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Light from loss

Marisa Iati | Friday, April 15, 2011

The Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s family has lost three members this school year.

That’s probably not what you were expecting to read when you tore your eyes away from your dining hall lunch and glanced over at this column a moment ago. Unfortunately, the topic isn’t light-hearted or humorous. It is, however, crucial.

We don’t like to think about it. We often look the other way simply because we do not know how to cope with events whose meanings we cannot fully understand. It’s important that we discuss these losses, however, because there is much to be learned from each tragedy.

From the loss of Lizzy Seeberg in September, I learned that although our community is extremely blessed, we are not immune to hardship. As Fr. Tom Doyle asserted at the memorial Mass for Declan Sullivan about a month later, “It is too easy, but also dishonest to assume that this place and this community has enjoyed only good fortune. We have experienced anguish, distress, persecution and famine.”

Lizzy’s sudden passing drove home the age-old lesson that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, and it helped me begin to understand that life is for the living. Our time is limited. There is no use in spending it in restless, dissatisfied pursuit of something better. This sad event highlights the value of what we have in this exact moment — because that is all there is.

In October, we lost Declan Sullivan. I re-watch his memorial Mass from time to time because in the Mass’s enormous sadness, I find great strength.

On the night of the memorial Mass, amidst the crowd gathered outside the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the men of Fisher Hall united in solidarity. As they walked across campus, arms around each other, I learned what is meant by the phrase “the Notre Dame Family.”

Today I Googled that phrase. I was simply looking to see if “family” needed capitalizing, but what I found was infinitely more meaningful.

“I work at an institution that is over 150 years old; it has a tremendous sense of pride, power and influence,” Anne Stricherz blogged. “Tradition and family ties run strong, but we do not describe ourselves as a ‘family’ … The Notre Dame family, a term that is never used lightly, is true. In our crazy world, it is a blessed reality.”

Our most recent loss was only two weeks ago. It, too, has a lesson to teach. The passing of Sean Valero should start a chain of action.

Most of us passionately express our love for our school. Although this is wonderful, it also makes it easy to forget the conflicts many students face. Sean’s death should remind us that everyone has a story and a struggle and that it’s important to see those of other people.

How much do you truly know about the girl you eat lunch with after philosophy class? The guy you befriended on your trip to Appalachia? Your roommate?

Maybe, by learning about and supporting one another, we will find healing from our wounds. It is in strength garnered from each other that the true meaning of the phrase “the Notre Dame family” becomes apparent.

The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Marisa Iati at miati@nd.edu