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What would you fight for?

I started off my Winter Break losing brain cells. I watched a combined total of 20 hours of New York City influencer vlogs for the first few days of break and found myself both fascinated and disgusted by their lifestyles: wake up, take a ginger shot, Uber to an overpriced coffee shop on the Lower East Side, drink a matcha (the kind with the swirly foam), Uber home, Doordash a Sweetgreen salad, watch Netflix, get ready for a glitzy influencer event, drink espresso martinis aplenty, take Instagram photos, Uber to your finance boyfriend’s apartment, repeat. 

By the end of my 20-hour binge I felt absolutely gutted and queasy. Something about watching beautiful, rich white girls live glamorous yet shallow lives left me feeling unsettled, so I logged off of YouTube and began browsing the documentaries on Netflix (because, before I was the girl who loved New York City influencer vlogs, I was the girl who loved documentaries). I selected the title “Heroin(e)” a 2017 film about the overdose epidemic in Huntington, West Virginia. 

In the short 40-minute documentary, I saw buff, tattooed men lying helplessly on the floor of apartments; I saw a 20-year-old girl passed out in the middle of Sheetz; I saw women walking up and down the streets late at night in the hopes of getting picked up by men. And I realized, those 20 hours I spent watching the top 1% live their lives of luxury and high-class, I gained more in 40 minutes watching the forgotten people, the people we don’t see in the movies or in media, the people who really actually matter. 

The morning after I watched the documentary, my dad and I dropped my mother off at Union Station. Within five minutes, I saw a boy asleep on the cold tile floor by the entrance; I saw an elderly woman stick her hand in a trash can like it was a pantry; I saw a gaunt man dragging his feet, staring hauntingly at something far away that I couldn’t see. And in that moment, I realized that the documentary wasn’t a shock at all — I’ve seen this kind of struggle my whole life. It existed in my school, in my family, in my community, in my country. But it took 20 hours straight of watching privileged pretty girls frolic around New York City, cocktails in hand, for me to realize just how cruel and unfair this reality is.  

Even at Notre Dame, we exist in a bubble, too busy complaining about the unsafe parts of South Bend to actually take a moment and wonder what we can do about it. We study hard so that we can live in cool cities in luxury apartments with doormen and hot friends and wealth and romance, but too often we don’t take the time to really ask ourselves if that’s all even worth it, if there’s something beyond those material joys. 

Of course, I love cool coffee shops and wellness shots and boyfriends — dear God, I love boyfriends, they seem so fun — but we don’t come to Notre Dame, Indiana to get those things. 

I didn’t come to Notre Dame, Indiana to be like those New York City socialites; I came to Notre Dame, Indiana to be like Jan Rader, the Huntington Fire Chief who dedicates her life to fighting the opioid crisis and spends her days injecting patients with Narcan. I came here to be like Leo Gnawa who self-publishes books about his experience while homeless in DC and advocates for homeless lives. I came here to be like Nyla Fox, my friend from high school who is one of the most hard-working people I’ve ever met. I came here to be like my parents or my nana or the lady at the Coinstar who sparked up a conversation with me while I dumped the contents of my piggy bank into the machine. I came here to be me, to find my fight and learn how to fight well. 

If we really mean what we say when we talk about Notre Dame and “Catholic values” and “What would you fight for?” then we would realize there’s more to life than the next Instagram photo dump or night out at the bar. There’s more to life than football and Dyson AirWraps and LinkedIn connections.

Now, if you asked some of the boys in Keenan what I’d fight for, they might say I fight for free pizza in Za Land. If you asked some of my friends the lifestyle I idolize, they might say a lifestyle where I can dance the night away every night and afford funky sneakers made out of recycled plastic bottles. 

But, I hope, someday, when I’ve grown and explored a little more, my purpose will become more clear and my desires will become greater than myself. And I’m sure I’ll find my fight somewhere between ginger shots and saving the world. 

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu. 

