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Serenity

| Thursday, March 19, 2020

I hated the thought of the Dome appearing in the rearview mirror of my packed car at the end of Commencement Week. I was not afraid to leave. Nevertheless, I got a bizarre feeling in my chest when I thought about leaving Notre Dame — a place that’s driven me crazy at times but become a home despite its problems — for the last time as a student.

That was before spring break. Now, I already left Notre Dame as a student for the last time without even realizing it.

As the CNN midday broadcasts grew increasingly somber, I felt like a balloon deflating. Every day brought more canceled springtime rituals. I was just waiting for the email canceling all of it. On Sunday, I went out for a run. After feeling winded at the two-mile mark, I shook my head, alarmed. “The Holy Half is going to suck this year,” I thought to myself.

I stopped. I laughed. There’s not going to be a Holy Half this year. And, oddly, I was okay with that. Whereas in the previous days the thought may have wrecked my spirit, on Sunday I merely smiled, shook my head and kept running. A sense of serenity washed over me.

I spent the rest of my run reflecting on the (aptly named) Serenity Prayer. It has a long association with Alcoholics Anonymous, although I learned it during my Confirmation class. It goes like this: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.” This brief supplication offers the perfect guidance for our troubled times.

First, serenity. Again, the present situation is not ideal. Yes, it is sad the senior class won’t be able to experience Senior Week. Studying abroad was my favorite part of college; I cannot imagine how much its cancellation must sting.

But sending everyone home was the right move. A lost semester is disappointing. An unmitigated COVID-19 outbreak is catastrophic. We have to recognize the urgency of the health crisis facing our nation and our world. No, we’re not getting senior spring. But on the registry of the world’s problems at the moment, that specific issue should be close to the bottom of the list. We must accept our comparative loss as a small price to help people who are in real danger as a result of this virus.

Next, courage. First, a salute to the bravery of healthcare workers around the world who have been on the frontlines of this battle from the start. These people are the real-life heroes of this dark time. So, to the doctors and nurses in China, France, Italy, Iran, Spain, right here in the United States and everywhere in between, thank you.

Of course, nothing about this situation is easy to accept. A lot of people are feeling robbed. But, again, the important thing now is to accept this fate as our role to play in stopping this virus. That, I believe, is going to require bravery. It is easier to think about lost memories and opportunities. It will take strength to manage the disappointment that has become a fixture of our daily lives. Self-pity is the easy way out. Let’s work on lifting ourselves and each other up — even in the face of adversity — so we can fix this problem.

Finally, wisdom. The scariest part of the global pandemic is that we as individuals cannot control it. We cannot stop COVID-19 from entering our communities. We cannot cure it ourselves. We basically have to ride it out. But, of course, we all have a role to play. We should practice social distancing. We should wash our hands. Buy only the toilet paper you need.

On this note, there is nothing valiant about living life like normal. I know a number of college students who have grand dreams of partying on. Don’t. It’s not only unwise but borderline reckless. Coronavirus might not threaten you, but it could kill your friend with asthma or the elderly couple behind you in line at the grocery store. Have the courage to quarantine. We’re past the point of “keep calm and carry on.”

Lastly, times like these are the perfect opportunity for us to take stock of our blessings. As a senior, I think it’s safe to say this is not how any of us foresaw our time at Notre Dame ending. But that empty and hollow feeling is proof that something clicked.

I rolled my eyes as a freshman when everyone started telling me “Welcome Home.” It felt corny and fake. But now, in the midst of these unfortunate circumstances, I know exactly what all of the fuss was about.

For me at least, the disappointment really isn’t about the Holy Half or Booze Cruise or graduation. It’s about missing out on the vibrant dynamism of Notre Dame’s campus. I love my family but my living room just isn’t as captivating as a nightly shift in The Observer office or an energetic class discussion or a night out with friends at Newfs. For us seniors, the finality of it all is a cruel twist of fate.

The disappointment is bitter but misguided. Temporal space should not confine friendship nor intellectualism. If we’re relying on Notre Dame the place — the 1,261 acres of land in South Bend, Indiana — to hold our lives together, then we’ve done something wrong. The point of Notre Dame is to forge the bonds and instill the habits, then release us into the world as people of character. If our bonds of friendship dissolve the moment we lose all interest in academic pursuits or the moment we leave, then the entire experience was a superficial sham.

Don’t let it become that. Times are hard. Check in with each other. Talk to your friends (digitally). Throw yourselves at your online classes. Strong communities take care of each other in the face of adversity. Now isn’t the time to wallow — it’s the time to prove that Notre Dame is the community we’ve always believed it to be.

Tom is a former a Notre Dame News Editor who decided to turn his passion for Observer Inside Columns into something productive. During quarantine, you can find him writing his thesis about Spanish politics, playing Mario Kart or trying his hand at Twitter. He can be reached at [email protected]

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.

Contact Tom