Think on ink – ‘Travels with Ted & Ned’
Caelin Miltko | Thursday, March 5, 2015
With all of the memorial services this week, I decided to sit down and do something I’ve wanted to do since I arrived at Notre Dame: I picked up one of Father Theodore Hesburgh’s books. Now, we all know he was a prolific reader and writer and the obvious choice would have been his autobiography “God, Country, Notre Dame.”
But rather than read about his life as he interpreted it, I decided to go back to another time when Notre Dame “lost” Father Hesburgh. Of course, his retirement from the presidency wasn’t nearly a complete loss, and up until last Thursday, he remained a powerful figure in Notre Dame administration. Still, I thought there were some similarities in the situation.
As such, I picked up his 2009 publication “Travels with Ted & Ned.” The novel is a compilation of his diaries from the year after he and Father Ned Joyce retired from their respective positions as President and Executive Vice President. The book follows the pair around the world, from their RV trip of the United States, to their trek across Central and South America, to their multiple cruises across the globe.
I’d say that most of the diary entries could be put into one of the following categories: a typical road trip narrative, a religious reflection or a literary map of the Notre Dame family.
The road trip narrative is obvious whenever Hesburgh spends his time detailing the scenery and history of the places he passes through. At times, his past as an educator is obvious in the stories he tells.
For me, it was particularly fun to read the RV trip section. He details places I’ve been, stories I’ve heard and each of his reflections seemed to recall a personal, happy memory. That said, the other sections were a different, equally exhilarating experience. Through his reflections, I got the chance to see places I’ve never been and learn stories I’d never know otherwise.
The aspects that make it a road trip narrative are the moments when Hesburgh details his interactions with his travel partner, Ned Joyce. He explains that each morning they awoke early to say Mass together as concelebrants. I picture this pair of incredibly influential men, alone in an RV in the middle of Utah, saying Mass. There’s a certain hilarity to the picture that makes it both appealing and meaningful.
The next section is probably the smallest, which seems strange given Hesburgh’s profession. Still, what his religious reflections lack in quantity they make up for in quality. When he does reflect on the morning’s Homily or a particularly memorable event, he does so with the same clarity and wisdom we all know from his other writings and speeches.
The last section might be my personal favorite. We all talk about the Notre Dame family and with the memorials for Father Ted Hesburgh, we are currently witnessing the breadth and power of this family. Hesburgh’s travels are marked by his visits with Notre Dame alumni — everywhere he goes he knows someone.
We all know the experience of being greeted by fellow members of the Notre Dame family like we are already friends but the beauty in reading Hesburgh’s recollections is that for him, the Notre Dame family materializes in a completely new way. Even if he didn’t know the alumni in the area, they knew him. And often, he mentions prior strangers who he meets purely through the power of the Notre Dame family.
It’s a remarkable depiction of a community that I’ve always known to be huge and widespread. That sense of community is marked throughout the novel — and it is what we are seeing on campus now as we remember the man who wrote the book.
Perhaps the best thing about the book has nothing to do with any of this, however. Rather, it is that in his diaries and reflections on travel, the reader gets an insight into Father Ted Hesburgh, the man. He is not necessarily the great university president who opened the door for women at Notre Dame or the man who stood next to Martin Luther King, Jr. in that iconic folder.
He is a man who deals with car troubles, worries about flight patterns and tries to make sense of the world around him. It may not be a perfect glimpse and certainly as a published work, it’s still part of the image. But it does provide a beautiful insight into who Theodore Hesburgh was, beyond the facts and legends we tell and retell to everyone who will listen.
“Travels with Ted & Ned” was probably the perfect read for this week after his death. While I will love to go back and savor the road trip moments and appreciate all the facts he tells, reading it this week gave me a better sense of the man to whom I owe my presence at this University. In this week in particular, it provided a perfect respite for reflection, on my own life as well as his.