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Nutrigrain bars and my era of absurdity

If I could sum up November 2022 in one word, it would be absurd. From getting kicked out of the ND Redheads GroupMe to strutting around North Quad at 4 a.m. singing “Bejeweled” by Taylor Swift to staying in on a Friday night to work out in the BP gym, I would argue my month has been anything but stable … and I think, in many ways, that’s a very good thing. 

Among many of my hot takes on doing life (and doing it well) is my sincere disdain for structure and routine. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know having routines can be a good thing — for example, I have a workout routine and specific times I tend to eat lunch every day — but as a general rule, routines suck. Over time, they become limiting and depressing…seeing the same faces on the walk to class because you always take the same route to and from DeBart in the morning, eating dinner at the same time every day of the week with the same group, only ever going to the gym in the morning…Doesn’t it all get a little boring? 

I’ve found the times when my life has been the most structured have also been the times I was most dissatisfied and bored. I think back to this time a year ago, a period I affectionately refer to as “The Era of Bad Feelings.” Although I can now reflect on this time fondly, thinking of the two helpings of French fries I ate every day or the friendships I fostered in South Dining Hall well after closing, I also think about how dull my daily life became. 

A year ago, every day looked the same: I’d wake up ten minutes before class, roll out of bed, and walk to the Vincent Building wearing sweats and my oversized yellow Birkenstocks (a shockingly weak ensemble that made me look like a bummy frat boy or maybe a duck). I’d spend my lunch breaks reading and supplementing meals with Nutrigrain bars alone in my dorm room and wouldn’t get ready till 1 p.m. (I usually had more people to impress in my afternoon classes). I’d eat a quick meal after class, which only ever consisted of crinkle-cut fries and cranberry juice from the beloved Siggy Dining Hall, and my weeknights were spent eating a late dinner with friends and studying in LaFun and the North Hall lobby until 3 or 4 a.m. 

Every day was just like this for weeks…until November 9, 2021.

I’ll never forget this day — it was the day I ran out of Nutrigrain bars. My stomach was rumbling, so I willed myself to finally show face in the dining hall. I made that walk of shame in my infamous yellow shoes, and, for the first time in a long time, ate something other than French fries. This was a moment of absurdity. It felt weird, almost unsettling, to be eating lunch in the dining hall, and it felt wildly unreasonable to not be eating my typical French fries with a side of ketchup and mayo. Yet there I was, eating macaroni salad and loving it. 

As the weeks went on, I found the more absurd my life got, the happier I became. The more I strayed from the structure my stale routine offered, the more I opened myself up to the opportunity of making new friends and finding new ways to have fun. I started eating cucumbers instead of fries, stargazing during study breaks, doing work in Hesburgh Library or the atrium when I needed a change of scenery and working out at the Pfeil Center late at night with all the gym bros. I started breaking out of my life of limitation and stepping into myself again, and it was magical. 

Okay, so maybe my beef isn’t with routine as a general concept, but maybe it’s with crappy routines or routines that don’t afford any room for freedom, any room for spontaneity. Even still, I’ve decided structure isn’t always the answer. Often, embracing the absurd is the answer.

The absurd is strolling around campus in a t-shirt during the first snowfall because “why not?” or treating your friend’s broomball tournament like the Olympics. It’s taking the long way to class just to change things up or approaching the boy from your freshman Moreau class at the bar. It’s even begging every ginger you know to vouch for you in the Redheads GroupMe because even though you’re brunette, you’re the biggest ginger ally on campus!

All jokes aside, this new era means living more when given the option. It’s ditching the Nutrigrain bars and all the limitations and living fully, living absurdly. 

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu.

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

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Kill your darlings: Notes on letting go

Letting go has never been easy for me. In fact, it’s one of my least favorite things to do — because, often, letting go feels like losing. Whether it’s letting go of a person or a feeling, a place or a sense of normalcy, things will change, and change can be dreadful.

