Sunday, December 6, 2009

It is not good for man to be alone

My roommate Neal got engaged over break.

I met him over three years ago, when we were both freshmen living in North Hall at Dordt. He liked loud music, scary movies, Mountain Dew, Guitar Hero, and Dean Koontz books. He’s changed a lot since then. So have I. He still likes Dean Koontz books. So do I. Now, he likes good music and good movies, and no longer wears Hollister or plays video games.

We were roommates for the first time our sophomore year, when we lived together with our friend Zach in West Hall. None of us had any clue what we wanted to do with our lives. We watched a lot of dumb movies, watched a lot of good movies, read the Chronicles of Narnia, watched Lost, had dance parties with the girls down the hall, made lots of coffee, fell in love with the Shins, swore for hours on end just for the heck of it, tried to get girlfriends, took a golf class together, made a few trips to the emergency room, and chased down a tornado. Those were the days.

When I came back from Egypt last year, and struggled to adjust to life without dorms or dining halls, Neal invited me over to his room for coffee-and-homework time at least once a week. I never had to call him; he called me. Sometimes he cooked supper for me without my asking. It was the worst semester of my college career, but Neal was the highlight.

We argue a lot. I’m a coldhearted capitalist/neoconservative. He’s a...well, I’m not sure what to call him. I once made up the label “neo-ag,” short for “neo-agrarian,” to describe him. Sometimes I accuse him of being a hippie, an anarchist, or a Luddite, depending on if I’m winning the argument. He wants the government to stop spending so much money and stop subsidies to big farms and encourage regular Americans to return to the land. He loves the simple and the beautiful, and hates the overly practical and efficient. He scorns technology – TV, videogames, cell phones, the internet. He has no Facebook account. I have pledged multiple times to rescue his kids from technological backwardness. He composts and recycles and rides his bicycle and shops at secondhand shops and frets about what the corporations are putting in all our food. He makes me feel guilty, though I’ll never admit that.

Neal will say, “Joel, have you read the gospels lately?”

I will say, “Neal, you are so wrong, I don’t even know where to start.”

We enjoy it.

Neal once read through the whole Bible, start to finish, vowing not to take a stand on anything until he had finished it. A while after he finished, he discovered that his Bible was made in China, and immediately wrote an angry letter about it to Zondervan.

When I applied for the Peace Corps this fall, I needed a reference from two former employers and a close friend. Without my asking, Neal volunteered. He got it done right away. I was still hounding my employers weeks later for the references they had volunteered to write.

This summer, he went to the Ivory Coast to help a native Dordt alumnus get some agricultural development projects started. He came back with funny stories about policemen, rebels, chickens, churches, Muslims, and bribery, and no firm desire to return to Africa.

I will not tell you how he asked Laura to marry him – that’s her job – but it was awfully sweet.

Soon he will be married, starting a wonderful life with a wonderful girl. Nevertheless, this is not an obituary blog post. But sometimes, when someone embarks on a new stage in life, with all the doubts and uncertainties attendant, you think to yourself, “Someone really ought to tell that person how cool they are.”

So this is my clumsy attempt at doing so.

Congratulations, brother. I love you more than you know.


  1. Joel, This blog is true to every word, yet I haven't read Dean Koontz. I was going to blog about Neal's engagement but you beat me too it. Good Job!!