Love is not explainable or even justifiable. Take falling in love: if one were to ask, "Why do you love this person?" what answers could be given? A list of attributes, of strengths... but how can one explain the way a person holds their fork as a reason for love? You cannot ask the rest of the world to see the wonder in a person that you have found. You cannot ask the rest of the world to forgive their faults the way you have forgiven them and pray for strength that they may be happier. You cannot ask the rest of the world to be in love the way you are in love.
I am in love with a place.
The president of the ministry organization sat down next to me at the final lunch of our two day staff seminar. He had sat next to me before at the seminar just prior and we had talked about campus and how he had started campus ministry himself at Penn State in the 80s and how his wife had graduated from there. We repeated parts of this conversation again. His wife, it seems, may have lived in the house that I currently call home when she was an undergraduate.
As he listed the various memories of Penn State, I could tell that there was something he was trying to put something into words. He found them. "I just was never enchanted with the place. I don't know why. There was just a hubris to the chant of 'We are Penn State' that I could never stomach. The school never caught me.'"
Another ministry staff member from PSU was at the table with me. We made eye contact. I could not read his expression. He responded to the president with observations about his own children: only two of the four ever actively loved Penn State even though growing up in State College. Not everyone loves it, and that is okay. The president continued with some observations and opinions about the Sandusky case and the "cult of Joe Pa". I was quiet and tried to talk about what I love about State College and Penn State in combination; how the town is as dear to me as the school; how yes there is excessive pride... I held my tongue along the lines of "I can criticize my family but you can't" kind of attitude.
How can I ask him to be in love with the same place I am?
How can I explain why walking down Calder Ave is my favorite stretch of street in downtown? How can I explain why I was compelled to walk barefoot on a September Sunday across campus? How can I explain how I love the tree outside of Burrowes where I take naps on a low hanging branch? How can I explain why the creak in the floor at Irvings is charming to me? How can I explain the memories I have at Sunset Park, the frisbee games? How can I explain the significant of White Building 133? How can I explain the drive to Shingletown Gap? Or the feeling when Mt Nittany comes into view on 322 from Harrisburg? How can I explain that at times, even the rowdy drunkenness on my street causes me to sigh, "Oh State College" with affection? How can I explain that even the worst parts of this town, scandal and all, has prompted me to love it more?
Loved not because it is good, but because it is itself.
State College is not always an easy place to love. Penn State is not always an easy place to love. The last few months have proved that.
But I do love it. And in this, I know I am not alone.
I write this in memory of Coach Joe Paterno who passed away this morning. He was a man I admired for loving and caring for this place better than I have or may ever be able to do. I am grieving as part of a town and a school that benefited so much from his time as coach and community member.
To love a place well changes the world.