But, I’m convinced we can’t escape it. We let go all the time: Maybe we’re letting go of our daily trips to the Huddle to stock up on study snacks because we’re running out of Flex Points; maybe we’re letting go of old friends who know all our secrets but have now become strangers on the morning walk to class; maybe we’re letting go of all the “sure things” that aren’t so sure anymore, like football games and half-decent weather. If we aren’t letting go, we aren’t living. 

I always loved this quote from William Faulkner. He said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” I liked it because it was honest. In life and in poetry (because life is like poetry), we have to learn to let go of some beautiful things. In life, we let go of people and ideas and habits and places; In poetry, we let go of words and phrases and verses and stanzas. 

This summer, I wrote a poem called “Cigarettes in the Writing Room.” I spent months working on it, collecting countless pages of raw material and revisions, crafting cool lines that would never make it to the final draft. But there was so much beauty in the things I had to let go of, so much beauty in the darlings I killed. 

And I didn’t do it for no reason — sometimes, we kill our darlings when they don’t fit with the storyline or when they disrupt the flow; sometimes, we simply outgrow them. I think my poem outgrew some of the lines I once loved, but that won’t stop me from keeping those lines scrawled in my moleskin notebook, always available for me to use at some other time or place. 

Letting go of a good thing is not a closed door; letting go can be gentle. 

I think often we conflate letting go with finality. We block numbers, archive posts, pretend things never happened. Growing up, my nana taught me how to cut people off — she’d cut people out of photos and tape them back together again, constructing new realities where those people never existed and nothing ever hurt. 

When I’d ask her about the doctored photographs, she claimed she didn’t know who the missing person was, but she always knew. It was often one of her kids’ ex-boyfriends or a back-stabbing friend — darlings that unfortunately went sour. These days, she tells me, “Don’t do what I did.” She tells me to keep the photos as they are. I figure this is her way of telling me I can let go gracefully. 

My mom sent me a text a few weeks ago. She said, “See yourself as frolicking in a beautiful field of flowers, and sometimes folks will walk into the field and stay a bit and sometimes just having them walk on the outskirts will bring joy … and sometimes people will stay, and sometimes people will leave. And sometimes you’ll tell them to go, sometimes you’ll tell them to come back. And sometimes, you’ll be alone. And you’ll be fine.”

A month from now, when the semester ends, and the dorm buildings and dining halls close for winter break, there’s going to be a lot of letting go for a lot of people.  Some will let go of life on-campus, as they prepare for study abroad in the spring. Others will let go of their first semester of college. A lot of us will let go of our Monday-Wednesday lunch group, or the people we cross paths with on the way to our classes. Maybe we’ll let go of the study spot we wore to death or a dining hall meal we got tired of. We all will kill the darling that is fall semester 2022, and we all will be fine. 

Someday, I’m sure, we’ll look back at all the darlings we’ve had — all the places, people and things we’ve loved — and smile. We’ll light candles for our darlings, say hello to our darlings and we’ll probably always find a way back. So when you kill your darlings, do it with love. 

I want to close with a quote from Maya Angelou: “Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you, I love you if you’re in China, I love you if you’re across town, I love you if you’re in Harlem, I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me, I’d like to hear your voice in my ear, but that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.’” 

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu.

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The grass is greener where I am now

Today, I want to be anywhere but here. Specifically, I want to be in Annapolis, Maryland, rolling around with friends on some grassy hill outside of the State House, discussing John Locke’s social compact over ice cream. The grass is soft and lush, and the sun is tucked behind a few trees, casting spiky shadows over our bodies.

We browse the used book selection at Old Fox Books & Coffeehouse where I buy a memoir and a lemonade. When my friends and I part ways, we chirp, “love you,” with the utmost sincerity.

