February 14-16, 1998. Where are you going? (#163)

I turned into the parking lot for the camp, exhausted.  This trip up the mountain had taken about two hours longer than it would have taken in good weather.  A few feet of snow blanketed the ground, but the parking lot had been plowed, and it was no longer snowing.  Much of the snow from the parking lot had been piled in one spot, a little ways away from the entrance to the lodge.  I found that somewhat odd, but I thought nothing of it since I had not had much experience with snow in my lifetime.  I parked and went inside.

A student named Samantha Willis was the first one to see me.  “Greg!” she said.  “Where have you been all day?”

“I just got here,” I said.  “I had to take a test.”

“On a Saturday?”

“Yes.  It’s the test to get into the teacher training program.  It’s given all over the state, but the testing dates are always Saturdays so it doesn’t conflict with anyone’s classes.”

“Greg!” I heard Taylor’s voice from the next room.  He walked to where I was and continued, “Glad you made it.”

“It was crazy getting up here!  I guess they were only letting one car up the mountain at a time.  Is that so there aren’t as many cars on the road in the snow?”

“I think so.  Erica and the other kids who stayed back are outside, playing in the snow.  Or you can hang out here inside.  You can put your bags over there.”

“I’m gonna go outside for a bit, then I’ll come back in later.”  I put my bags where Taylor pointed, then walked outside.  About ten kids were out there with Erica Foster, who was helping a girl onto a sled as her younger brother Danny, one of the students, playfully dumped snow on her head.  Erica pushed the girl down a gently sloping hill as the others built snowmen and threw snowballs. Around thirty kids came to this camp; today was the day for skiing and snowboarding, and the rest of the kids and leaders were doing that at a resort about twenty miles away.

I would have enjoyed coming to something like this when I was of middle school age.  This camp was part of The Edge, the youth group at Jeromeville Covenant Church, and I knew that not all of the kids who came to youth events came from families at the church.  Some came from small churches with no youth groups, and some got invited by friends at school.  For some of these students, this youth group is the first they really hear about Jesus.

One of the snowballs flying across the grounds came right at me, and I jumped aside just in time.  “Hey!” I shouted at Shawna Foreman; I could tell from her arm position, and the way she was giggling, that she had thrown it.

“Did you just get here or something?” Shawna asked.

“Yes,” I said, explaining to her about the test.

I wandered over to the hill and tried sledding a few times.  Each time, the same thing happened: about halfway down the hill, the combination of my large size and the sled’s small size caused me to fall off the sled on my back.  I was not going fast enough to be hurt, though.  It was fun.

About an hour after I arrived, I had returned to the lodge to dry off, and I heard cars outside, then voices and footsteps. The skiing and snowboarding group had returned. My brain was wrapping around the significance of the numbers for the first time.  The majority of these students knew how to either ski or ride a snowboard, and most of those were experienced enough, and from wealthy enough families, that they brought their own equipment.  This was very different from where I grew up; Plumdale was a much more blue-collar community than Jeromeville, and a bit farther from anywhere with snow in the winter.

“What did they do?” Martin Rhodes asked as he walked in with the students.  “They plowed the parking lot while we were gone, and they piled all the snow on top of my car!”

“Wait!” I said, remembering what I had seen in the parking lot when I arrived.  “That pile of snow in the parking lot?  That’s your car under there?”

“Yes!” Martin replied.  “How am I supposed to get out?  Oh, hey, Greg.  You made it.”

“Yes.  But it took forever.  They were only letting one car up the mountain at a time, so we all had to take the off-ramp at Apple Canyon, stop at the stop sign, and get back on.  It took almost two hours to get from Blue Oaks to Apple Canyon.”

“Two hours?” Adam White, the youth pastor, said; he had walked up as I was talking to Martin.  “That’s only eight miles!  So you averaged four miles per hour?”

“Pretty much,” I said.  I noted in my mind that that was such a typical Adam comment.  Although he had a degree in psychology, I heard someone else at the church once describe Adam as a math guy who just didn’t study math, and as a mathematics major myself, I would definitely agree that Adam had a mathematical brain.

We had dinner about half an hour after everyone returned from the ski resort, then we gathered in the main room for Bible study.  The Bible study was led by a guy named Jonathan, not someone from our church; he was a youth pastor from a church in a different part of the state who had this side gig speaking at youth camps.  The theme for this camp was “Where Are You Going?”; a large banner with this title on it hung on the wall behind where Jonathan stood to teach.  That evening’s session was about Jesus calling the first disciples; they were fishermen, but Jesus said he would make them fishers of men.  He gave their lives a new direction.

