with their own dreams, and their own goals. Try it sometime as you’re walking to class. Pick a stranger. Think about where they’re going, what they’re thinking about, what they did yesterday. It’s a funny thing that makes you feel very small, the world feel very large, and God feel enormous.

I think a lot about all the problems in the world and how I can solve them. When you write for a publication, you have this “bully pulpit” that you can use to get your voice out. But what do you want to say? That’s what I think about as I consider publications I’d like to write for. Who has my same vision? But as I think about world problems, I start thinking about the people involved: the victims, and the perpetrators. It all comes back to people. We  can treat the problems through service and activism, but as long as people’s hearts are unchanged, problems will keep on coming. So I think about people. The people in the white, the people in the black, and the people in the gray. What do they need to hear?

I, too, have been living in a black- and-white world of categories and labels. Labels are sticky—literally. When you try to peel them off, they leave a sticky residue and that gross half-layer of jagged paper. You’ll always know they were there, because they leave their mark.

I had colors, labels, and categories for me too.

I cleaned out my closet recently. My homeschooler bookshelf was a 50/50 split of fantasy fiction and Christian-relationship-how-to books. The content may seem like a complete 180, but the effect is the same: an unrealistic view of the world.

With my eyes wide open, looking for fantasy, even the Olivet bubble provided real shocks. I may not yet be real-world ready, but I’m a whole lot closer than I was. Broken hearts, broken relationships, broken people: that’s the real world. Between freshman year and sophomore year, I did a 180. I went from a hopeful, wide-eyed girl to a jaded skeptic—but as I’m finding out, neither position is healthy. I’m learning to find that balance between eyes wide open and eyes tight shut. It must be some kind of wink. I probably look like Kristen Wiig when I try to do it.

I’m learning, too, that success is a gray area. I came to Olivet sharing a theme song with the likes of Ash Ketchum and company: I wanna be the very best/like no one ever was. “The very best” by Olivet standards would include a 4.0 GPA, a ring on my finger, and a spot on homecoming court. Obviously, none of those things happened. The GPA came close, which earned me a spot in our nation’s only graduate program in Forensic Linguistics at Hofstra University. I guess life in New York is a pretty great consolation prize for not finding love.

I guess it just goes to show you that God knows what he’s doing. As much as I would love to be a mom and share my life’s adventures with a smart and dashing guy, I also think it would be pretty cool to wake up and say to yourself, “the world needs saving, and I’m the girl for the job.” Maybe that’s why I couldn’t find love at Olivet: because I’d rather save the world alongside my hero than wait for him to rescue me. Being in distress isn’t romantic, ladies.

I know I lived my personal life in black and white too, and I’m painfully aware that I’ve hurt many of the wonderful people on this campus as a result. Please know that if ever I loved you—as a friend or as more—I loved you with all my heart and I always did what I thought was best. And if I hurt you, I’d like to offer you the chance to talk to me and make peace. I don’t want to leave this place with regrets. Departures are so much easier without regrets.

Edward, my biggest regret is that I waited so long to tell you how I felt. The only things left to say now are “I love you” and “goodbye.”

Over the past four years, my color spectrum is getting smaller. I’m stepping out of the highlights and moving out of the shadows—and I’m finding out that gray areas are okay. As I journey through life, I’m excited to explore all the shades of gray. I think there are a lot more than 50, so I better get going.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to grab one of those Sony cameras to document my adventures. Maybe it doesn’t paint an artistic spectrum, but at least it shows the world as it is: mid tones and all.

Melissa Luby, Online Editor

0 Comments

  1. Congrats to a talented woman, off to live her dreams! Just learned what forensic linguistics is. Wow! Excited to hear from you occasionally about your new adventures. Thankful our paths crossed and merged for awhile at Olivet.

  2. Awesome reflection. We need more folks who sonder.

    Also, welcome to the NYC (area) Olivetian club! Even if you are out in Long Island, we’ll count ya. 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading, Ryan, and I’d love to join you! If any of your New York pals are looking for a roommate or have a room to rent, let me know!

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