I return to a beautiful balcony that overlooks the Chesapeake Bay, and it’s just me and the bay alone together. I’m mesmerized by the figures below, and the complexity of their lives I might never fully understand. The preppy boys on boats on their way to Thomas Point to fish, the couple chatting on the balcony a few floors below me, the children chasing birds on the marina, the most free they’ll ever be.

And I listen to a street performer sing Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” And I write lousy poetry in a black moleskin that I’ll eventually lose. And I watch the sky fade from pink to orange to a rich navy, as night sweeps over the city.

This memory is part fact, part fiction, but I want so badly for it to be real. In actuality, I’m sitting in my dorm room in Breen-Phillips Hall thinking about all the places I’d rather be. And while I love the ambiance of our bulb lights, the pitter-patter of the rain in the background and the foliage from our window, among other things, I long for that balcony in Annapolis. And I long for a lot of things.  

Often, I long for my hometown, Alexandria, Virginia. I’m whipping around the high school parking lot with friends, blasting music and reminiscing about former teachers and classmates. We go to Uptowner Cafe in Old Town, and I order my egg-and-cheese on a bagel and a chai tea latte, and we sit in comfy vintage chairs, the blenders and coffee machines harmonizing with the classical music in the background. We leave and say our goodbyes to the owner, then wander down to the waterfront to gaze out at the glimmering expanse.

I swear, that city is mine. From the bottom of King Street, you can see the entire world — the Capitol in the distance, the glittering Woodrow Wilson bridge and the Ferris wheel. And I turn around and look back at the centerpiece of our town, the Masonic Temple, the place we all took homecoming pictures and watched sunrises and talked with friends for hours in the middle of the night. 

And as we leave Old Town and drive back west, I stick my hand out the window, feeling the crisp, cool air strike my palm. And I think of all the wishes of my youth, all the things I wanted so badly, but now have. 

Sometimes, I long for Georgetown, after a 9:30 a.m. Mass. I’m buying soda and candy at Wisemiller’s, dumping change in the tip jar, hearing the jingle of bells above the door as I leave. I stroll, floating past ex-politicians and socialites and children scampering off to CCD in their Sunday best. 

As I walk along the jagged brick, I admire painted townhouses and dorms where my parents lived when they were in college. I walk past the buildings where my mom taught night classes and the bar where college boys bought me Shirley Temples. And I walk past the hospital where I was born. I’m convinced my entire story could be told in this place. 

I go to the church garden and find the brick engraved with my papa’s name, and I sit, wondering if God is even real, but really really hoping so. I’m grinning, thinking about silly church crushes and the priest who knew my Uncle John. 

My Uncle John loved Notre Dame. 

I admit, sometimes, I don’t feel I belong here. Sometimes, I fantasize about what my life would’ve looked like if I had chosen something different, but sometimes, I am so certain this place was always meant for me. 

I think I know, deep down, my entire life led me here. I think I know that all the places that feel like home didn’t always feel like home. Learning to love Annapolis and Alexandria and Georgetown took time too. 

I know I’m not alone when I say that it can be hard to love Notre Dame sometimes, but I really do believe the grass is greener here, where I am right now. The grass is greener here because I am here, in this present moment. 

Someday, I know I will bottle my moments over the next two years and carry them with me, just like I do with my other special places. Someday, I will call upon the times I smiled at a stranger on a walk to DeBart or made friends with a girl in the Southwest Salad line. Someday, I will call upon the time I danced in front of the Golden Dome in the rain listening to Grizzly Bear or went sledding in Narnia behind Holy Cross with my friends. 

Someday, I will indulge in the moment I’m living right now. 

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu.

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

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The funk is necessary

I knew I was in a funk when I took myself on a lake walk last Saturday. While the cause was unclear at the time, I knew for sure my funk was triggered by something. Specifically, I knew it was triggered by my self-imposed “Snapchat Detox”: I would allow myself only 15 minutes of Snapchat per day and see how it made me feel. 