Adam got up in front of everyone after Jonathan finished.  “Today is Valentine’s Day, as you know, and you might have noticed, on the walls here, there are hearts with each of your names on it.  For the next fifteen minutes, we are going to go around and write Valentines to each other.  Sign as many people’s hearts as you can.  Write encouraging notes to each other.  Say something nice.  Tell people what you like about them.  But keep it appropriate.”

This kind of activity made me both excited and nervous.  I was very interested in what others would say to me, but I was nervous to be honest with others, because I did not want anything I said to be taken the wrong way.  I wrote to several of the kids I knew well how much I enjoyed seeing them at youth group every week.  I added slightly more personal messages for a few of them, like the ones who helped me with my Dog Crap and Vince movie a few months ago.  I also wrote to all of the leaders: Adam, Noah, Taylor, Martin, Erica, Courtney, Brody, Marlene, and Robert A. Silver III, who went by the nickname 3.  To each of them, I wrote something along the lines of how I enjoyed having gotten to know them over the last year.  For Taylor, I added something about having been friends since Day 1 of freshman year, and about having gone to In-N-Out Burger on the day it opened.

“Okay, now,” Adam announced after a while.  “You can go look at your own Valentine and see what people wrote to you.”  I walked over to mine, half expecting it to be mostly empty, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was not.  About twenty kids had written messages to me, some of them just saying things like “hi,” but a few of them meaningfully expressing appreciation for my presence on the youth leadership, and reminiscing some of the fun memories of the last year.  All of the leaders had also written on my Valentine.  Abby, whom I had known since sophomore year and who was engaged to my housemate Josh, wrote:

Greg – I’m so glad you’ve gotten involved with The Edge! You’re great around these kids.  God has really given you a heart for youth, and it’s been good to see you discover that. You’ll make a great teacher too!  Your sister in Christ, Abby

In a corner of the Valentine was an unsigned message in Josh’s handwriting.  He had drawn a small dog with a speech bubble next to it, as if the dog were speaking, and inside the speech bubble he had written a quote from a well-known television commercial that I often laughed at and quoted around the house:

“Yo quiero Taco Bell”

I laughed at this.  It was silly, but having an inside joke of sorts is a way to know that someone really knows me and pays attention to me.  I really did feel appreciated tonight.

“Hey,” I said walking up to Abby and Josh.  “‘Yo quiero Taco Bell.’  That was funny.  And, Abby, thank you for your kind words.”

“I meant it.  You really are going to be a great teacher.”

“You are,” agreed Josh, who was currently in the teacher training program, to teach science.

“Thanks,” I said.

We sang worship songs and had another Bible study with Jonathan on Sunday morning.  He spoke about John 14, where Jesus tells Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Thomas did not know where he was going, but following Jesus was the way, just as it is for us.

After lunch, we had the afternoon to play in the snow, or hang out in the lodge.  I hung out in the lodge for a while, then went outside.  Danny Foster, Zac Santoro, and two other boys appeared to be making a snowman, but as I walked closer to them, I realized that the object they were shaping out of snow was not a snowman.

“Hey, Greg,” Zac said.

“Wait,” I replied.  “Is that–”

“A snow toilet!” Danny exclaimed.

“I have to remember this,” I said.  I pulled out my camera and took a picture of the snow toilet, with the boys posed around it.  A couple minutes later, Danny tried to sit on the snow toilet, and it collapsed.

“Oh, no,” Zac said.

“Can you rebuild it?” I asked.

“Let’s go!” Danny exclaimed, attempting to repair the snow toilet.

I walked a little farther from the lodge.  Courtney, Brody, Marlene, and 3 had engaged several students in a playful snowball fight.  Others were riding sleds and innertubes down the hill.  Playing in the snow was so much fun.  This was only the fourth time in my life that I had ever touched snow, since I grew up somewhere where it did not snow, and my family had no concept of fun family vacations or outdoor recreation.  Almost all of our family vacations consisted of driving long distances to visit relatives, where my brother and I had to sit still as the adults talked about boring adult things.  Although I sometimes lamented all of the experiences I missed out on in childhood, it was kind of nice to still be able to enjoy simple things that were new to me, like playing in the snow.

