Forgive me, friends. Today I can think of nothing but Notre Dame.
We’re playing for a National Championship for the first time in decades. And I say “we” because Notre Dame is a place and a people that have always been plural: ours, us, we.
Our team hasn’t gotten this good or this far since I was a child, but I couldn’t sleep last night as if it were Christmas Eve, thrilled with what the prospect of this day might hold. Regardless of the game’s outcome, it’s a day that Domers will never forget.
Last night as I lay awake in the dark, I thought about how Notre Dame has changed my life. All the “soggy sentimentalism” of an alum, of course.
Because it was where I made my closest friends.
Where I fell in love with the suavest engineer this side of South Quad.
Where I learned how to be part of something bigger than myself.
Where I even learned to follow football – the sport I swore I’d never understand, let alone love – as it taught me rituals all its own.
But as my thoughts trailed off into the wee hours ticking towards game day, I thought about how Notre Dame changed my writing, too. All those years working for the student newspaper. The semesters I spent as an English major. And the awakening to faith that keeps calling me deeper into a vocation of words.
This blog is shot through with my alma mater, from one mothering spirit to another. What I know about home and family and prayer is all touched by its people and place and presence, even as my college years fade farther in the rearview mirror than that last shot of the Golden Dome leaving campus.
So today and always, Tom Dooley’s words still ring true, the small metal plaque by the brave young doctor’s statue covered today by a January dusting of snow, flickering in the light of all those candles, the heated hopes of every Irish fan:
But just now…and just so many times, how I long for the Grotto. Away from the Grotto, Dooley just prays. But at the Grotto, especially now when there must be snow everywhere and the lake is ice glass and that triangular fountain on the left is frozen solid, and all the priests are bundled in their too-large, too-long black coats and the students wear snow boots…if I could go to the Grotto now, then I think I could sing inside. I could be full of faith and poetry and loveliness and know more beauty, tenderness and compassion.
Thanks to Notre Dame, my life – and, I hope, my writing – knows more faith and poetry and compassion than I would have ever imagined as a nervous 18 year-old, pulling up to Walsh Hall for the first time.
So in gratitude, today and always, I say GO IRISH.
She walks around the crowded yoga studio, stuffy with the heat of our bodies, pulsing with the waves of deep breathing in and out. Ubuntu, she speaks softly, stepping carefully between brightly colored mats while we lie stretched out in child’s pose. I am because we are.
She gently describes the South African philosophy, quotes Desmond Tutu, you can’t be human all by yourself. While we spend an hour stretching and sweating and shaking as our muscles strengthen, she speaks over and over about the interconnectedness of identity and community.
I listen to the rushing flow of our breathing in and out, sharing the same air and the same space, and I think about interdependence, being created and connected by community.
My body knows this. My mind knows this.
I am because we are.
. . .
Even before the game clock ticks to 00:00, the Facebook feed lights up like Christmas: GO IRISH! #1! NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, HERE WE COME!
Texts fly in, from every old roommate, from every corner of the county. Exhausted from running around the basement to celebrate the final win, we collapse in our chairs. Can you believe this season finally happened? Can you believe how lucky those kids have it, to be there right now? But family and friends on the phone, calling from living rooms and parties and bars and halfway across the world, remind us that we’re already lucky. In an instant, clichés about college-as-family shimmer into true.
We are – and remain, across the years and the miles – ND.
It’s what I loved about the place, of course. The community. The spirit when you step on campus. The collective sense of identity.
But what lured me in as a high school senior went far beyond school spirit or team pride. Notre Dame changed my faith life, too. Because it taught me how to be part of something so much bigger than myself, what it meant to choose a collective identity.
That despite our diverse and disparate interests, beyond our bickering, we can be drawn together by something greater than ourselves.
That the thin spaces and places that unite us, thick with tradition and the ancestors that came before us, put into perspective the worries of the present day.
That we can gather together under one big tent, whether football or faith, even as the sides flap open when the wind blows hard, even as we jostle and elbow each other inside.
Because when the crowd chants in slow, solemn circles round the stadium - We…Are…N…D… – you can’t help but feel the chill. We breathe together in the stadium, our gasps and whoops and yells and cries creating a single wave. Community. Collective identity. And the comfort and challenge always within.
Which is, coincidentally, what church is about, too.
I am because we are.
. . .
I’m firmly his favorite parent. It’s a fleeting phase, I know; they all are. So I soak it up for a season, laugh when he collapses on himself in chortles when I open the door to his room in the morning. Pure delight: she’s here!
He clings to me like a baby koala, nails digging into my arms, never wanting to let go. Even as he takes his first toddling steps and rolls new words around his tongue, he holds on even tighter. High school psych class taught me enough to know that he’s far past the stage of differentiating himself from his mother: he knows he’s not me. And yet something deep within him desires to hold on to this first, most primal, collective identity: I am because you are.
Perhaps it’s the greatest gift I could give my children: a strong sense of self, a firm foundation on which to build a life, a sure place from which to leave. But at the same time knowing that their lives are intimately bound up with others, people who love and need and depend on them, too.
What Catholic social teaching calls the common good. What Desmond Tutu calls ubuntu. What Notre Dame calls family.
I am because you are.