The idea for the detox emerged from a funk within itself. During a Wednesday afternoon dining hall lunch, my friend told me I seemed distracted, and of course, I knew my friend was right. I had been fidgeting nonstop with my phone, avoiding eye contact with my friends and shaking my leg anxiously under the table. Admittedly, I’d been like this for days, weeks even — going to Snapchat in a dull moment, craving some sense of community on my iPhone during alone time and finding little success. That’s when I knew I had to make a change; there was something going on internally that I didn’t have the space to identify at the time. 

I didn’t realize how painful the change would be — not necessarily my “breakup” with Snapchat, but my breakup with the bad habits, dopamine rush and anxiety facilitated by it. But, above all, I struggled to break up with the on-demand socialization the app provided, the way I always had hundreds of friends in my pocket at any given time. 

That day by the lake, however, I had hit my time limit for the day and was finally totally alone. Listening to some playlist that feels like July, I had my first good cry of October. And while I couldn’t quite tell you the reason at the time, the cry felt very right. Clinging to myself like some homesick child, tear-filled eyes darting away from runners and elderly folks, I felt myself begin to unravel. But before I could fixate or process much of anything, I called some friends and made some plans. Before I knew it, we were heading to Rocco’s, having some laughs (and exceptionally good pizza) and driving around South Bend listening to music. I felt far away from the feelings I had on that lake walk; I felt better. 

But the moment I returned to my room and was completely alone again, I was immediately hit with the same kind of empty, pit-in-my-stomach feeling, that funky feeling from the lake. This time, instead of calling someone and making more plans, I took stock of my worries: I realized I was worried about classes, relationships and my major. I was hit with everything I had worked so hard to avoid. And that’s when I realized no one could remedy this funk, except for me. No social media app or song or substance or chaotic weekend adventure would cure my overwhelming sense of desolation. Not even a friend could fill the void. I had to handle it on my own. 

The next morning, I woke up early (a rare, but beautiful occurrence) and met Andrea for a quick brunch at South. I told her about the funk and the detox, and how I think they are connected. It seemed to me that my excessive Snapchat usage was driven by my fears of being alone and out-of-the-loop, and especially, my fear of losing touch. In general, my funk manifested out of my fear of social isolation, something I know rings true for most of my friends and peers. 

I challenged myself to expose myself to these fears in small ways by being alone, being out-of-the-loop, and losing touch with some people, even just for a few days. And although being forced to confront these problems has been annoying, I feel it is necessary. The funk is not the site of growth; getting out of the funk is the site of growth. 

An old mentor once told me that during these periods, we must call upon the times we were the most “us.” We must participate in the activities, habits and practices that make us feel the most alive. This could mean journaling, playing an instrument, going for a run or watching a movie. This could mean eating your favorite food, maintaining a clean space or drinking more water. It sounds simple to do the things we love or do the things that are good for us, but these tasks can be so daunting when we are struggling with seemingly insurmountable worries. 

So I started with just one: I started with running. While I’m only a few days into my goal of running consistently again, I can feel myself getting better. I can feel myself returning to a “me” that wasn’t so consumed with my social life and personal chaos; I can feel myself unraveling in a good way this time, opening myself up to new possibilities outside of my phone and even outside of my friends. 

I’m not saying I have the cure to a funk, nor am I saying that everyone should upend their daily routines and habits and delete their Snapchat accounts. Instead, I’m seeking to normalize a space that so often gets neglected because, really, funks are good. Funks are the launchpad for greater development and deeper understanding of oneself and others. Funks are the answer to all the worries that get buried during long weeks studying and chasing parties. Funks are the thing that forces us to tap in again. 

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu.

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

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Fall is here, but I swear, summer is forever

Perhaps the start of fall isn’t marked by last Thursday’s Autumnal Equinox at 9:04 p.m. Eastern Time — maybe it’s the August 30 return of the Pumpkin Spiced Latte to Starbucks, or the day the box fans start to disappear from dorm room windows. Maybe it’s the first chill of fall you feel on an overcast day on campus or the slow, painful retirement of your flip-flops. However you define this shift, it’s happening, and everyone’s feeling it. 