After dinner, and another Bible message from Jonathan, someone suggested playing a giant game of Mafia.  I had learned this game recently from one of the other Edge leaders, and we had taught it to some of the kids.  Mafia was a social deduction game that inspired many other similar games over the years, including the 21st-century Ultimate Werewolf card games and Among Us smartphone game.  A master of ceremonies would secretly give each player a role by drawing cards.  Two players were the Mafia.  Each round, all the players would close their eyes, and the two Mafia would open their eyes and silently decide on someone to eliminate.  Another player, the Doctor, had to guess whom the Mafia would eliminate, and if correct, the player would be revived and not leave the game.  A fourth player, the Detective, made one guess each round as to who the Mafia was, and the master of ceremonies would silently answer yes or no.  Then, everyone would open their eyes and discuss the results, eventually voting on one suspect to eliminate.  If both Mafia members were eliminated, the citizens would win; otherwise the Mafia would win.

Almost everyone from our group decided to play. I had never played with a crowd this big; the game could take a while if the Mafia were not flushed out quickly. Brody was the MC; he dealt cards to determine roles, and I was the detective.  “Close your eyes,” I heard Brody say.  While my eyes were closed, I heard him ask the Mafia to open their eyes and choose a victim, then he asked the Doctor for a player to revive.  Continuing, he said, “Detective, open your eyes.”  I looked up at Brody, and he said, “Point to a player to find out if they are Mafia.”  I pointed at Erica Foster, just because it would be hilarious if the sweet, innocent leader was Mafia.  Brody’s eyes widened, and he shook his head yes.  Perfect.  I guessed one right on the first try.  I did not want to be too obvious during the discussion, though, because that would put a target on myself.

 “Wake up,” Brody announced.  “Adam.  You mysteriously crashed into a tree while snowboarding.  They did a good job of making it look like an accident.”

“Aww, come on, really?  First one out?” Adam said.  I mostly kept quiet during the ensuing discussion.  The group voted to eliminate Zac Santoro.

“Zac was not Mafia,” Brody announced.  “Everyone close your eyes.”

I waited until it was my turn to open my eyes as the Detective.  I pointed at Shawna Foreman, still remembering the afternoon before when she threw the snowball at me.  Brody nodded in the affirmative, with an even more surprised look on his face.  Thirty-five people were playing, not including myself, and I had picked out the two Mafia on my first two guesses.  After I closed my eyes, I was distracted from the discussion because I was trying to work out the probability that I would choose correctly on my first two guesses.  The number of combinations of 2 out of a group of 35, that would be 35 times 34, divided by 2… which simplified to 35 times 17.  I knew 35 times 10 was 350. Then add 35 times 7, which would be, umm, 5 times 7 and 30 times 7.  So, 35 plus 210, or 245, and 350 plus 245 was 595.  So the probability of picking out the Mafia on the first two tries was 1 in 595, or less than 0.2 percent.  As I was doing the math, not paying attention to the discussion, I heard that Erica Foster was eliminated.  Perfect. One of the Mafia gone already, without me having to look suspicious as the Detective.  Maybe this would be a quick game after all.

It was not a quick game.

On the next round, when it was my turn to guess, I did not need to do anything, since I already knew who the two Mafia were.  Brody had to ask for my guess, though, because the other players did not know that I knew.  I pointed at Brody; he silently laughed while shaking his head no.  On the fourth round, I pointed at myself, also obviously not Mafia.

Brody began telling more and more gruesome stories about how the people died. “Samantha, you were found decapitated in the town square.  3, you were ripped apart by wild dogs.”  Danny Foster started a campaign to get me eliminated after the Mafia took out 3, and just like that, I was out.  I had information as the detective, and I never got a chance to use it.

One by one, Shawna, as the Mafia, continued eliminating all of the players, drawing no suspicion to herself.  And one by one, the townspeople continued eliminating everyone but Shawna, drawing a collective gasp every time Brody announced that the eliminated suspect was not Mafia.  Finally, the game was down to just one leader and two students: Taylor, Shawna, and Stanley Houston, one of the boys who had built the snow toilet.  Shawna was trying to convince Stanley that Taylor was the Mafia.  In desperation, Taylor said, “This is our last chance to get this right.  If we pick the wrong person this time, then the Mafia will win, because the last townsperson will be dead after the next round.  So here goes: I’m the detective.  And Shawna is Mafia.”

