What was it, exactly, that compelled me to visit my ethics professor that rainy morning, earlier this week, in his office, down a skinny hallway? Raincoat zipped up to my chin, I skirted past the secretary and stared with wide eyes at the nameplates by each door. Paper in hand. Questioned the compulsion.
People blame compulsions on anything: a friend’s casual suggestion, a magazine ad, that 32 ounce cup of coffee, the weather. Funny things. Except I’m pretty sure in my case that the Holy Spirit compels me. Yes, God. I know from the suddenness of the idea, accompanied by a little stomach churn. Moist palms. I’m compelled, but I’m several miles away from willing. And that’s why I suspect it’s him – he likes me to do things I don’t want to do.
This time was no exception. The scant marks on my essay were limited to two black squares, boldly inked, a question mark, and a big capital “E.” Love, Professor L. Translated, these hieroglyphics meant, rather roughly, “Really? I have a lot to say in response to this paper. You’d better explain a few things here.”
So, in a way, perhaps it wasn’t just God who compelled me. It was God and Professor L. The two of them. Although Professor L wouldn’t like to get too cozy with God, so he doesn’t need to know they worked in tandem.
After two long hours of class in the oblong classroom watching Professor L scratch his head and squint his eyes, I wrote one sentence in my notebook. The penmanship was rather messy, because it was time to leave, but I had to get it down: All our actions and choices can be traced back to our genes, environment, and chance. There is no true free will. “Well,” Professor L called out, “Have a great weekend. I’ve given you a lot to chew on. These are my conclusions, but you have to come to your own, you know.”
Compelled… again. This time, to conclusions.
The other day, I sat at an iron table outside of Caribou next to an old friend. She’s raven-haired, wore a sundress, had a diamond in her nose. My coffee was cold. In the shadows of the afternoon, my compelling friend sipped her half shot cinnamon, half shot almond latte and listened to me babble. While I bemoaned my extended deliberation on an important decision, she tilted her head. “You know, Brooke,” she said, “you’ve always been one to dip your toe in the water before you jump in.”
She’s right; I’m inherently, genetically, cautious.
And caution is the antithesis of compulsion. Caution pauses; compulsion goes. Caution considers; compulsion acts. Caution twists her fingers and folds laundry for another hour until the time seems perfect to make the call; compulsion grabs the keys and finds company. I have wild friends, compulsive friends, beautiful people who slurp thirstily from the currents I drown in. They scare me, a little bit. They dare me. If anyone has free will, my friends do.
And my friends are compelling, in a good way – tending to compel. Overpowering. Having a powerful, irresistible effect; requiring acute admiration, attention, or respect. And they compel me – force, drive, secure or bring about by force, force to submit, subdue, overpower – just as stories, ideas, and truth all compel. Even cautious people cannot avoid the brute force of compulsion. Whatever compels strikes with reason and strength, and it refuses to be ignored until we speak up, write a letter, sponsor the child, dance, create. Compels us to donate, make a change or take a stand.
Are my actions the result of my genes, environment, chance? Is that the only way to explain it? Or, perhaps, is there an invisible force behind the curtain, in the summer air, in my heart? What do you say if I tell you this spirit compelled me, and I listened? What do you say if I tell you the most compelling story of all time, of a life, and a death, and a miracle? But you don’t believe in miracles – I forgot. We speak science here.
Professor L sits in his black leather armchair, book in hand. A small lamp casts a multicolored glow on his desk. It is dim. “Professor,” I tremble, “do you have a few minutes?”
“Why yes,” he says. Replaces the bookmark. Sits in his desk chair and waits.
Something compelled me to come here. Do you know what compels me? “I’d like to talk about my essay,” I say, and pass him my single-spaced thoughts. “I’d like to hear your thoughts.”
“Of course,” he nods, and puts on his glasses. Squints his eyes. Quietly rereads my paragraphs.
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? I want to ask. But I decide this is a random, unwise compulsion from my own grey matter. I tell my brain to be quiet.
I am compelled to fold my hands, pray, and wait to hear what he has to say.
Then I will share what I have concluded.