By: Michael Shavolian  | 

Life in Room 823

At 9:10 AM you run into class, purposely panting so that the teacher will not bethink your late arrival as betraying carelessness. You scurry to your seat with urgency and after you get settled in you take a quiet look around the room. All seats in the room are taken but three. The teacher teaches, quite well in fact, but at this moment you are too busy caught up thinking about those three bare blue seats. One of the missing musketeers that you have come to know must have set the precedent for a late morning upon striking his snooze button. You chuckle. He must have done so with kavanah, keeping his two roommates in mind for a late morning. You miss their presence, if only because their participation in class makes for interesting discussions. Soon enough, as you had hoped, one of the three, coffee cup in hand, walks in. Shortly after, two others scurry in and take their seats. Now the class is complete.

The day comes and goes. Classes start and finish, and when night falls you trace these three students back to their room. You enter the eighth floor of one of YU's residence halls; you walk nearly all the way to its end and knock on a bright green door conspicuously labeled with a quote from a millionaire. You take the liberty of opening the room’s door and as you peer inside you notice the vast collection of blocks that line the room’s three desks…blocks of different dimensions and hues - red, yellow, blue. You soon realize, however, that these are not simply blocks. They are the room’s decoration, its soul, its life. The Essential Kabbalah-yellow- lies atop Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Sabbath-green. They both rest against a brown Shabbos lamp which in turn sits beneath a glossed picture of Rabbi Menachem Froman (pictures, of course, have many colors). Rav Nachman's Sichot Haran-yellow- sits on tops of one of the dressers. Many of the books are covered with dust jackets that obscure their true colors. You ponder how many of them these roommates have actually read…how many colors have they really come in contact with…and, of course, which books belong to whom.

As you wait to be noticed, you wonder how these three came to share this sacred space. How could a room this small hold individuals this interesting? It didn't take you long to figure that out…to notice that they are an intellectually rambunctious bunch. In fact, you knew the moment you met them that their colors ran deep. It did take you a bit more time to learn more about them…to learn that one is a self-proclaimed postmodernist and student leader, the other a Bostonian with a passion for mysticism, and the last, an unabashed rationalist. But even now, that the room has not yet spontaneously combusted is an enigma to you.

You open the door a bit further and more light from the hallway seeps into the room-a room only dimly lit by the Christmas lights decorating its perimeter.


The room, you notice, is littered with clothes, some hanging out of drawers, others on the floor. Clothes and books, you realize, seem to be their choice of interior decoration. You observe as the rationalist lounges on the carpeted floor beneath a poster of the latest Iron Man film wearing only his tzitzit. He smirks as he scrolls through one supposedly witty comment after another on a Facebook post. His phone’s backlight illumes his face. But does it illume his mind? The mystic curls his brown hair over his forehead and clicks next on the Bon Iver album playing on Spotify. The last of the bunch sits on the top bunk with a book in hand-Benjamin Sommer’s Revelation and Authority- so engrossed that he fails to notice when the door squeaks open. You open the door a bit further and more light from the hallway seeps into the room-a room only dimly lit by the Christmas lights decorating its perimeter. You pronounce your presence once again with a soft-spoken hello. The mystic removes his earphones and you commence with a question. You aren’t invited in; you almost never are and you don’t mind. Your position at the door gives you the chance for a quick exit…just in case it’s needed…just in case the conversation gets too deep.

You pause after conversing for quite a while and at that moment your eyes are caught in between the ceiling and the wall- a place where corners form. But what is a corner? Does it exist within itself? You chuckle at the absurdity of your question, so typical of the conversations that go on in this room, or rather by its doorway. The conversations that you hold inside this room are sometimes so deep that you often get tired quickly. Tonight is one of those times. It’s late at night and you have yet to get started on your physics homework that’s due in only a few hours. You thank your interlocutor and you let the door slowly close as you leave. You are thankful to have met such friendly and interesting individuals.