“He’s lying!” Shawna replied.  “I’m the detective, and Taylor is Mafia!”  I knew they were both lying, but it was interesting to see how desperation had inspired this bold move.  When it came time to vote, everyone held their breath and looked at Stanley, since they knew Shawna and Taylor would be voting for each other.  Stanley pointed at Shawna.

“Shawna is Mafia!” Brody exclaimed.  Everyone except Erica and Shawna erupted into cheers.  The townspeople finally won the game, after the Mafia had taken out all of them except two.  We won at the last possible chance.

We had one last “Where Are You Going?” Bible study on Monday morning. We chose this weekend for Winter Camp because today was Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday, so there was no school even though it was Monday. The Bible study was about the beginning of Acts, when Jesus appeared to his disciples forty days after his resurrection.  He told them, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Now they knew where they were going: far away to carry the Gospel to other lands.

After this, we packed up and headed home.  Since I had arrived late, no one was assigned to my car, but Zac and Danny asked if they could ride home with me.  I was fine with it; those two were a lot of fun.

In addition to our Valentines, we each got to keep two other things from the weekend.  One was an annual tradition for Winter Camp with The Edge: a mixtape with ninety minutes of Christian music of all different genres.  There were songs from some bands I was familiar with, like Jars of Clay, Five Iron Frenzy, DC Talk, and the children’s video series VeggieTales, of which I had seen two episodes.  Many artists on Edge Mix ‘98 were new to me.  Track 3 was called “What Would Jesus Do,” by a band called Big Tent Revival.

“What would Jesus do?” I said as the singer sang the same phrase, holding up my left wrist.  The other gift we all received that weekend was around my wrist, an embroidered bracelet with the letters “W.W.J.D.?,” which stood for this phrase.  These bracelets had recently become trendy among Christians, especially in youth and young adult groups, but some Christian celebrities and athletes had been seen wearing the bracelets too.

Zac and Danny fell asleep within the first half hour of the trip home, but I kept the music playing. Several tracks deep into side 2 of the mixtape, a song came on that kept asking in the chorus, “What’s your direction?”  This song seemed appropriate for a weekend with the “Where are you going?” theme.  I did not recognize the voice, so when it was safe to do so, I looked at the liner notes.  There was no song called “What’s Your Direction,” or any other phrase repeated in the song, but I analyzed the song list and discovered that this song was the oddly-titled “Ode to Chin,” by a band called Switchfoot.

In addition to being only my fourth time seeing snow, that weekend also held the distinction of being the first time I had ever heard Switchfoot.  They had another good song on Edge Mix 2001, but their major turning point in my consciousness would come in 2003, when they released the album The Beautiful Letdown.  This album was a crossover hit, one of the most successful Christian albums of all time, eventually going on to sell three million copies and spawn two mainstream top twenty hits.  Switchfoot’s music stayed true to Christian principles, but they presented these principles lyrically in a philosophical manner, without sounding preachy, gaining them fans outside the church as well.  They have been one of my favorite bands since my late 20s.

I would learn years later that Ode to Chin, as well as the album it came from, The Legend of Chin, were named after a childhood friend of the two brothers who founded Switchfoot.  I liked that song.  It made me think.  What was my direction?  Where was my life going?  I was going to be a teacher, I had that at least, but life still had many unanswered questions, and I would probably spend the rest of my life seeking the will and heart of God to figure those things out.

Readers: Does it snow where you live? Have you ever been to a winter camp? Tell me about it!

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February 14-18, 1997.  Taking my first step into a larger world. (#120)

I was nine months old when the world first experienced the Star Wars phenomenon in 1977.  As such, I was too young to have seen the movie, or its first sequel The Empire Strikes Back, on the big screen in its original run.  I remember the hype surrounding the next movie in the series, Return of the Jedi, which was released when I was six.  I did not see Return of the Jedi, but I saw the other two movies a couple times over the years during my childhood.  Star Wars creator George Lucas had repeatedly said that he planned to make more movies past Return of the Jedi, as well as three other movies telling the backstory of how the primary villain Darth Vader turned to evil.  In the fourteen years between Return of the Jedi and my junior year at the University of Jeromeville, no more Star Wars movies had been made.

