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Taking Notre Dame with you

Geoff Johnston | Monday, September 29, 2003

Lest the title mislead you, this column was written in the States. This is the last column to be written here (I leave Oct. 4 for England), and so in a spirit of farewells and goodbyes, I wanted to reflect on two years at Notre Dame and determine what lessons to bring with me to England. (I hope that I’ll be able to find a spot for them in my luggage.)I’d like to begin, as I often do, with a story. Last weekend I returned to Notre Dame to wish my friends a happy and successful year. I passed through the Library on my way; I had checked out a book over the summer and I wanted to avoid a year of late fees. Then I returned to the hallowed and beer-stained halls of Zahm to enjoy a few moments with my brothers, especially the seniors. Yelling at the TV during the Purdue game capped the visit; let’s hope the Irish offensive line stops being so, well, offensive. Yet there were more people I still had to visit, and none of them lived in dorms or apartments. I went to the chapel, remembered the sweet smell of incense, sat in a pew and admired the paintings, and talked to God. We chatted for a while, I begged for some help, He smiled and said something but I wasn’t paying attention. Then I went to the Grotto, lit a candle and tried to imprint the image of the place onto my mental canvas (maybe you will be reading about a visit to Lourdes later in the year).A lesson for this parable, you say? Well, sure, if you insist. First, let’s look at the chronology of my visit: Library, Zahm, Grotto/chapel. I believe that my last two years at Notre Dame were, or should have been, analogous to this visit. The Library represents studies, academics, “book-learnin’.” Zahm represents friendship, brotherhood, “koinonia.” The Grotto and chapel represent (drum-roll please) religion, Divinity, God. The order is important as well. Studies are least important; people are more so; God is all-important. Seems simple, right? This truth is less obvious than it seems (or at least it wasn’t obvious to me). The Library also represents success, and I put a huge premium on success, especially doing well in classes. So the Library seemed at times to be the most important object; after all, I can always meet people and make friends, but if I don’t study now, what will happen to me in the future? Will I be able to find a job? Will I be accepted to a good graduate school? How can I compete with graduates from the Ivy League, from Stanford or Duke? Every single one of us is haunted by these doubts, these bogeys streaming in from the depths of our weakness. And so we worry, and worry, and freak out, and the Library seems more important, success seems to be the goal of our Notre Dame career. But, thankfully, we have God to rely upon: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” – Mt 10:29-31. God brings us back to what is important, reminds us that selfless action for others is our goal in life.That is the lesson that I wanted to bring with me from Notre Dame; that is the hope that I wanted to hold onto. In Oxford, I won’t have such true and honest friends (at least at first); I won’t be constantly reminded of the importance of God for true, human dignity. In fact, rather the opposite: I will be tempted toward that which I am already tempted, the idea that success is the goal of college. I’m tired of blaming society for this weakness; after all, what did I expect? That society would lead me down a golden path toward enlightenment and fulfillment? No, only continuous struggle through doubt, worry and anxiety offers the promise of happiness. Life makes sense only if ordered toward God, otherwise we work for nothing, for a bit of dust that is here today and tomorrow gone. I may justly be accused of spouting off obvious and sentimental truths (among other things), but these are the truths that I need most of all to take with me to Oxford. What about the integration tables, what about the topological theorems, what about Hume and Kant? Those will all serve me well, but they are empty verbiage without the proper context. So bring on Oxford. I’m ready. I’m ready because I have saved a part of Notre Dame, bottled it up and stashed it where no one can steal it. I’m ready to learn, to meet new people, to discuss new ideas, to listen and to pray.

Poll question: The first “bop” or party at New College is cartoon-themed. What cartoon character should I dress up as? Email responses to gjohnsto@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.