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Returning to Cincinnati

| Monday, March 14, 2016

Most professionals don’t get a spring break. I was reminded of this reality as I walked Notre Dame’s quiet campus after students left for service trips, sunny beaches and everything in between just over a week ago.

But, the quiet of campus was the catalyst I needed to take some intentional time to slow down. So, I took an opportunity at the end of break to return to my hometown of Cincinnati.

Over the course of my life, well-meaning people have asked me if I would eventually settle down in Cincinnati. And for a long time, I was a little bit shocked by that question. Why would I return to a place that I knew so well? Returning to Cincinnati seemed like the safe choice, a choice that I strongly rejected as I gazed out on a world that brimmed with possibility.

College and post-grad life seemed to offer me more exciting opportunities. And the more I learned and experienced, the more my excitement grew for those opportunities, right alongside a growing sense of boredom and disdain for home.

In my eyes, I had accomplished everything that I needed to accomplish there. Memories of times when I was most fully alive in my childhood — time spent with family, life-giving philosophical conversations, theater with my best friends — faded quickly. I had little interest in looking in the rearview mirror — the best, I believed, was yet to come.

Yet, just this past Sunday, some different thoughts entered my mind about home and my life as I listened to the Sunday Gospel.

The passage was a familiar one — the one about the woman caught in the sin of adultery. I initially felt myself begin to tune out as I recognized the words from the oft-quoted line: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7).

In that moment, I didn’t feel a need to return and reflect on these words that I knew so well. So, not surprisingly, my mind shifted toward other things — the beginning of the workweek and the events that would shape its calendar.

Yet, all of a sudden, my mind slipped back to attention. It was just as much a sudden realization as it was a culmination of realizations that, I believe, had been slowly in the making.

My time at home flashed before my eyes. I thought back to the delight I felt the previous Thursday morning as I gathered to share stories with an old teacher friend. I thought back to the laughter shared Saturday afternoon with some of my best friends and their spouses as we regaled each other with tales from high school.

And there in our pew in Church I observed my family: my Mom, Dad and brother, three people whose stories had so profoundly shaped and influenced my life.

Why had I so frequently looked past the beauty of these experiences? It was then that the full force of realization hit me. In these short days, I had shared stories and time with people that I knew well. In giving myself fully, I was able to focus not on an imagined future, but the truth and beauty of the familiar in my present. This time, I finally saw that the meaning that I spent so much time looking for had already been given to me.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that these realizations came in the midst of a celebration of the Eucharist. How many times do we feel bored at Mass or in our own lives? Might our own minds start to wander a little in the midst of the familiarity of scriptures and prayers or in the most of our daily routines? How often do we focus our energies too much on what might come to the exclusion of what is?

It is always easier for me to keep searching for meaning in new places than to spend time in places I already know. In the safety of my thought and imagination, I don’t have to give myself as completely. There, I can remain at a distance, safely encountering reality on my terms.

Yet, the reality of God’s invitation to us is the robust belief in the possibilities that lie in the familiar, in the places and people we already know. In God’s eyes, every moment is an opportunity and invitation into glory, an invitation to see that God might already be giving us those things we most long for.

What might God already be doing now in our lives? Asking and investigating this question might be the very thing that allows us to take another look at the Church, our homes and our most intimate relationships. Perhaps those things we most long for have already being given to us, if we’re honest with ourselves to look.

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

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