I recognized most of the major characters from Star Wars, but by age twenty, I did not have a detailed recollection of the specific storylines of the movies.  Star Wars just was not a huge part of my childhood.  Therefore, when George Lucas’ company announced that the original three movies would be rereleased in theaters in early 1997, with new scenes to match his original vision, I at first considered this a minor curiosity, something that might be fun to go see, but not something around which to revolve my life.

For my roommate Brian Burr, seeing Star Wars on the big screen again, in this new Special Edition, was a huge deal.  Brian was older than me; he would have been three and a half when Star Wars was first released, so he grew up with Star Wars more than I did.  He announced a while back that he was going to see each movie on the big screen three times.  The movies were being released on Fridays, and Star Wars was not worth missing class over, but I told Brian to keep me posted about the second or third times he saw the movies, so I could go too.

The Special Edition of Star Wars was now entering its third week in theaters, but so far Brian had not said anything to me about seeing the movie.  I was starting to feel left out, like I had from so many cliques already over the last few months.  Furthermore, today was Valentine’s Day, and even though I had gotten brave and talked to the cute girl on the bus this morning, my general failures at love still made me feel discouraged.

After my two math classes, I had New Testament Writings of John with Dr. Hurt.  Dr. Hurt’s New Testament classes were very popular with Christian students at UJ.  I was part of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship; I had recently started attending Jeromeville Covenant Church and their college group, 20/20; and I had friends who were part of University Life, the college group from the First Baptist Church of Jeromeville.  The Writings of John class had around 150 students; I knew and was friends with many of them.

I had taken Introduction to New Testament with Dr. Hurt last quarter to satisfy a general education requirement, and I was taking this class just because I was interested in the topic.  I was learning a lot about the Bible and life as a Christian from JCF and church, but Dr. Hurt’s classes taught me to look at the Bible from a scholarly perspective, which I had never done before.  Earlier in the quarter, we spent two whole days studying one word in the first verse of the Gospel of John, for example.  In English, the verse was usually translated as “In the beginning was the Word,” but “Word,” Logos in Greek, could mean word, study, reason, discourse, or a number of other concepts that were difficult to translate.  God’s Word in this sense was more than just words, it was what God used to speak the universe into being, and Jesus was this Word in human form, in a way that twentieth century English could not explain well.

“Hey, man, what’s up?” Taylor Santiago said as we walked out of Dr. Hurt’s class.  Brent Wang, Noah Snyder, and Mike Knepper had all been sitting near us, and we all walked outside together.  “I see you’re wearing black today.”

“Yeah,” I chuckled.  Bah, humbug to Valentine’s Day, I thought.

“Was the black shirt on purpose?”

“Kinda,” I said.  “Did you guys see Eddie today?

“No,” Brent replied.

“He was wearing a shirt that said, ‘I’m available.’”

“No way!” Taylor exclaimed, laughing.

“But then on the back,” I continued, “it said, ‘Send me.  Isaiah 6:8.’”

“That’s awesome,” Brent said.  Pete and Mike laughed.

“Hey, guys, what’s so funny?” Barefoot James said, walking up to us.  James was a sophomore, a year younger than us.  Two weeks ago, I had started volunteering with The Edge, the junior high school youth group at J-Cov; James was also a volunteer with that group, as were Taylor and Noah.  I told James about Eddie’s shirt, and he replied, “Oh yeah!  I saw that!  That was great.”

“So do any of you have plans for Valentine’s Day?” Brent asked.

“Nope!” Taylor replied.  The others all replied in the negative as well.

“Things didn’t work out for you guys, Mike?” Noah asked.

“I told you,” Mike replied, “Courtney just wants to be friends.”

“Aww,” Taylor said.  “What about you, Greg?  Any ladies we should know about?”

“No,” I said.  I did not know how, or when, to take the next step with the cute girl on the bus.  It happened all too often that I would meet a cute girl and never see her again, or I would take my time getting to know a cute girl while some other guy was busy asking her out.

The others here did not understand; they, or at least some of them, had had girlfriends before.  Taylor and Pete had both been romantically linked to a girl in our freshman dorm, Danielle; she was not together with either of them anymore.  And a few months ago, I thought for sure something was going on between Mike Knepper and Courtney; if I could see it, it must have been really obvious.  Mike had even told me once that he liked Courtney.  But apparently she had just wanted to be friends.

