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Locked in and loved it

| Monday, September 3, 2018

I’ve always hated the first-day-of-school question, “What was the highlight of your summer?” Why? Because my life in the Maryland suburbs is a snoozefest. The closest I’ve come to being “edgy” is when I forgot to brush my hair after getting out of the shower one morning.

This fall, however, I was ready for this question. Excited, even. This year, I had a non-trivial answer.

“What was the highlight of your summer, Tom?”

“Getting locked in a church, overnight, for eight hours.”

If you’re ever in Jerusalem, you can spend the night in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Christianity’s holiest site where, according to tradition, Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. All you have to do is go talk to the Franciscan monks who live there full-time. There are 15 spots per night, free of charge. The one public entrance and exit is locked from the outside from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

I studied abroad this summer with 28 other Notre Dame students in Jerusalem for three weeks. Of course, the whole experience was incredible and any number of moments could serve as the highlight of my summer. But the Holy Sepulcher visit was especially memorable. Though we were locked in, it was strictly voluntary. The opportunity to spend the night, practically alone, in one of the world’s most famous buildings was too good to pass up.

It did not disappoint. Once all of the tourists had left, the ancient church was serenely quiet, the perfect place to reflect. In my wanderings, I found graffiti that was centuries old. You could access Jesus’s tomb — or “the tomb where it happened,” as my sleep-deprived and wandering mind termed it at about 2:45 a.m., practically at will.

I recognize that the whole premise sounds crazy. There were challenges, to be sure. Pulling an all-nighter in a silent building after baking in the Middle Eastern sun all day is tough. The only available toilets were holes in the ground. There were lots of candles and apparently no fire exit.

But I didn’t hesitate for a second when the possibility was floated. It was something I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to do again. Famous historical buildings have a penchant for being crowded and loud. Experiencing them in the solitary quiet is otherworldly. In my case, it was impossible not to feel close to the two millennia’s worth of history that happened in the Holy Sepulcher. What’s more, the sacrifices were small: a night without sleep, a less-than-ideal bathroom situation, the remote possibility that a 2,000-year-old building would pick the night I was there to go up in flames.

Nevertheless, I worry minutiae hold us back. When extraordinary opportunities arise, our minds don’t always think, “Wow, that sounds amazing” but rather, “Ugh, think of the problems.” We pass up on incredible opportunities because we’re worried about getting enough sleep, or where we’re going to use the bathroom, negligible issues of fire safety or something along those lines. Quotidian has conquered us.

I think we all need to live a little. If something sounds cool, if not necessarily conventional, then go for it. Mundane details are, most of the time, just that: mundane details. Don’t let extraordinary scare you. A life spent stepping out of your comfort zone is infinitely more interesting than one spent in the shell of everyday experience.

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

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About Tom Naatz

Tom is a senior at University of Notre Dame. He is majoring in Political Science and Spanish and is originally from Rockville, Maryland. Formerly The Observer's Notre Dame News Editor, he's now a proud columnist for the paper.

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