BY MATTHEW WAGENIUS
We are a community
In high school, I always felt uncomfortable, as if I didn't quite belong. I surrounded myself with a phenomenal group of friends toward the end of high school and I am very thankful for them, but something never quite clicked for me. I was simply going through the motions. Every day I would get up, drive to school, go to class, and then drive home. I never felt connected to the community or as if I was a part of anything larger than myself.
I went to college excited and eager for a fresh start at finding my place. Based on what I saw in movies and television shows, I was expecting to find a single, small group of friends who frequently went to their favorite coffee shop to catch up. Since my scope and expectations were so small, I was in for a bit of a surprise.
I had the pleasure of going to Texas earlier this year, to watch North Dakota State University's football team win its third consecutive national championship. I was excited to go watch the Bison play for a national championship, but I'm six feet two inches tall, so I wasn't exactly looking forward to sitting on a crowded coach bus for twenty hours each way. I had planned out the entire bus ride, which books I would read, which papers I would write, I never imagined that I would instead connect with a group of complete strangers.
I was fully prepared for the first twenty-hour ride, sweatpants, pillow, sound canceling headphones and all. I got on the bus with a group of students I had never met before, and we then went to another location to pick up community members who bought the unsold student tickets. I already had my book out and headphones on, the universal sign for "don't bother me."
A woman got on the bus carrying nothing but a small bag. She slumped down in a seat behind where our pod of students sat. After a few minutes, she reached around the seat and tapped me on the shoulder. I was caught off guard and a little bit uncomfortable.
I wasn't quite sure what I was expecting her to say or sound like. When she started to speak, her voice was gravely, like what I suspect to be from years of smoking. "My name is Delilah, at least for the weekend." I'm still not sure why she never told me her real name. She then looked around, trying to settle in, "I didn't know I was going on this trip until a few hours ago."
Soon after we first talked, my discomfort faded a bit. Before long, she was on the move, starting to mingle. Within a half hour, the whole bus was humming with conversation. People were laughing, telling jokes, and sharing stories like old friends. .
As I watched Delilah move from row to row, I noticed how at ease she was with whoever she talked to. She brought even the crabbiest people on the bus to a smile and sometimes even a laugh. I am confident that if Delilah had not been on the bus there wouldn't have been nearly as much camaraderie.
The twenty-hour bus ride flew by much more quickly than I was expecting. I finished none of the projects I had set out to do on the ride down.
The morning of the game, I walked around the tailgate area with some of my new friends from the bus and some old friends. I recognized face after face as we looped our way through the crowd. Everyone was happy to be there. People were waving hello, playing catch, and giving out food to strangers. At one point, some NDSU fans noticed some fans from the opposing team walking around, looking with expressions of bewilderment. They were invited in. I even spotted Delilah, standing on top of a random bus.
After the game and the win, the weekend had come to an end. We boarded the bus for the twenty-hour ride home. People weren't as talkative on the ride home; everyone was exhausted from the weekend. It was getting dark and the bus slowly got quiet. I was sitting next to Delilah when I leaned over to ask her about her book. Somehow we moved into a deep conversation and started to talk about life challenges and aspirations. She shared book recommendations and talked about her daughter. We discussed life, love, and loss. She expressed the importance of not obsessing over what people think and living without regret, that's what she has done and she has been happy thus far. I found myself talking about personal topics that I hadn't discussed with my closest friends. It started to get late and the conversation became slow and eventually died out. I sat back in my chair, exhausted from talking, and looked out the window.
I watched the moon while we passed by field after field of wide open, snow-covered spaces, I thought about the way we are a community. NDSU is a place that we are permanently attached to and will always feel connected to.
In a strange way, Delilah perfectly embodies that sense. She didn't know anyone on the bus, but that didn't stop her from becoming friends, being courteous, and hospitable to everyone she met. She was even willing to give advice to a stranger and connect on a deeper than average level.
I am preparing to study abroad in France next semester and I have a strong feeling that my sense of community will follow me even when I am more than 4,000 miles away.
As I was gathering my things preparing to leave the bus, Delilah looked at me, paused, and said, "Have fun in life. You will be very successful and I know you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. I am so glad our paths crossed." And with that, I exited the bus, and it is unlikely our paths will ever cross again.