Meandering, still

Notre Dame’s pre-game drills. CREDIT: Peter O’Connor

Guest Columnist

About six months ago I mentioned that I was no longer working here. I thanked a quarter of you for that. I thank you again. To my publisher and friend, Steve Reid, I add thanks for his confidence and for the opportunity to appear regularly in these pages. As before, this newfound freedom means more opportunity to travel this great land. What follows is a short report on my meanderings, still, which might also include a small message.

We left LBK early on a Friday morning. Stopping in Cortez to drop Phoebe off, we set out for the fast drive to Tampa. There aren’t many drivers heading our way; the commuters move quickly. The parking facilities at TPA are nearly full—where do all these people go? The terminal is almost empty. I guess they have gone. We’re off to Chicago this morning; looks like a great day for flying.

We are quickly on top the puffy cumulus clouds above Tampa Bay. Looks like it is still summer here in the South. At 38,000 feet heading north under blue skies the coffee is good.

Pat is testing her new iPad—amazing! I had read the day’s Longboat Key News columns, including mine, before we boarded the airbus. Detailed maps of South Bend are available on this little gem. Pat likes it; she’s a truly modern woman.

We’re on our way to South Bend, Ind., via Chicago. That’s the home of my Alma Mater, Notre Dame. After so many years that you don’t want to know, I return for one of the fall classics played in that hallowed stadium. The travel is easier these days than in my student days long ago. Then it was overnight on the train from New York. First stop O’Hare, less than three hours from Tampa. Chicago is 60 degrees, winds gusting to 35 mph, overcast. Stratus clouds now in the Midwest.

While in the United Club at O’Hare we observed an interesting scene. A group of middle-aged Japanese tourists were waiting for their flight. It must have been a long journey as they were making preparations. They made multiple trips to the buffet. Each time one would return with full plates of cookies, raisins, bananas, etc. One of the ladies carefully removed new large Ziploc plastic bags from her carry-on. These were filled, I guessed for that next long flight. Seasoned travelers?

Twenty minutes over Lake Michigan and we land in South Bend. It’s a short drive through this now ‘rust belt’ city (it was thriving in my days here) to the little town of Bremen. We have a favorite B&B here among the cornfields. Now this is America!

It’s overcast, and much cooler, on Saturday morning. We have only a short drive north to Notre Dame. The traffic is building and heading for parking lots—some even near the stadium. These always seem reserved for the high rollers, the professional tailgaters with the microwave dish antennas. We head for our favorite spot at Saint Mary’s College, across the road. Our daughter went here. You see folks donning their warmer clothing for a day outside in early autumn in Indiana. I don’t see any leaves turning yet.

We get to the stadium early after walking about this storied campus again. You’ll pardon my reminiscence; I first came here to Indiana as a boy a short 56 years ago. The crowd begins to fill this 80,000-seat house that Rockne built. The opponent for today is Stanford—a long trip from Palo Alto. The Cardinals were in white, ND in home blue. Suffice it to say this was one of those games of which you say—it’s not that you win or lose, it’s that you play the game. The weekend continued.

Sunday morning brings blue skies and sunshine. We return to campus to walk about old haunts again and to walk off a fine Amish breakfast in Bremen. As I like to do in this special place, we head for Sacred Heart Church for mass. There is nothing like a large university with lots of resident monks and a fine music program to create a great atmosphere and a meaningful worship experience. We certainly had one this morning.

I’ve opined a week or so ago in these pages on the need for religious tolerance and understanding of our Muslim brothers. Here at Notre Dame one can certainly feel at home. I guess that’s because most of the people you see here look like us. I recall that not so long ago the dominant group on this campus, and in this great basilica, was then the outsiders. We made it! I suspect that more recent arrivals will too.

Apropos of that earlier column I recall a line from Churchill, as I read on the plane. Paraphrasing Sir Winston: individual Muslims may show splendid qualities, but Islam’s fanatic frenzy is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia is in a dog. He spoke those words more that 100 years ago. I’m not saying that I disagree. I do say to look for those splendid qualities in individuals. At Notre Dame that recent morning some of the sung responses were in Spanish, no longer in Latin. Maybe someday other languages will find their way into our lexicon. Couldn’t hurt.

The skies cloud up as afternoon progresses in northern Indiana. I remember from my student days—winter comes early and stays long here. The small jet, built in Canada, arrives to whisk us back across farms and lake to Chicago.

We’re soon off again on the big bird, built in Germany, from the heartland of America to her Gulf Coast. We truly are a wonderful people in a wonderful land.

Click here to read all of O’Connor’s columns.

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