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On walking it off

| Thursday, February 24, 2022

Early in my freshman year, I received a flirtatious text from a friend that I had absolutely no idea how to respond to. Naturally, I panicked, ignored them and went on a walk from my dorm to the grotto. By the time I got back, nearly 30 minutes passed, my head was clear and the potential suitor had lost all interest in me.

Creatively dubbed by my friends as a “walk to the grotto and back moment,” my characteristically avoidant response to emotionally distressing situations has now evolved into a (slightly) neurotic personal philosophy. Now, whenever life becomes too overwhelming, I grab my jacket, shirk my responsibilities and go outside. Don’t get me wrong, I still get my homework done, but nature has become just as essential to my holistic education as my classes and lectures.

Now, you may be wondering: Claire, you have a course overload, work two jobs and are heavily involved with three different extracurricular activities on campus. Why in the world would walks be a priority in your life? 

The answer is: I’m an anxious person. Many things deeply upset me. In fact, I have cried nearly every day for the past two months. Reasons include a cute video of my friend’s dog, “I’ll Take Care of You” by The Chicks, a Chinese test, a research project presentation, lack of sleep, a plethora of personal setbacks and dilemmas, the current crisis in Ukraine, the widespread suffering of humankind and the impending end of the world, etc.

But (most of) my worries fall away when I am on the move. When I’m walking around St. Joe’s lake, I don’t have to stress about what kind of grades I’m making or what people think of me. I just get to be me. It may sound silly, but the geese in the lake, the way the trees look against the sky and the Dome peeking through the leaves in the distance reminds me of the bigger picture.

Despite everything, the world continues to turn and will keep doing so long after I am gone. The lake will still have geese and ducks. The deer will keep having their babies, the birds will chirp and, as always, the squirrels will cause chaos. (I am terrified all this, too, will disappear.) 

I know I shouldn’t catastrophize. I won’t pretend to know what we should do with all of our brief and beautiful time on Earth, but I am done repenting. Instead, I rejoice in small things: putting on a warm sweatshirt from the dryer, the satisfaction of turning in a well-written paper and the glorious moment when North Dining Hall’s soda machine actually has ice at dinnertime.

Ultimately, my walks are a practice of gratitude. I’m grateful to be able to go to one of the best colleges in the country, even if I feel like my head is going to explode 90% of the time. I’m grateful for my second semester Moreau professor, John Lloyd, for introducing me to St. Joe’s lake. I’m grateful for my walks in the cold, even if they sting my nose and numb my fingers. But mostly, I’m grateful to God for somehow putting me on the path to Notre Dame — toward my friends, toward my passions, toward a brighter future.

Dr. Laura Walls, one of my previous professors told me, “prayers should be praise.” In that sense, I pray almost every time I walk, although I’ve never considered myself a religious person. I pray for peace. I pray for change. But mostly, I pray for a better world and for a small role in improving it.

I’ll share with you a prayer from last winter. I was knee-deep in a snowdrift in the woods near Carroll when I saw deer tracks in the snow. They went all the way across the ice on St. Mary’s lake. Now, I don’t know if animals know if they’re walking on ice, but the tracks showed no signs of hesitation. Easily, the deer could’ve fallen through, but it didn’t fear anything, didn’t question anything. 

I think life is a little like that. It’s an act of faith. 

If you were there … if you were a deer, what would you do: stay on the shore (fear) or step forward onto the ice (hope)?

When I stand on the precipice between fear and hope, I want to choose hope. 

I want to step forward; that’s what walking is all about.

Go, Irish. Keep fighting,


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

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About Claire Lyons

Claire is the current Viewpoint Editor for The Observer. She is a senior from Fort Worth, TX with majors in Honors English and political science. She is interested in fostering free speech on campus, the latest non-fiction essay collections and Sufjan Stevens.

Contact Claire