Color me purple and white: I am faithful unto death.
Yup, that’s right: I joined an alumnae chapter of my college social sorority, Sigma Sigma Sigma. I joined Tri-Sigma at Indiana University in the late eighties. During that spending boom, every young woman wanted to join one: When I was a freshman, talk of boys and parties died during rush, replaced with endless obsession about what house had what reputation.
By the time I graduated, I rolled my eyes at all the clapping and cheering—and now that I’m a mom, with my own Tri-Sigma legacy, Madeline—I realize all the clapping and cheering was seriously awesome.
I’ve written before that our culture is based on discontent. So adults come home and, after cooking a five-course, gourmet meal, your partner says, “That was good.”
Good? There are people in this world living on a handful of rice a day. That meal was great!
I didn’t understand the value of cheering until I took my toddlers to Kindermusik. After every activity, we adults cheered, even if our child spent the whole time in the bathroom. We were celebrating progress, however small.
Humans need to belong; we’re social creatures. Without support from others, we die. Individuals as a whole aren’t particularly smart—it took me 42 years to eat more than three servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Our species isn’t the strongest or the toughest. Without medical care, we don’t live very long.
Our survivalistic advantage comes from the ability to adapt and form emotional bonds.
Being a pastor’s spouse is extraordinarily lonely and difficult. We usually live a day’s drive from family and childhood friends, and new acquaintances rarely want to share their Friday nights with us when they’ve already established all the friends they need or their family lives close. Or maybe they’re busy on the one night off a pastor gets.
Most folks apologize for cursing, or they apologize for perceived faults, which is totally hilarious because we’ve heard it all and are more tolerant than anybody else you know. We spend so much time in our congregations, it’s hard to make friends outside them. Yes, we do make friends within our congregations, but it’s still different because those friends need us to be clergy first.
I got used to the loneliness until I took part in a 5K race in Illinois a couple weeks ago. People, I ran the whole race in 56:51—the nearest finishers had already walked inside by the time I was done.
The FleetFeet coaches clustered around me as I neared the red arch over the finish line. They cheered me the whole way. And then something happened that took me a couple weeks to digest.
I turned to my coaches and said, “Oh, no, I’m going to come in last!”
The team’s Jen Ryman promptly said, “No, you won’t. I’ll come in last.”
And she fell back behind me to cross the finish line.
Now, I doubt she’s thought about that incident twice, but yesterday, I realized what a sisterly, noble act it was. Jen is a true athlete, a trained runner who has probably never even contemplated finishing last.
For it to even occur to her to finish behind a runner who must seem frustratingly slow to some was a truly sisterly, noble act. I had accepted I would be late, so her thoughtfulness gave me a dignity I’d already accepted I wouldn’t have.
Now, I’ve talked to Jen a lot, and I know she’s a product of the Greek system—she’s a Kappa Delta—good job, KD!—and in the past few days, I realized it was exactly the kind of thing sisters would do for each other.
Yes, I get the stereotype of sorority sisters being shallow snobs. Sometimes it’s true, but only at the start. Sisters see each other get fat, get sick, and eventually, get old. The only person I keep in contact with from college is my sorority sister, Caroline Nietert.
Yesterday I sent an e-mail to my key alumna introducing myself, and before I knew it, I had all kinds of e-mails in my inbox signed, “Sisterly love.”
There’s nothing wrong with being a joiner, only with being a mindless conformist. People, our winter has been super hard this year, bitterly cold and super snowy. More than ever, we need to cheer each other on.