By Kevin Shea
They meet on Thursdays — although they meet on Sundays too, for church. But Thursday is easily one of the most important days for the Intervarsity group at Paul Smith’s College.
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to join them. We arrived at home of Patricia Pillis — she likes to go by Pat — around 6 p.m. Hands were shook, names exchanged, and in we all went to lounge in the kitchen and living room. A thick carpet hugged the floor, providing a comfortable surface for the eight of us to sit and play left, right, center: a game about gaining and losing pennies, which is eerily reminiscent of college life.
As we sat, rolling dice and losing what little money we had, Pat and her husband spoke with the parents of one of the students in the intervarsity club. Food cooked nearby. The smell was intoxicating.
The game was chosen by one of the members of the group, and, apparently, each week offers a new game which is chosen by one person — this treasured position alternates. Although one could make the group play anything, the purpose was to foster fun and friendliness. The intervarsity club is not one that is bountiful in membership. Over the years, involvement has had its highs and lows, which is why activities to build trust and compassion into the group are necessary.
After approximately a half hour, our game was stopped to enjoy the sunset. Red, purple, and orange clung to the clouds that covered most of the sky. Puddles of the heavens opened in select areas, eliciting awe. Some thanked God for this treat, and who could blame them?
After some more rolling of the dice, we got up, grabbed some plates, and marched one-by-one to get some food: crispy chicken drumsticks, hot green beans, and more. Going from Sodexo to real food is a culture shock, and my taste buds and bowels thanked me. The food is provided by the Saranac Lake Baptist Church, but it’s Pat who buys it.
Try having a bad time with a hot, hearty meal in your tummy — you can’t! Conversation filled the room, a glass protrusion from the house. Outside, the passionate sunset dimmed and darkened, overrun by the dark night.
It would be unseemly to hold an intervarsity group meeting without talking about God or one’s religion. We threw out our chicken bones, finished our cupcakes, and found a spot to sit in the living room. The TV was turned on and Mike Beccaria played a video of a white male in the city planting a tree next to the sidewalk, a chain link fence behind him.
Now I’m not religious. Even though I went to a Catholic middle school, and my dad made me read the Bible, I would hardly consider myself a Christian. Regardless, I didn’t suffer during the video as I thought I would, despite not fully agreeing with it. When the clip ended a discussion followed.
We were asked how to be a good Christian. Those in the circle spoke of the relief of stress God brought to them. To know that something omniscient was there was a comfort, and I got a little jealous. None of the questions were invasive, and the discussion style was ask away, answer away. No one was pressured to talk; neither Mike nor Pat were hiding a ruler waiting to whack the unbelievers or sinners. In a time when religions and those who follow them can seem overbearing, this was the most relaxed group I had ever met.
After 30 minutes, it was just past eight, and creeping upon my bedtime — yes, I’m an old man. It was time to hop back in the Paul Smith’s College van and head back home. We said our goodbyes, thanked Pat for the food and hospitality and bid her a good night. Outside, the sky was black, clouds gone, and stars shining bright.