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I’m just hungry

Sandman's Musing | Monday, October 28, 2013

“I’m just hungry.”

I spent the past week with one foot inside the Notre Dame bubble and another foot out.

It was a beautiful experience. And a disturbing one.
And as we return to campus and enter a new week, beginning the all too rapid march toward semester’s end, those are the words that inspire and haunt me:

“I’m just hungry.”

Four days on a virtually deserted campus can teach you a lot, as I learned.
You’ll realize the decades-, if not centuries-, old building you call home is a little eerier at night when most the doors throughout the hallways hide nothing but empty rooms.
You’ll find unexpected silence is far more disruptive to your study space than any ill-tuned guitar or video game soundtrack could ever be.
And you’ll learn the ghosts of Notre Dame still speak clearer than ever, if only you’ll listen.
At least, that’s who I’m convinced was speaking to me last Monday, the ghosts of Notre Dame. They were the ones who compelled me to stop and take a longer look at the familiar signage on campus, with the message that encourages us all to live out the vision of Notre Dame, to be “a healing, unifying, enlightening force for a world deeply in need.”

A force.
Not just a school or a student body, but a force for good that responds to a world with so many needs, many of which are greater now than ever. Of course, the urgency of those needs is hard to recognize when inside the bubble. Only once outside did I realize why I had been looking at that old, familiar campus sign, why I needed to look at that sign.
Fast forward to Saturday night, at which point I had stepped out of the bubble and into the bright lights of Chicago, and there they are – three honest words pasted across a tattered scrap of cardboard, held in the weathered hands of a man whose weathered face I never saw because it was masked by a hood cloaking a head hung in a disheartening combination of shame and exhaustion:

“I’m just hungry.”
These are the words I bring back to campus with me. These are the words that make me ask what it takes to turn good intentions into a true force for good.
If I told the man holding his sign that there was such a force working on his behalf, would he have been able to feel its effects? If I told him about this force, would he have known it existed at all? 

Clichéd columns that call on readers to “make the world a better place” often end up being just that – clichéd. That’s not my aim.
But as we return from break and get back to work, a little perspective can be a good thing. For me, it’s perspective on what it means to be that force Notre Dame is called to be.
For all the success that has been achieved by Notre Dame students and alumni alike, the image of the desperate man and his cardboard sign beneath the bright lights of Chicago served as my reminder that there is still tremendous work to be done in living out the University’s true vision. Whether it’s poverty, immigration, education or any other issue, a force is needed to provide a breakthrough on the problems that have seen little progress in recent years.
This is the challenge of Notre Dame, to be not just a school, but a force.
Solutions won’t materialize in one day, but one day is all it takes to refocus our thinking and begin the work necessary to transform what is already a great school into the great force we can be at our very best.
One day is all it takes. And today is the perfect day to start.

John Sandberg lives in Fisher Hall and is a senior studying political science. He can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.