I was winding my way down the Iron Horse Trail, on a Friday afternoon jog, when a gentleman on a bicycle encountered me while I rejoined the trail after a brief shortcut. I was deep in thought, as I am wont to do in the middle of a run, when I heard him say to me “I don’t care much for Laurier, a snotty school.” It took me a few steps to process what had just transpired, then I remembered that I was wearing my “Laurier – 1911” t-shirt. It was a shirt celebrating the 100th anniversary of the school, which began as The Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada, which after various iterations, became provincialized as Wilfrid Laurier University in 1973. I now work at Martin Luther University College, the inheritor of the mantle of the original school, now a federated college of Laurier.
I hadn’t given any thought to which t-shirt I was wearing until this drive-by derisive comment. As I continued my run, I wondered about this anonymous aside. Would this fellow had said this to me if we had encountered one another walking on the street, or on the bus? And what precipitated this comment? Had he been refused entrance to a program? Did he have a boss whom he despised, who had graduated from Laurier?
I was intrigued by his interest in telling me his opinion. There was, of course, no time for a response of any kind. We were travelling in opposite directions and he was moving quite quickly on a bicycle. I wondered: How many people out there are looking for an opportunity to anonymously set someone straight on what’s what? Does he have a wrath-reaction every time he sees “Laurier”? So many questions, with no answers…
One of the wise, and recurring, bits of wisdom I have heard during Covid has been a reminder that none of us knows what kind of trials people are burdened with – bubbling below the surface. We usually don’t know the contexts of peoples’ comments. People can be a bit like icebergs, it seems, with a grimace on their face being but a sliver of a sore festering below the surface. And all it takes is the right trigger in the right context.
Of course, this person’s experience of Laurier is as a valid as those who claim that Laurier is warm and welcoming, as are that of people who have experienced the school in both ways. The interaction was a curious experience, and my lament is that it provided no opportunity to speak to the person about his experience. That would be helpful, for him and me both I think. Authentic relationships emerge when we share our stories with one another. Tales tie us together and that is why sacred scriptures are awash with narrative. Narrative draw us into one another’s lives, including the life of God.
In a way, the interaction was a missed opportunity. But then again, it afforded me the occasion to think about how I might trigger people’s feelings with something as a simple as a t-shirt. Of course, that same t-shirt might evoke the comment: “I love Laurier, the people there really care!” I have heard this said of both Laurier and Luther. I just haven’t heard them as drive-by accolades. But I live in hope.