by Joanie Butman
Until this year I had never heard that term. For the uninitiated like myself, rush week is “a limited, high-pressure period when people in Greek letter fraternities and sororities recruit, or rush, new students in hopes of nabbing a good crop of pledges to keep their organizations alive and kicking for another four years.” Many colleges hold rush week at the beginning of the second semester of freshman year. Much like the opening of the envelopes at the Academy Awards tonight heralding the Oscar winners, the end of January unveiled the anticipated results indicating who was accepted into which sorority, a painful experience for some. Rejection is never easy to accept. One mother I spoke to claimed rush week will be responsible for years of therapy for mother and daughter. Sounds like one of my family vacations!
My daughter’s experience was a positive one, though not without stress. Just helping her gather the required wardrobe for the undertaking was more painful and costly than I deemed necessary. Unfortunately, clothing issues were the least of many other mothers’ plight. I’ve heard horrific stories of late-night, tear-filled phone calls, and crazed mothers doing things that would make Dance Moms look sane. Come to think of it, there is excellent material here for a new reality show.
Prior to last year, I had no knowledge or exposure to sororities. In fact, when my daughter started looking at colleges and told the counselor that she was interested in Greek Life, I thought she was expressing an interest in Greek mythology and made the mistake of voicing my surprise. This was not the first ‘blonde moment’ in my parenting life despite the fact that I am a brunette. It was just another embarrassing-mother-moment to add to my lengthy list of parenting faux pas.
I have never been a club-type person so Greek Life was an anathema to me. It goes against my nonconformist attitude. The only club that ever appealed to me was Lucille Ball’s Friends of the Friendless. I wonder if there is a Greek equivalent? I find the entire application process to any kind of club daunting and embarrassing, and rush week has got to be amongst the most angst-producing. Applying for entry into a society or organization feels like participating in a beauty contest – and don’t think rush week doesn’t have a lot to do with appearances.
I remember my first foray into a club when my daughter was in middle school. Another mom approached me to see if I would be interested in joining the National Charity League, a mother/daughter service organization. I nearly choked when I found out I had to be sponsored in order to join this philanthropic organization, as if there might be some personality defect that would prevent me from baking cookies, delivering food, or any other of the worthwhile efforts this group provides. The very idea that I needed to join a group to perform acts of charity always rubbed me the wrong way, particularly after I saw firsthand the creative ways people managed to satisfy the required hours of service. Don’t get me wrong; during my brief tenure, I enjoyed every hour of service and was exposed to countless ways my daughter and I could contribute to improving the quality of people’s lives in our own backyard.
Nevertheless, I did not get off to an auspicious beginning. During the new member meeting, after they outlined the required hours we needed to earn before the end of their fiscal year, I timidly raised my hand: “Has anyone ever been kicked out for not completing the required hours?” My question was received in stunned silence. Apparently, I had just revealed the personality flaw that should have barred my entrance into this noble sorority. Determined not to be awarded the dubious honor of becoming the first person in NCL history to be expelled, I dove in headfirst.
The problem I noticed is that I became so concerned with fulfilling the hour requirements, I overlooked opportunities for acts of charity right in front of me – bringing dinner to a house-bound neighbor, extending a listening ear to a friend in need, opportunities for random acts of kindness that I was too busy to notice because they didn’t “count.” I witnessed a new low when our group was approached after the December cookie exchange and asked if we could drop off poinsettias to one of our community service groups on our way home. I am embarrassed to say, being overwhelmed by our holiday schedules, we all remained mute until the woman informed us we would earn an easy hour by delivering the poinsettias. Not surprisingly, she was then swarmed with volunteers (myself included). I took my plants and put them aside while I collected my daughter. Upon returning, I found the plants gone, along with an opportunity to earn extra credits. Obviously, someone needed those hours more desperately than I did. In reality, I was relieved because I was ashamed of my initial refusal to help. This incident taught me a valuable lesson: if I just concentrated on minutes of kindness, the hours would take care of themselves. I resigned midway through my second year.
Our next attempt to join a club was not much better. It took more efforts and favors than getting into a good college, and all we wanted was a place to swim. Much to my surprise, one of the people I put down as a suggested reference not only refused but went so far as to write a letter opposing our nomination. The reason was never revealed to me, nor was his or her identity – until recently. Who knew the person sitting in the same church with me all these years didn’t want to swim next to me?
Regardless, at the time this veto prompted lots of finger pointing at the dinner table as my family unanimously assumed I was responsible for this burp in our social status. This club was a place to play tennis, paddle and swim. What could I have done to cause an objection? Had someone seen how scary I look in a swimsuit? I’ll never know, nor am I sure I want to. The real issue is that everyone in my family was so convinced it had something to do with me!
Our most recent foray into the club scene was more successful – in that they let us in. Even so, the application process still felt stiff and awkward like I was pretending to be something I’m not: a mature, responsible adult. Obviously, you don’t portray an honest picture on your application because who in their right mind is going to write down anything other than a glowing description of themselves and their families? I’m still fearful that someone is going to figure out we grossly exaggerated our normalcy or suitability. When I have lunch there, I’m worried I’m going to do something ‘against the rules.’ I’ve never fully outgrown my natural tendency towards nonconformity. Given my guilt in my family’s eyes for our earlier rejection, they keep a close eye on me to ensure I am on my best behavior at all times
Despite my initial reluctance to embrace my daughter’s enthusiasm for Greek Life, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. My impression of sororities being shallow, exclusive and snobbish was based solely on that awful movie Legally Blonde. I suppose there are those that might be, but I was the one being a snob by making a judgment about something I knew nothing about. Just because the associations in my own life don’t boast Greek names, they share the same purpose. They are a group of people with whom I share similar interests, traditions and values. It could be a friend group, a community group, a political group, a bible study group or a church group. People are tribal by nature. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals offers a sense of family, community, security and support. It doesn’t prevent you from enjoying plenty of friendships outside that group. It is merely a safe haven. In addition, during my fifteen years of Community Bible Study and 55 years of life, I have been nurtured by a number of mentors – my own versions of a sorority ‘big.’ And now I do the same for my own new ‘littles.’ Who doesn't need a big sister in life? In a world rife with intense competition and assertive individualism, couldn’t we all benefit from being part of something bigger than ourselves?
In keeping with my daughter’s accusation that I can make anything about God, I mentioned to her that Christianity is my sorority/fraternity rolled into one. I couldn't see it, but I could feel the eye rolling long distance. If I had to give my groups a Greek assignation, I suppose Alpha Omega would be a good one. Here was an exception to Groucho Marx’s famous quote, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” It’s the best club I’ve ever been blessed to join. Do you want to know why? First of all, it is not exclusive. They accept anybody. Second, your sponsor and two seconds come wrapped up in one person. There is no dress code. You can’t earn your way in, nor do you have to earn the right to stay. The only requirements are a sincere desire to get to know a loving and merciful God who is just waiting for your application and an acceptance of His Son as your savior. Did I mention no annual fees? Price has already been paid in full on your behalf. This is one club I didn’t need to be intimidated to join. The member list boasts people from every walk of life who, though they make every effort, are frequently not on their best behavior and often bend a few rules. I will be in good company.
Finally, the choice issue here is where and with whom we choose to align ourselves. W. Clement Stone said it more eloquently than I ever could:
"Be careful of the environment you choose for it will shape you;
be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.”
*Big: Each new member is given a “big” sister that is a mentor to her throughout her new member period. The new member is called a little. This bond remains even after the new member has initiated.