Hospitals are not places I’d recommend spending any great length of time. No matter how much effort is put into their décor, there’s always that expressionless, sterile feeling to them which sits uncomfortably in the pit of your stomach. For those unfamiliar with hospitals, they are alien environments. Alien environments in which everything is new, in which everything seems out of place. Codified language and peculiar uniforms; a frenetic working atmosphere. At least that’s my experience. Prior to moving to Durham I worked as a Care Assistant at my local hospital. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, nothing could prepare me for the culture shock I was about to endure. A deer in headlights.
Yet, as the days, weeks, and months progressed the hospital began to feel less Martian and more, dare I say, homely. The nods of mutual understanding as you bump into other staff in the corridors at four in the morning. The rhythmic melody of the sphygmomanometer. Having to wait just that half a second longer than you’d expect for your swipe card to open the second entrance to the Emergency Department.
For the extremely large majority of you, none of this will resonate, but I suspect that’s because you’ve not walked down many hospital corridors at 4am. The gradual progression from feeling uprooted and moved to an alien environment only for it to become so at ease that its quirks are lovingly embraced, however, is perhaps a bit more familiar.
Being a city with a university interwoven into it, many of us living in Durham will be acutely aware of this journey. The initial memory of the cathedral emerging into view as you crest the hills. Suddenly acquiring an entire corridor’s worth of flatmates from all corners of the earth (and all corners of Surrey). A culture that works hard and plays harder. It’s familiar to so many of us because we’ve been there, done that, and (quite literally) got the t-shirt. Where before Durham was a foreign country, it is now home.
At the start of this new academic year, a fresh cohort of students is embarking on the path we’ve travelled along. They too, will be filled with the same awe and trepidation we all feel when beginning something new. Durham is a beautiful place to call home and it too, has its codified language, its peculiar uniforms (here’s looking at you, ‘stash’) and frenetic working atmosphere. My prayer is that we, as a church community, will do our utmost to help new students on this journey. That we’d recall our first time in an alien environment, recall our fears and concerns, and show them that they’re not in a far-off place at all. Because not only is God still with our new students, their family is right here too.