Courtney was a total babe, a freshman, friendly and flirty, with long blonde hair.  I had been seeing more of her the last couple weeks, since she was also a leader at The Edge.  She seemed to spend a lot of time around another of the leaders, Brody Parker, and I was starting to wonder if there was something going on between them. That would explain why she was no longer interested in Mike Knepper.  Although Courtney was very attractive on so many levels, I never considered myself to be interested in her as more than a friend, with all of that competition from other guys like Mike and Brody.

I was ready to talk about something other than Valentine’s Day, so I mentioned the other thing I had been brooding about inside.  “I also still haven’t seen the Star Wars Special Edition,” I said.  “I wanted to go, because I barely remember the original movies.”

“I haven’t seen it yet either,” Barefoot James replied.

Without thinking, I blurted out, “You wanna go see it?”  I had been waiting for two weeks for an opportunity to see Star Wars, and when my mind processed that a chance had fallen into my proverbial lap, I took it.

“Sure,” James replied.

“When?  What works for you?”

James thought for a minute, then said, “Tuesday night?  I don’t have anything going on then.”

“Sure,” I said.  “I’ll look up the times it’s playing.  Will you be at church on Sunday?  We can figure it out then.

“Yeah,” James said.  “Sounds good.”  Of course, Barefoot James on Tuesday night was not exactly a Valentine’s Day date, but at this point what mattered was that I really wanted to see Star Wars.  I made plans with someone, and this was progress.

It turned out that the only show that worked on Tuesday night for Barefoot James was at 10:20, later than I would have liked to start a movie on a school night.  But I really wanted to see this movie, and I had already made a commitment to James.  I could survive on one day of getting less sleep.

I drove downtown and arrived at the theater a few minutes after ten o’clock.  I did not see James outside, nor could I see him inside in the lobby.  I was usually early showing up to things like this, so I stood outside the entrance, waiting for James to arrive.

As my watch ticked past 10:10, 10:15, 10:20, I continued looking across the nearly deserted G Street, wondering where James was.  Had he stood me up?  Had he forgotten?  Had something happened to him?  I wondered what the protocol was for this kind of situation.  How long should I wait before assuming that James would not come?  And in that situation, should I buy a ticket and watch the movie by myself, or should I just go home?  If I did give up on James and watch the movie by myself, how would James know that I was inside the theater?

I got excited when I saw a guy with light brown hair and stubble approach from my left, but as I started taking a step toward him, I noticed that this was clearly not Barefoot James.  As this guy’s facial features came into view, he began to look less like James, and I also noticed at that moment that he was wearing shoes.  It was now 10:26, and my mind was still racing, confused about how to handle this.  Maybe I should just go inside and watch the movie before I missed too much of it.  But if I told the person at the ticket booth to watch for someone fitting James’ description, to pass on the message that I was inside, would she do that?  Would the girl at the ticket window pack up soon if there were no other shows starting that night?  Had the movie even started yet?  How much did I miss?  How much time did I have?  Or should I just go home?  I would give it five more minutes before I decided.

Fortunately, I did not need to make this decision, because James approached from my right on the opposite side of the street at 10:29, waving when he saw me.  He was wearing sandals; I had known James for over a year now, and this was the first time I had ever seen him not barefoot.  “Sorry I’m late,” James said.  “Let’s go.”  As we bought and paid for our tickets, James explained, “I would have been on time, except I got halfway here and remembered that I wasn’t wearing shoes, so I had to go back.  This movie theater is one of the only places I’ve never been able to get into without shoes.”

“I see,” I said.  As we walked toward our theater, I asked, “Why don’t you wear shoes anyway?  I’ve never known.”

“I’ve just never liked shoes,” James explained.  “I think they’re uncomfortable.”

“I see,” I replied.  It was true that shoes were often uncomfortable, but personally, my feet would get too cold if I always went barefoot.  I did not like going barefoot.

The movie theater in Jeromeville had six screens; Star Wars was in theater 3.  We walked in while a preview for an upcoming movie played.  “Oh, good,” I said.  “We didn’t miss anything.”

The theater was about half full; we sat toward the back near the center.  The preview that played as we sat down was the last one, and the movie began after that.  I felt anticipation building as the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, the Lucasfilm logo, and the text “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” appeared on the screen.  A few people cheered as the music started and the backstory text scrolled up the screen; I clapped with them a few times.