Although I want nothing more than to embrace the turn of the new season, I find myself holding on for dear life to the summertime. On chilly late-night Grotto trips and sweatshirt-clad walks to DeBart, I’m thinking about legendary nights with hometown friends and summer romances. I’m thinking about saturated sunsets and mountain air and feet-dangling-out-of-car-windows. But whenever I feel this sense of loss, I remind myself that summer can be bottled. I’ve found my summer during this seasonal transition in a few songs.

The first song is “BIKE NO MORE” by brotherkenzie, which can best be described as a haunting, unfinished love letter. The dark piano melody coupled with the eerie vocals creates an otherworldly feeling. The lyrics are distant and vague like those lingering moments from summer: “Don’t you think I know you best / When you’re fast asleep on my chest? / I’ve still got so much to say.” Despite its lack of specificity lyrically, the song is made more vivid in its repetition and sonic mood. It feels like stomping through frozen flower beds, moody and satisfying. 

“Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap, an anthemic song popularized by 500 Days of Summer, opens with a glittery, tangy guitar riff that builds gradually to an epic pre-chorus. The pre-chorus is a series of snapshots that encapsulate youth and recklessness: “A moment, a love, a dream, aloud / A kiss, a cry, our rights, our wrongs.” The song invites listeners to plug in their own kisses, cries and mistakes — it’s a montage of our youth. It’s frantic and desperate, but also slow, mesmerizing and complex. 

The most gut-wrenching song is “Wish on an Eyelash” by Mallrat. The song is less than a minute long but creates a mood of longing that survives the track. Singer Grace Kathleen Elizabeth Shaw delivers crisp, angelic vocals detailing her pining: “I made a wish on an eyelash / Made a wish on elevens / Made a wish on my birthday / Talk about you to heaven.” The song is ethereal and somber, reminiscent of summers spent full of yearning, blowing on dandelions and hoping for things seemingly out of reach. 

“September” by Roy Blair is the most obvious transitional song for this time of year. It chronicles the end of a relationship, but with a glimmer of hope for the future. Blair contextualizes the narrative, singing, “I haven’t seen your face in about three months now.” He includes concrete images of a drunk walk home and his former lover’s Honda Accord, with commentary and reflection. He pleads, “Wish that we still talked / Even if the talk was small.” The song is as much in the now as it is in the past; it is one foot in and one foot out. But, above all, the song is about acceptance that all good things must end, whether that be a season or a relationship.

Surf Curse’s “Lost Honor” is an upbeat grunge rock song that is full of anticipation and excitement. Guitarist Jacob Rubeck told Flood Magazine, “This song is about fighting for love that feels right.” From New Year’s memories and hands on hips, frontman Nick Rattigan details and discerns precious moments, but asserts that “A final kiss never dies.” When I hear this song, I feel so sure that nothing ever dies. Nothing ever goes away.

The beauty of these songs is in their breadth, but mostly in their ability to capture this indescribable feeling that we call Summer. The songs are full of longing and anger and mourning and freedom. The songs sound like those invaluable fast food runs with hometown friends and Culver’s runs in South Bend with school friends. The songs sound like curling up in a ball in your childhood bedroom and sobbing salty tears at the Grotto. The songs transcend time and place. They are not summer songs — they are forever songs. Because surely our falls will be full of longing; surely our winters will be full of joy; surely our springs will be full of “rights” and “wrongs.” Because every season brings so much new and so much of the same. 

As we trade our t-shirts and shorts for sweatshirts and jeans, I hope we all call upon those moments of bliss from the summertime with the knowledge that bliss will return in time. Maybe we won’t find it in Hesburgh Library at 2 a.m. cramming for a midterm, but we will find it somewhere in Notre Dame, Indiana, perhaps when we least expect it. 

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog, or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu.

