Gabriel Niforatos | Monday, February 11, 2019
Let me tell you what it is like to live inside of a snow globe — a Victorian mansion behind you and a tiny frozen lake beside you.
There can be snow anytime you want there to be and you will never feel cold, like living the memory of your first snow if you could remember it. A tiny ecosystem of crystal-clear water consisting of an idyllic memory that no one ever had, the vision of a painter that blotted out the scars of mistakes from their canvas. Time is frozen in a perfect world, the most perfect snapshot of winter ever captured, where the snow isn’t cold and the frozen lakes never melt. You will never feel the scorching sun from the outside world, never have to bundle up against a wind that cannot be stopped.
And yet … the only snow you will ever feel is a collection of plastic confetti tossed around you when you are shaken, turned upside down and back again. I have the tiniest of lakes beside me to skate on whenever I want, free from the melting heat of summer. What they don’t see is that the shine on that lake is glitter, the paint is smeared on the windows of the Victorian mansion that is hollow on the inside. The hints of glue beneath the soil and under the trees. Instead, they might reach out and shake the globe that reminds them of that childhood memory of themselves.
Is this living? Trapped inside a dream that no one dreamt, where you can see the outside world walking, talking, changing all around you, but you can’t hear them. You will find yourself reaching out, your face and hands pressed against glass. You won’t travel the world; your only journey will be from the mantle to the cupboard, because you are trapped in one season while the world is changing.
Picturesque. Hollow. The passing of time slowly falling like a piece of plastic snowfall.
At Notre Dame, this snow globe dream exists on a number of different levels. Fundamentally, it is the reality of the student who doesn’t tell people that they are on financial aid. There, I said it. There is a stigma with financial aid on campus and I find that there is a risk of entering the snow globe dream of the “Notre Dame stereotype” to avoid it.
It often feels hard to relate to people on financial aid, in part because of the existing stigma. It might sound trivial but there are times when I literally face a conflict joking with my friends about the food in the dining halls. I have come from times when all my family had to eat was beans and tortilla chips. The ham and cheese sandwich may not be fine dining, but it is hard to complain that we receive all-you-can-eat food anytime we are hungry. It is hard to relate to those who simply cannot relate or understand, hard to bridge the gap and get to the same perspective. So you begin to play the game. The problem is that in doing so, you become trapped in a fake reality and there is a danger that this facade will become reality and interacting with the world will be through a lens and not actually experiencing it. One of my “fears” with photography is that I will incrementally exist behind my lens and see the world through a dark room when I could instead remove my camera and live moments as they are. I want to feel the cold, not see a still life of it — existence, not real time memory. In much the same way, I feel like there is a danger of becoming distant from oneself in order to fit in.
The thing is that changing oneself to live inside a snow globe does not actually make you like those around you. It entraps you inside a dream no one ever dreamt, “the Notre Dame stereotype.” The reality is that, compared to the surrounding South Bend community, the University is itself a snow globe. And yet, this statement ignores the fact that almost half of Notre Dame students are receiving financial aid in some capacity. To the students of Notre Dame on financial aid, acting like we are not on financial aid should not be the fake dream we endeavor to collectively enter into like the film “Inception” portrays. Not only is entering this dream going to further us from our peers, living some idyllic conformist lie is flawed in of itself. Don’t trap yourself to the mold you see now, because it will inevitably change and you will find that your entire existence is that of a marionette dancing to the whims of culture.
I write this to the students of Notre Dame who are on financial aid and feel like they are living inside some sort of false world because of the stigma for being who they are. But there are times when I am afraid that I will lose important aspects of myself in order to bridge the space between misunderstanding, and I write this to myself just as much as I am writing to all of you. I don’t want to live in a snow globe lie of myself, see the snow and never feel a single flake melt on my skin. Let’s leave the lakes that never melt for radiantly blue, unpredictable, stormy waters. Take my hand and I’ll take yours. Let’s swim against the impossible pressure created from the inches of water above us and shatter the glass.
Then let’s spread our wings and fly as high as we can.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.