I had only seen Star Wars a couple times in childhood, and it had been several years, but I remembered bits and pieces of the plot.  Although the characters were familiar, most of the movie felt like a new experience to me.  I watched intently as Princess Leia hid a top secret message inside the memory of the droid R2-D2 and launched him and his companion C-3PO in an escape pod to find Obi-Wan Kenobi. The droids were found by scavengers and sold to a farm boy named Luke Skywalker.  Luke helped the droids find Obi-Wan, who then explained to Luke about the Force.  Obi-Wan said that the Force was an energy field that holds the galaxy together.

“Sounds kind of like the Logos,” I whispered to James.  “In the beginning was the Force.”

“Whoa,” James replied.  “That’s probably some kind of blasphemy or something.”

A few minutes later, in the movie, Luke and Obi-Wan met the pilot Han Solo in a seedy bar. They paid him to take them and the droids to Leia.  As they left the bar, a green-skinned gangster stopped Han and asked him about a shipment that Han had previously lost.  The gangster shot his blaster, missing Han to the side; the special effects for that part looked uncharacteristically awkward, not the smooth, realistic effects that Star Wars was known for.  Han then shot back, killing the gangster.

“Han shot first,” James whispered.

“Huh?” I replied.

“Han shot first.  You know about that, right?”

“Oh, yeah, I read about that,” I said as the significance of that scene dawned on me.  The most controversial change made for the Special Edition of Star Wars involved Han Solo’s gun battle with someone named Greedo.  In the original movie, Han shot Greedo unprovoked, but in the Special Edition, the scene was altered to make it look like Han shot in self-defense, so as not to portray Han as a cold-blooded murderer.  Many fans believed that the original scene was more in line with Han’s smuggler and mercenary background.  I did not realize at first that this dead green gangster was Greedo.

I continued to watch the movie.  Obi-Wan began to teach Luke about the ways of the Force.  Darth Vader found Luke, Obi-Wan, Han, and the others, and battled Obi-Wan to settle some unfinished business from their past.  Luke escaped that battle and found the Rebels, who then began making plans to go on the offensive.  I tried to take in as many details as I could, so that I would be able to discuss the movie with Brian and other Star Wars fans.

As the movie ended and the credits began, I said to James, “That was good.”

“Yeah.  That new scene with Jabba the Hutt was interesting.”

“Honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Star Wars.  What was that part like before?”

“It just wasn’t there.  It was a whole new scene.  Jabba didn’t show up until Return of the Jedi.”

“Oh, okay.”

“So do you have plans to see The Empire Strikes Back yet?” James asked as we left the theater.  “It comes out Friday.”

“I know Brian and his group already got tickets for Friday.  But I heard him say he’ll want to go a second time.  I’ll ask if I can get in on that, and I’ll let you know.”

“Great, man.  I need to get to bed, I have class in the morning.”

“Me too.  I’m gonna be tired tomorrow, but it was worth it.”

“Yeah!  I’ll see you tomorrow at The Edge?”

“Yes.  Drive safely.”

I did not see Brian until I got home from school Thursday, two days later.  Brian was busy for much of Wednesday, and I was gone for much of the day at school and at The Edge.  Wednesday evening at The Edge.  (After the students went home from The Edge, Courtney and Brody sat in a corner talking, oblivious to the world; it really did look like something was going on between them.)

Brian was happy to hear that I had seen Star Wars with Barefoot James.  “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world,” he said, quoting what Obi-Wan had said to Luke after beginning to teach Luke about the Force.

“Are you still going to see Empire again after the premiere?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Brian said.  “Probably on a weekend, next week or the week after.  You wanna come?”

“Yes!  And James does too.”

“Sounds good.  I’ll keep you posted.”

I may not have grown up with Star Wars, like many kids my age, but tonight I really had stepped into a new world. I was a Star Wars fan now.  This movie was going to be part of my life.  Or at least I would be a Star Wars fan after I saw Return of the Jedi, since I still had no idea how the trilogy ended.  My Jedi training was not complete yet.  Brian had the original versions of all three movies on VHS tapes, but I wanted to wait and see the other two Special Editions with friends first.

After I saw all three Special Editions, I watched all the movies again, using Brian’s tapes.  I bought my own copy of the Special Editions on VHS later that year.  The first of the prequels, telling the story of the future Darth Vader when he was a child, was released in 1999, and one of the most exciting moments of my Star Wars fandom was seeing the first showing of that in a group of sixty of my closest friends.  Yes, sixty.

But that is a story for another time.

Author’s note: Are you a Star Wars fan?