By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published August 29, 2013
I’ll always remember the summer before I started college at the University of Florida. I was barely 17 and quite a homebody, very much like one of the shy little Hobbits living in the peaceful Shire in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. My version of the Shire featured a turquoise-blue Miami house circled by mango, banana and grapefruit trees, where I lived with my sister, my parents and my parakeet. It was a protected life, punctuated by the steady routine of reading, going to church and recording my dreams in my diary. (I would be a writer, get married—and have 12 children!)
The thought of leaving this cozy nest and living far away from my parents provided fearsome fodder for my anxious mind. Would I like my roommate? Get good grades? And who would do all the things my mom did like mending my clothes and doling out medicine?
As it turned out, my roommate and I got along famously, my grades were excellent and miraculously enough, I learned how to sew on buttons and when to take cough syrup.
One problem, however, no one had prepared me for was dealing with a group of lumbering, fuzzy fellows I’d rarely had to contend with at my all-girls’ high school.
No, they were not the monstrous Orcs from Tolkien’s tales, just ordinary teenage guys. And truth be told, when it came to Boys 101, I failed miserably.
You see, I didn’t know how to handle the somewhat deadly combination of the party-hearty mentality, ready access to booze—and the fact that my father wasn’t there to be sure I made curfew. The result was plenty of hangovers, along with heartbreak and regret.
And so, with my own dismal failure in mind, here are tips for Catholic students today:
1. Keep in mind that a simple party can lead to spiritual pitfalls because the booze will flow freely—and you can bet no one has invited someone’s mother to chaperone. At a seemingly innocuous social event, then, you may be confronting a vicious little nexus of temptations that can be as deadly as a dragon.
2. Forewarned is forearmed, so don’t walk into Mordor without a sword! Instead, before going to a party, be a smart Hobbit and plan ahead. Keep a close watch on how many drinks you have, since overdoing the booze can lower inhibitions. You might want to do what many clever students do, which is sip a “cocktail” of fizzy water and lime. This looks trendy and won’t lead to a hangover and other morning-after regrets.
3. Another dragon to wage battle against is a pernicious practice called “hooking up.” When it comes to casual sex, the mantra “Everyone is doing it” is prevalent on campuses, combined with “As long as you keep things ‘safe,’ you’re fine.” But casual sex is never safe—physically, emotionally or spiritually. And many students can attest that the “just this once” syndrome can lead to broken hearts, shattered health, pregnancy—or all of the above.
4. Tolkien’s Hobbits didn’t venture on their journey from the Shire all alone. They knew there is strength in numbers, and this is true on campus as well. Look for other Catholic students and spend time with them. Try to go out in groups rather than sitting in a dorm room watching TV with your date—and tempting fate.
5. When it comes to virtues, both male and female students can take a cue from Tolkien’s tales where chivalry is alive and well. His male characters treat women with great respect, and the women in turn exhibit grace and modesty. The virtues of chaste living, valor, self-sacrifice and loyalty permeate Middle-earth.
6. Faced with danger, the Hobbits sought advice from Gandalf and other wise folks. Today, college students may grapple with drug and alcohol problems, as well as getting into romantic snarls. Should you find yourself tangling with a particularly dangerous dragon, seek spiritual help from a priest at the Catholic center or the nearest church.
7. Some friends may chuckle if you mention going to confession, but go anyway. And others may suggest, “Let’s meet for bagels and ditch church altogether.” But go to church anyway. Here’s something I wish I had known way back when: If you always put Christ and your Catholic faith first, you can graduate from college without regrets—and make it home to the Shire unscathed.