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Radical Roommate

by Michael Ambrosio

My church background made me feel superior to Mario—but not for long.

Blurb; I knew that Mario had something inarguably real.

As I put my key into the lock, I looked up at the name tag on the door. Next to my name I read my roommate’s name. Mario. Hmmm, I thought, must be Italian. I opened my door and began unloading my box of stuff.
Beginning my college adventure excited me. My high school days were fairly empty socially—I never went to a prom or had a girlfriend. I solaced myself with the thought that my real life would start once I got to college.
“College will be the best days of your life,” people told me. “The friends you make in college will be the best friends you’ll ever have” was another phrase they often said.
As I unloaded my toothbrush and other essentials, I wondered about so many things. I just hope my roommate isn’t some really weird guy or anything. Just then I heard someone behind me clear his throat.
“Hi, my name is Mario,” said a stocky dark guy.
“Hi, I’m Michael,” I replied.
Mario entered the room with his own box of stuff. We talked and got to know each other as we unloaded our college belongings into our respective sides of the room.
Well, he seems nice enough. I just hope he doesn’t snore, I thought.
We finished unpacking and went down-stairs to enjoy our first dormitory food together.
During the next few months I got to know Mario very well. He was extremely soft-spoken, intelligent, very methodical, and he didn’t snore.
Both of us were away from home for the first time, and very often we talked until late at night. I learned about Mario’s inner-city upbringing, that he knew some karate, and that he loved to lift weights. It came out that I had a church background, and Mario had none, which made me feel morally superior.
One morning I learned something else about Mario—he had a temper. I entered the dormitory bathroom to brush my teeth and noticed Mario speaking to Joe. As I brushed, I noticed that Mario seemed agitated, and I caught a look of fear on Joe’s face.
“Take off your glasses,” I heard Mario firmly state. It was so naturally soft-spoken that I could hardly tell Mario was as angry as he was.
“No, I don’t think I’m going to do that,” Joe sheepishly replied.
“This isn’t right!” Mario began to raise his voice. “Take off your glasses so I can hit you.”
“Um, I don’t want to,” Joe continued.
“Hey, Mario, what’s going on?” I interrupted.
“He won’t take off his glasses. He needs to take off his glasses so I can hit him,” Mario told me in a controlled but obviously angry tone.
I never did find out what made Mario so angry with Joe. However, much to Joe’s relief, I talked Mario out of hitting Joe. And as Joe scurried out of the bathroom, my feeling of moral superiority over Mario increased.
Unforgettable conversation
Several weeks after Joe and Mario’s argument, I’d sometimes come into our room and find Mario sitting at his desk, reading a Bible. It surprised me.
I, on the other hand, went to church every week. But I never read my Bible. I had one—I’d stuck it in my box of stuff to bring to college. It was comforting to know I had my Bible with me, but I never actually read it.
During the following months, Mario tried to share with me his newfound faith in Christ. I became very indignant. Who does Mario think he is all of a sudden? I thought. He just starts reading his Bible and going to church, and I’ve been going to church all my life!
One morning Mario and I had a conversation that I’ll never forget. We were sitting in our dormitory room when Mario asked me, “So you think you’re a Christian?”
“Of course, I’ve been going to church all my life,” I smugly answered.
“OK, then. What would you do if someone came to the door, pointed a gun at your head, and asked if you believed in God? But before you answer, the guy tells you that if you say yes, he’ll shoot you.”
This was a tough question. I thought for a while. Then, ever so pleased with myself, I replied, “That’s easy. I’d say no. And when he went away, I’d know that I’m still a Christian.”
Mario just shook his head.
“What? You don’t think that’s good enough? You think you have to be willing to die before you can call yourself a Christian? That’s crazy!” I exclaimed.
Mario didn’t say anything.
Self-righteous slump
Weeks passed, and I didn’t talk to Mario about much of anything anymore. Our relationship was cordial on the surface, but behind Mario’s back I ridiculed him. Some of my other friends and I mocked him with special names—names we thought were funny, names that made fun of his mannerisms or his personality.
As we laughed at Mario, thinking ourselves very creative, we’d grab on to a temporary feeling of superiority. But within seconds of leaving our group, all those feelings disappeared. Instead, I felt a haunting feeling that no matter how much my friends and I agreed that Mario was wrong, he wasn’t. We were.
One day as I was walking down the main hallway to the cafeteria, I saw Mario ahead of me, walking alone. Then I saw Joe coming out of the cafeteria. Mario stopped, and the two talked. I was too far away to hear what they were talking about, but I flashed back to the day Mario wanted to beat up Joe in the bathroom, and a flash of moral superiority again popped into my brain.
Mario finished his brief conversation with Joe before I caught up to them. Looking stunned, Joe took a couple of steps and saw me. “What’s with your roommate, Michael?” he asked, amazement in his voice.
“What? Does he want to beat you up again?” I asked.
“No, not at all,” he said, still obviously dazed.
“Then what did he say to you?”
“Remember that day in the bathroom? That day when he wanted to hit me?”
Joe didn’t have to remind me. “Yes, I remember.”
“Mario apologized.”
“What?” I asked incredulously.
“He said he was sorry.” Then Joe walked away.
As I walked into the cafeteria, I looked the same on the outside, but something had broken inside of me. I knew that Mario had something inarguably real. And I knew that no matter how much I made fun of him, no matter how much I wanted to discount what Mario believed, I couldn’t anymore.
Michael Ambrosio is a pseudonym.

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