Reflections on the mid-point of a not-normal semester
There are two places on campus I love more than most. Halfway through this most unusual of semesters, I thought I’d take a moment to tell you all about them.
The first place is a basement booth in LaFortune Student Center. To those who know the basement of LaFun, no explanation is needed. It’s a strange, timeless place, where it always feels like the middle of the night, even in the middle of the afternoon. There, I’ve spent countless late hours with my best friend talking about everything and nothing over a Medicine Ball (mine) and a decaf Americano (hers).
Safe in those wooden booths, a worn green cushion against our backs, we’ve wrestled through stressful weeks and laughed through ridiculous jokes. We’ve wondered about eternity and sought to know our vocations. We’ve admitted when Notre Dame didn’t feel like home, and rejoiced when we found the people and places that do. When I try to describe “my Notre Dame experience,” a LaFun booth is at its heart: there, I’ve shared life, sought God’s will, and studied for some killer midterms.
The second place is the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on God Quad. What began as a quiet nod on the days I happened to cross through the center of the quad has become an anchor: if I’m anywhere nearby, I’ll swing through to say hello to Christ. Walking from my dorm to DeBartolo? It’s only a five minute detour, so I’ll stop by Jesus. For me, it’s a place of prayer; a sacred pause. Whether it’s a quick “Jesus, I trust in You,” or a treasured litany, my moments there are lights in my day.
With this new and most unusual semester, the Jesus statue has become a place of increased importance for another reason. Since I can no longer slide into a LaFun booth at the end of the day for a tea and chat with my best friend, we’ve taken up residence at the foot of Christ, sitting cross-legged at the base of the statue for nightly rosaries and long talks.
“This has sort of become our LaFun booth,” I remarked one night. It was a sweet thought, an assurance that despite this new not-normal in which we dwell, we could have our LaFun chats.
“No it hasn’t,” she replied quickly.
“It hasn’t,” she continued: “it is good — better, even — but it’s not a LaFun booth.”
It is not a LaFun booth. Though our conversations have continued — deepened — they are not the same as they were. Gone are our Medicine Balls and decaf Americanos (curse you, Grubhub!); gone is our people-watching of those enjoying Thursday nights much more wild than our own.
But still, there are few places I’d rather be than at Jesus’ feet, where we can watch people cross God Quad (on scooters, hoverboards, golf carts, and once even a motorcycle!) and sit safely between Jesus and His Mother on the Dome. I love laying against the stone, staring at the sky and wondering aloud about what life will be like when this is all over. It is good. It is not a LaFun Booth.
I want to insist, though, that I do not want a conversation at the Jesus statue to be the new LaFun booth. It is a different, though good, experience. And, in the same way, I do not want this fall to be a normal college semester. This is different; our experience of university life has changed. Though our lives have continued and will continue — they are not the same as they were. Gone are the semesters we assumed we’d have; gone is the campus we knew, at least for now.
To pretend otherwise is to cheapen both the value of what we had and the promise of this semester. Let’s stop pretending that solo pushups in the stadium is the same as the exhilaration of throwing a stranger into the air forty nine times. Let’s stop expecting Adirondack chairs and string lights to restore quad ambiance. To insist on the former is to neglect the gift of the latter. It is to ask this year to be something that it is not, and refuse to recognize it for what it is.
And what it is can be good. I love that our quads are crowded with conversation, filled with glowing fire pits. But that doesn’t mean that Library Lawn is normal. It’s weird! Why does that chair on South Quad never stop rocking? Why are there bees everywhere? I’ve enjoyed furiously filling a chat conversation while simul-streaming a movie via Netflix Party. But I miss crowded section lounges and bowls of popcorn perched between friends.
Our lives are different. One might argue that they need not be, or pretend that they are not, but I want to invite us to do ourselves one better.
Let’s admit that this is not, and will not, be normal. That we’re frustrated by the isolation that permeates our campus; that a distanced classroom in DeBartolo cannot replace a crowded seminar room in O’Shag. That the tables outside are nice (for a few more weeks), but I’d give anything to have my old study spot back; and that the Basilica feels just a little too quiet without us singing with“full heart and voice.”
But amidst our isolation there exists long lake walks to be had, and sunsets to be watched, and those remain beautiful. While I’d love to whisper a joke to the kid sitting next to me in class, I am participating a thousand times more than I ever could on Zoom. Yes, I love that sunless room in Geddes, but studying on the quad has introduced much needed daylight into my studies and sure, the Basilica is a little quiet, but we are once again able to meet God in the Sacraments.
The space this semester creates is awkward, unnatural, and not normal. It is also full of promise, growth, and grace. My LaFun booth chats are gone. But in that absence — a real absence — God remains present and continues to give. When I accept that I cannot demand He give what I once knew, I am able to receive what He offers. And there, in the heart of God Quad, He offers new and abundant life. Let’s take Him up on it.
Maggie Garnett is a junior from South Bend, Indiana studying theology. Find her sitting at the foot of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Statue, or starfish-ing on the sidewalk below it. If you know how to order a Medicine Ball on GrubHub, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.