Julianna Conley | Friday, January 18, 2019
One of my first weeks at Notre Dame, there was a particularly spectacular sunset. It was one of those days where the light seemed to bounce off dust particles in just the right way to make the world glow orange. Though I didn’t see the sky firsthand, I nonetheless felt as if I had experienced the vibrant sunset myself as I scrolled through countless Snapchat and Instagram stories detailing the beautiful setting sun.
I’ve always found reassurance in humanity’s fascination with weather. Throughout the years, I’ve grown used to hearing my friends complain when their feeds become flooded with posts about rain or sunsets, but I find it exciting. I think it’s comforting knowing that people from all walks of life get a thrill from seeing the sky change colors. I think it’s encouraging to realize that though the days of people across the world may differ, they still end the same way: with a sunset.
As my phone became inundated with shots of the sun reflecting on St. Joseph’s Lake and the dome silhouetted against a cotton candy sky, I was reminded of the solar eclipse two summers ago. Just a week before, hate tightened its grip on our nation as racism wrought havoc through the Charlottesville riots. News stations seemed to almost exclusively cover the chaos. That week, leading up to the eclipse, our country appeared to exist in only violence and venom. Our country seemed irreparably divided. The great melting pot of America held too many views, too many ingredients that were insoluble.
But for just a few hours, news media consisted solely of people staring at the sky. Of grown men and women who took off work to watch a giant rock pass in front of a ball of gas. Of people who traveled across the country simply for the chance to catch a better view of the moon blocking out the sun. For one day, kids ran out of school, not from gun violence, but towards the disappearing sun. Strangers (myself included) gathered on the streets, not to protest another group or share in in hateful slurs, but to share eclipse glasses. Entire cities gathered together in football stadiums to watch the solar eclipse, as one community, as one entity, as one country. For one day, people of all races, of all political beliefs, of all religions — for one day, they all came together for something as simple as the sky.
We get caught up in all this … stuff, in the banality of day to day existence: the squabbles with our roommates, the clothes we wear, the food in the dining halls, the extra point on our essay we just know we deserved. We get distracted by the minutiae of everyday life that separates us from one another. We define ourselves by the organizations we join, the colors of our skin, the neighborhoods we live in, the countries we are born in, but we forget that at our core we are still the same. At our core, we all still have a childlike wonder that makes us want to post the sunset on our Snapchat story. We still have a curiosity that motivates us to put our day on hold to revel in the awe of watching the sun disappear.
At Notre Dame, we exist as a school of innovators, of thinkers, of doers, but most importantly, we are a school of people united in the mission of improving the world around us. We come from different backgrounds, different stories, different lives, but we still have the same heart. The same compassion, the same drive.
Yet sometimes we divide. We differentiate our campus by dorm, by major, by gender. We look at people with different religious views or political opinions and define them as other, as alien. We stratify ourselves by class, choosing friends from similar backgrounds. We forget that despite appearances, despite labels, we all share in a common humanity.
As we start the New Year, as we delve further into our independent adulthood, we must value each and every person for not only what makes them unique, but for the essential, shared goodness that makes them no different than ourselves. We must recognize that all people are equal, that all people deserve compassion. We must not only look back on our past year, our past semester. We must look forward. We must look toward the sky. We can create borders on the land, but we cannot divide the sky.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.