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South Bend, for you

| Monday, April 14, 2014

Two days ago, about six houses south of the Frances Street abode I call home, a perfect, innocent two-year-old was shot and killed. The act was senseless, horrendous and purportedly a result of gang violence. I was mortified, to say the least.

When relating the tragedy to my Notre Dame cohorts, their responses converged in disgust, shock and one depressing echoed line. This line sang something to the tune of “That’s wonderful South Bend, for you!”

Flashback to one month ago: I’m sitting comfortably on a plush and snug couch in a tastefully-refurbished high school swimming pool, sipping on Kombucha tea and relaxing to a much different tune. The Accidentals, an up-and-coming folk duo out of Traverse City, are blowing my mind with their talent and energy. As I’m rocking out to an instrument I assume is a modified cello and highly considering giving up my senior year at Notre Dame for life-on-the-road as a groupie, the elderly gentlemen next to me takes a break from pounding his marimba drum to offer me a sip of his Indiana microbrew. I turn him down. He’s enjoying it way too much for me to steal a precious sip of the raspberry-infused wheat ale. My friend giggles next to me, “That’s wonderful South Bend, for you!”

I’ve long anticipated the day I would finally write my Observer Viewpoint column. As April of my senior year at Notre Dame rapidly progressed, it’s about time I did. Yet, if you had told the wide-eyed freshman version of myself that my contribution to student opinions on campus would look something like this … well, I simply wouldn’t have had it.

That’s because, like most students, I’ve lived in South Bend for the last four years. Wait, let me try that again. As a senior, like most students at Notre Dame, I’ve lived in my homework assignments for the last four years. I’ve lived in my dorm parties, my dining hall dates, my football morning tailgates, my chaperoned service outings and my preconceived notions about life outside the ominous and infamous “Notre Dame bubble.”

It irks me to use that clichéd term. And it is important for me to say, I love the bubble. I love endless fresh vegetables and steaming hot entrees on call at South Dining Hall, I love the beautiful walks around well-kept lakes and most of the time I love a world filled with 20-something-year-olds and the professors, staff and other people living in the world of 20-something-year-olds. When you’re a busy and motivated Notre Dame student, the bubble is a wonderful place for productivity and beautiful times with like-minded friends.

But bubbles, my Notre Dame family and friends, can be dangerous little things.

Because had I not taken the leap off of campus and eventually been coaxed out of the bubble by the new and wonderful Notre Dame Bridge Project, events like Ignite Michiana and a survival-based need for groceries, I wouldn’t have met Bethy at Purple Porch Co-Op, the Hill St. local food cooperative. Today, she spent at least 15 minutes running around the store attempting to find a sample cup big enough to let me try the home-cooked broccoli cashew-cream soup. I would have been much the worse without my hours of puppy-play and kitten-snuggling at the Humane Society of St. Joseph County. I never would have gaped in awe at the infamous “Sword of John Adams”, an artful compilation of every bleeding steak possible featured exclusively at the locally-sourced, sustainable restaurant Corndance Tavern. I probably wouldn’t get free hugs and decadent cheese and chocolate samples every time I visited Whole Foods Market (admittedly way too frequently). I definitely wouldn’t have shared passionate conversations about the thriving South Bend Unity Gardens, the growing eco-friendly South Bend culture and the value of the arts in architecture with Kathy, the passionate Notre Dame alumna and proprietor of the trendy Circa Arts Gallery located a mile south of campus. I haven’t even gotten into my love for the crazy socks I recently purchased at Just Goods (Indiana’s oldest Fair Trade general store), the Live Music Sundays at Chicory Café, the South Bend Adventure Club or the bustling Farmer’s Market…

I list to you these experiences because South Bend is an immensely underappreciated special kind-of-place with a special kind-of-people you aren’t going to find anywhere else. And these special kinds-of-people are aching to get involved with the energy, intelligence and youth locked inside the Notre Dame bubble. They want to share with you their food, their story, their music, their art and their city. They’ve all been working hard to instigate positive change for a very long time, and it is finally budding to fruition in sprouts like Unity Gardens, Downtown SB First Fridays, Greening the Bend Campaign and so much more.
My Viewpoint article is less opinion and more strong suggestion: give “The Bend” a chance and break out of your safe zone. I’m not asking you to race out and grab a job application to work at the South Bend Museum of Art or start obsessively adoring the gluten-free, organic and home-made Carrot Cake Muffins at the Garden Patch Market to the monetarily unsustainable level I do.

Be Notre Dame.

Go on your service trips to Africa, dance your heart out at Club Fever, tailgate every Saturday ever and even admit to scaling Stepan Center. Appreciate the bubble.

But, be South Bend too.

When you remove the imposed filters and experience the city for yourself, I think you will find — not a city of tragedy, violence and unbearable winters — but effervescent and alive culture, musical appreciation, art and culinary adventures just waiting for you to take part in. That is wonderful South Bend, for you.

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

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