I’ve always had a fear of college cafeterias. That whole walking around with a tray thing, trying to figure out where to sit, hoping you won’t end up alone or– worse still– that you won’t sit down just as everyone else is getting up.
It never occurred to me that I was, actually, kind of cute in college and that there were, in fact, plenty of equally cute boys who would have been perfectly happy for me to have sat down next to them. I was always too shy, and it was always the worst when I was studying abroad because I didn’t have my roommates to eat with and the rules were different, and the seating was different, and the food was different and I didn’t even know what “mushy peas” were, let alone whether or not I wanted them.
I always looked for pre-planned events to help me navigate those awkward afternoons in the cafeteria: lunches for certain subjects, or meet-and-greets especially for study abroad students. One time I even attended a lunch hosted by a Catholic priest, just to save myself from the dreaded horror of having to loll around the cafeteria alone with my tray.
The priest’s name was Robert Kaggwa and he was from Uganda. He served as a college chaplain at Roehampton University, where I earned my Masters degree.
I first remember meeting him at a student fair where different clubs and university services set up booths for incoming “freshers” and those of us on visiting from abroad. Each booth had some sort of giveaway to attract fair-attendees and Robert’s chaplaincy table had a bowl of marshmallows.
Unfortunately he was slotted near the Student Union. Or maybe it had been the Health Center? Either way, they were giving away free condoms. And who wants a free marshmallow when you can get a free condom instead?
Well, I did, actually. I wanted the free marshmallow.
But I, unlike the vast majority of my colleagues wasn’t all that sexually active at time time.
And I’m not just being facetious here: in 2013, Roehampton was ranked #1 in the UK as the most sex-laden campus with an average of 6.32 sexual partners per student.
Can you blame the poor Catholic-priest-from-Uganda for trying to steer at least a few students towards his marshmallows?
(For some further anecdotal evidence regarding the sexual habits of Roehampton’s undergrads, I roomed with three British students for a few weeks after I moved out of the graduate student housing. They had yet to even find the campus library and were always either drunk or hungover– there was no in between. Two of the three eventually dropped out of school and when I returned to campus for my graduation in March, I popped ’round the flat to say hello, only to discover a very pregnant stomach staring back at me.)
(The graduate programs at Roehampton, however, are top notch. And the #1 rankings don’t stop with sex: my department was also ranked number one in the country for dance research. So there.)
At any rate, I remember Robert being very disappointed by the success of his booth (or lack thereof) in a very earnest and even slightly embarrassed sort of way. It wasn’t just that no one wanted his marshmallows, it was that they wanted condoms instead. It was as if his very faith was being tried in this heathen land of promiscuous co-eds…
But he was one of the nicest Catholic priests I’d ever met, more Pope Francis than old school. And he hosted lunches for international students of all faiths, not just Catholics, and he had a delightful accent and a great smile and was always quick to say hello to everyone.
He made me feel welcome during a time when I had no real friends yet, and saved me on many an occasion from the indignity of having to eat lunch by myself.
We kept in touch on Facebook after I moved back to the States. He read my blog once in a while and I remember him remarking on one occasion that he hoped I was happy, because it seemed like I was very unhappy, actually.
He was right. I was unhappy. It took me years– years!!!– to find my footing after I left London, partially because I was determined to be unhappy, but partially because I just couldn’t get out of my own way at times. I didn’t have the courage to go after what I really wanted, I took “no” for an answer all the time when I should have found my way to a “yes,” and I didn’t bother to make new friends because I was afraid I would move again and lose them all over.
But I got it together, slowly but surely. And now I find myself so damn happy (barring the occasional sciatica-induced meltdown), that sometimes I just sit around crying for no reason, wondering how on earth did I get so lucky?
I’ve taken to practicing my wedding vows in the car when I’m driving home from work (as we’re meant to have them memorized for the big day). I work myself into such a state every time that I end up sobbing all the way home on the middle of the freaking highway.
I should probably stop doing this. I don’t think it’s very safe. And I’m sure I look like a crazy person. But what can I say? I am about to marry my best friend.
The only little bit of sadness that sticks with me this morning is the fact that Robert died, quite unexpectedly, last year. He was 55. If I remember correctly, it had something to do with his heart.
I think I am going to go eat a marshmallow in his honor. And I hope he knows that I am happy now.