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All roads lead to the Grotto

When I returned to my hometown in Northern Virginia for summer break, I felt a kind of dissonance almost immediately. My first few days were spent taking strolls and drives with friends, meandering streets that once felt so familiar, but now felt so different. My elementary school had been torn down, replaced with the bare bones of some new monstrosity, and the lookout spot that was the centerpiece of my youth was no longer open past sundown. Needless to say, it took a few weeks to feel like myself again—it took many trips to my favorite coffee shop, many late-night catch-ups and many journal entries. Of course, I missed my school friends and the daily stimulation of college life, but, perhaps more than that, I came to realize that I missed the Grotto. 

Throughout the summer, I found myself craving a safe place in my hometown where I could cry and unpack my emotions and feel everything — a place where I could be alone but amongst others. I found myself desperately trying to fill this void, desperately trying to find my Grotto. I tried going to the Basilica of Saint Mary, the one with the high ceilings and ornate paintings, but it didn’t feel right; I tried sitting along the Potomac River, the moonlight glistening against the water, but it didn’t feel right; I tried sitting in my car in the high school parking circle listening to nostalgic music, but it didn’t feel right. Nothing quite had the magic that I found at the Grotto; nothing could compare. 

Right when I thought I’d tried every place worth trying, I felt a strange calling to go to the hill by my house. I had just finished tutoring my neighbor and needed a moment of solitude, so I sat perched on that grassy hill for an hour, hearing the whoosh of cars combined with the crickets, feeling the rush and the stillness all at once. I looked at all the drivers passing by and began to think about all their lives, all their homes, all the complexity of their relationships and jobs and families. But thinking of all these worlds I would never know didn’t make me feel small, it made me feel like a valuable part of a beautiful whole. There I was, alone, an outsider watching from a quiet hill, but, somehow, I was so bonded to all these drivers. I was bonded by the humanity and beauty of being in the same place at the same time as all these perfect strangers. 

That’s when, for the first time since I’d been home, I felt that overwhelming, gut-wrenching Grotto feeling, a feeling of warmth and familiarity like the smells of our youth or the taste of our favorite foods. On that hill, I was transported to those cold South Bend nights, clinging to my wool coat, my fingertips turning blue, as I walked toward the Grotto. I was transported to the moments I saw the glow from the cavern, the moments I felt the warmth and love from hundreds of candles representing hundreds of people and intentions. 

Without a doubt, what makes the Grotto is the people. Without people, the Grotto wouldn’t be illuminated with candles each night; without people, the Grotto would serve no purpose. I’ve always felt the Grotto was a place for everyone to feel everything, regardless of background or religious belief. At the Grotto, all are welcome. Some Grotto-goers are Catholic, some aren’t; some go after nights out partying, some go after class; some go to pray, some go to sit and watch Tik Toks in peace; some go when they need a good cry, some go every single night. Some Grotto-goers go in packs, some go alone; some light candles for their best friends, some light candles for people they haven’t even met yet; some light candles in hopes of a good test score, some light candles in the wake of a bad test score. Grotto-goers come in all shapes and sizes, with all different needs and desires and lives. They are much like the drivers on the busy street by my house. 

Maybe my Grotto will always be that hill by my childhood home; maybe, later in life, my Grotto will become a person or a feeling or a prayer, but I’m learning that we all have a duty to ourselves to bring the Grotto everywhere we go. We all have a duty to be more human to each other, be the flame in the vacant corner. The Grotto is not just in Notre Dame, Indiana. The Grotto is in those moments you looked out for a perfect stranger; the Grotto is in that friend who is there for you unconditionally or the song that always puts you in a good mood. Here, the Grotto is our comfort place, but I’m convinced that all roads lead to the Grotto, even if those roads take you far, far away from Indiana.

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog, or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu.

