I don’t honestly remember first meeting Will, although he might. When we were freshmen at Wheaton, he lived on the men’s floor adjacent to my floor; we called them brother-sister floors (or just “bro-sis”) and were encouraged to bond with members of our sister and brother floors. Since we had one brother floor to two sister floors at the time, there were never enough guys to go around. When the RAs planned bro-sis activities, I usually went because we were supposed to, but I always sat in a corner, usually with a book.
While some guys occasionally might say hi throughout the year during these activities, Will was the only one who actually came to talk to me. None of this flirty 18-year-old stuff, either, or awkwardness. I could tell from the beginning that he was brighter than most of the other guys and read a lot—not just C.S. Lewis and John Piper like every guy at Wheaton but other intense and varied authors. He knew Nigeria was in Africa, and—wow!—that Africa was huge and not one country. He knew about history and politics and literature. Eventually, I only went to bro-sis functions at all because I might get to talk to Will. He must have just been able to tell how awkward I felt at those darned events. While he wasn’t exclusive in his attention to me, he definitely made an effort to include me, for which I was extremely grateful. Not that I liked Will. I just recognized that he was extraordinary, not like the other guys I kept meeting.
Eventually, Will got his foot through the door into our little group of missionary kids (MKs). Again, he probably remembers how it happened better than I, but there it is. He became an honorary MK and hung out with those of us from France, Haiti, Nigeria, Jordan, Austria, Mexico, and other exciting places.
And then there was Pooh Corner, one of my two favorite things about my years at Wheaton. Every Tuesday night at 10pm, about a dozen of us got together to read children’s chapter books aloud. We read Lloyd Alexander’s /Prydain Chronicles, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence, and a few Harry Potter books during the summers, among many others. We were a tight-knit group, all geeks who loved reading. And Will almost always read the part of the bad guy, if there was one. He loved to play the sinister roles. That’s just Will.
And somewhere in there, in the midst of those four years of college, we became real friends. Once I got a car my junior year, I gave Will rides places, and I started going to the Anglican church he attended. (Not just because he went there, but because his whole gaggle of friends went there, and then because I loved it.) I wanted so desperately to be part of his little group of older friends, the ones who loved Star Trek and followed geeky comics and played Settlers of Catan. I never fit into the group, but I was friends with Will, and that was enough. We still had Pooh Corner, and on Sunday nights our junior & senior years, we often hung out at Tom’s house to listen to Doctor Demento sketches or watch Babylon 5.
Oh, and did I mention that Will was my supervisor at one point? Oh yes. When I worked for the college newspaper my senior year, Will was one of the editors. Now that was exciting.
Along the way, I went through the inevitable crises we all deal with: bad relationships, bad grades, homesickness, the works. And Will was a rock through it all. He and my friend Brad helped me pass my Christian Thought class, which I would have flunked otherwise. I’m not kidding.
Will: “Is Jesus God?”
Will: “Is Mary the mother of Jesus?”
Will: “Then Mary is the mother of God.”
That was how it went. Will is extremely annoying and irritating and super-rational! Every day he drove me crazy. He teased me mercilessly, and we argued about everything. But it was all in fun, and at the end of the day, I knew I could count on Will to be honest with me and to remain my friend no matter what.
And now we’ve lived in different towns for seven years.—sometimes in different states, sometimes in different countries. And today, Will turns 30. I have no doubt whatsoever that he will be utterly humiliated by this post and will turn a deep shade of purple. I only wish I were there to see it and to wish him a happy birthday in person. Will, I know you’re reading this, and I wanted to say thank you for being one of the best friends I’ve ever had (or ever will have), and I hope you’ve had a fantabulous birthday!