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Viewpoint

The scenic drive is always shorter: Thank you from a Gateway 9.0

July 22, 2022 might as well be a national holiday. It was the day Gateway students and transfers received their housing assignments. Perhaps more importantly, it was the day Gateways finally got the gift of a cookie-cutter response to the age-old Notre Dame question: “What dorm are you in?” 

When I started my freshman year as a Holy Cross-Notre Dame Gateway student, I found this dorm question particularly daunting; a seemingly simple question for the average Notre Dame student felt like an embarrassing admittance for me. It felt like telling people over and over again, “Notre Dame didn’t want me, I wasn’t enough.” But I grew to realize no one was thinking that. Being a Gateway is not about the crushing rejection; being a Gateway is about the beautiful opportunity.

Being a Gateway is about going to Siegfried (Siggy) Dining Hall at Holy Cross right before closing time. You get some ice cream and adorn your dessert with a seemingly endless array of toppings before biking to Hesburgh Library to cram for a Notre Dame exam. Being a Gateway is about rolling out of bed two minutes before your Holy Cross class and arriving on time; it’s also about leaving half an hour before Moreau and never being on time. Being a Gateway is about looking at the Holy Cross arch with the same fondness and affection as the golden dome. Being a Gateway is about feeling like you belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Like many Gateways, the year felt like a tug-of-war: I felt stretched between worlds, the small tight-knit community at Holy Cross and the broad network at Notre Dame. I’ve realized, however, that “everyone Gateways differently.” In other words, we all found our own unique way to balance two emails, two ID cards, two campuses and two distinct facets of our identities. Some Gateways fostered friendships exclusively within the cohort, while others connected more with Holy Cross or Notre Dame students. Some preferred the Pfeil Center to work out, while others preferred the Smith Center or the Rock. Gateway gave us the luxury of choice. We could choose where we wanted to exercise, study, eat and socialize. But, at the end of every chaotic day, we all returned to the illuminated St. Joe’s chapel, the small classes and the quaint dining hall. We all returned to our Twin XL beds in Anselm, Basil, James, North, Pulte and South. 

Of course, there were times when I missed Holy Cross events to study at LaFun and there were weeks when I hardly ate meals at Siggy. Now that I’m at Notre Dame full-time, I look back on these moments when I chose Notre Dame over Holy Cross with a twinge of regret. I miss the coziness of the tiny Holy Cross dining hall. I miss the kitchen staff knowing my name. I miss eating lunch alongside professors and peers alike. I miss watching pickup basketball games in the Pfeil Center while running around the indoor track. I miss the three a.m. strolls to the Student Union in my pajamas to get Reese’s peanut butter cups; I miss always being a two minute walk from friends. I miss so much of the Holy Cross experience. 

I admit, starting sophomore year with a concise answer to the “dorm question,” instead of a long-winded explanation of the Gateway program sometimes feels like a departure from my identity, but I’m learning to embrace the easy answer. I’m also learning that just because I don’t live at Holy Cross anymore doesn’t make me any less of a Gateway. I can still return to Siggy for meals with friends, work out in the Pfeil and pull ridiculous hours studying in the Vincent atrium. I can still wear my North Hall sweatshirt and take my Notre Dame friends on “field trips” to my forever home, Holy Cross. 

With time, some Gateways might shed their old identity, but we will forever be bonded by Holy Hikes and housing crises and awkward moments swiping into North Dining Hall. We will forever be bonded by our commitment to fulfill the promise to attend Notre Dame.

To the current Gateway 10.0s: Embrace every aspect of your experience this year. Embrace your professors; embrace the Saints; embrace the mundane moments that will someday be extraordinary. There will be times when you feel like an outsider on Notre Dame’s campus, like anything but the “shiny, special thing.” I assure you, you are just as capable and spectacular as any Notre Dame student. Take your time and fall in love with where and who you are right now. Fall in love with your next door neighbor who isn’t a Gateway, but might just become your best friend. This is your year. You don’t have to do it my way, but do it right. 

Kate Casper

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog, or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu.