I’ve been hearing about Brother Larry Stewart, C.S.C., (’60/’61) from the very start of my involvement with the Notre Dame Trail. He’s the sort of man who leaves an impression. In 1997, he celebrated his 40th jubilee as a Holy Cross brother by cycling across the country, sea to shining sea. In 2007, he celebrated his 50th jubilee by doing it again. This year, when considering how to mark the occasion of his 60th jubilee, he jumped at the chance to walk the 300-plus miles across Indiana in the footsteps of Notre Dame’s founder, Father Edward Sorin. Brother Larry is 80 years old. “But I don’t look my age,” he is quick to reassure me. “People tell me that all the time.” Why am I not surprised?
It’s thirty-one days until the core pilgrims set out from Vincennes to start the long walk to Notre Dame, and I wanted to mark the t-minus-one-month mark somehow. But, frankly, I’m just not in a philosophical mood today. The week gone by has me kind of thinked-out.
So instead I’ve decided to share with you the sort of train of thought that rolls through my head as I knock out the miles that used to be “training” and are now just “how I live these days.” There’s no particular rhyme or reason or bigger meaning, so don’t bother looking for one. Just thoughts bouncing around like the little white dot on your old tv in a game of Pong.…
If it’s easy for me to feel proud of myself, walking and biking as much as I am in preparation for the 317 miles I and the other core pilgrims will cover in August, the bubble of my pride deflates quickly when I talk with someone like Pat Hellman (’63). We speak on a day he has completed a 27-mile bike ride as part of his training. The preparation seems to be going well – it reminds the 75-year-old of the last Iron Man race he was in. “Your last Iron Man?” “Oh, yeah,” he says. “I’ve done a few.”
In his 2016 Laetare Address, Vice-President Biden explained how his “grandpop” had played for Santa Clara in the early part of the last century and how he always resented the team being referred to as “the Notre Dame of the west.” The Irish, the proud Bronco had insisted, were in fact “the Santa Clara of the midwest.” Well. That being said...
Brace yourselves. By the time Mark Alexander (’80) and I get back from our two weeks walking the Notre Dame Trail, we will have the world set to rights. We will have it all sorted out. We got this. There’s a lot to say about Mark. He’s one of those people who make things happen. I didn’t ask about his sleep schedule, but it’s got to be pretty thin.
My wife and I describe ourselves as tumbleweeds. We celebrated our 23rd anniversary last year by her kissing me at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut as I boarded a plane for Seattle where I would spend the next week hoping to secure a new place for us to live out here.
We had no reason to be moving to Seattle. We had no connections in Seattle. We had no work in Seattle. When people ask us why we chose Seattle, I tell them “because we had never been to Seattle and thought ‘Why not?’” Life was some version of normal in Connecticut. Our youngest daughter was a junior in high school. We were both working. No one was looking for us to leave. Everything was, by all measures, normal, stable, and good.…
I’ve been back east for a week and a day. I spent last Saturday flying east so that I could spend the first half of last week shooting the exteriors of a short film on location in Sag Harbor, Long Island, and the second half shooting the interiors at a house in Hamden, Connecticut. I learned a few things this week.
Some years ago, when my father turned 90, I was tasked with creating a birthday video. I collected everything I could think of to tell the story of his ninety years on earth – family photos I’d seen, news clippings, family photos I’d never seen, music, family photos from before I think camera were invented…the lot. I’m pretty proud of the result, but the thing that has stayed with me from the project, the part which inspired me and changed my every day ever since, was something I saw in two photos of my dad from his days in the Army during the Second World War.…
Laughter is just part of her voice. I can tell that immediately. We’re not even talking about anything yet. We’re just getting through the Hello’s and the Thanks for taking the time to speak with me’s and already I have cheeks aching from smiling so hard. That’s what it’s like speaking to her. She confesses that she’s not been out walking like she probably should, and the trainer in me kicks into gear and admonishes her. She needs to take the walk seriously, I tell her. She needs to not be lulled into false confidence because it’s “just a walk”. The hours on feet thirteen days in a row – particularly in the Indiana summer heat and humidity – are going to be a challenge even for the pilgrims in the best condition. Going into this underprepared will be miserable, if not dangerous. Lace up, I tell her...
Nancy Majerek (Votava, ’86) and I have a lot of ground to cover. Okay. Sorry. That was a terrible pun. But the truth is, I’ve been struggling with how to introduce her to you. The conversation I had with her last week covered topics ranging from her role as the University’s Treasury Manager to her experiences in the New Mexico Desert on the Bataan Memorial Death March to the challenges of considering human idiosyncrasies when planning business systems to how she met her husband, Tom, in a volleyball league.
I write letters. This shouldn’t surprise you. And of course I know not everyone does. I know, in fact, very few do. What I hadn’t realized – what surprised me – was just how obsolete the practice of writing an actual letter to actually send in the actual post had become. I haven’t been in the practice of letter writing long. It only started a few months ago and I don’t write everyday. So the small handful of cards and envelopes I had grabbed at the Fred Myer here lasted a little while. When I ran out, I stopped into Office Depot on my way home dropping my youngest at school. Finding the inkjet paper and the laser printer paper was a snap. Also the résumé paper and business cards and name tags and invitation stationery for those inkjets and laser printers. What I couldn’t find was paper for writing a letter.
Evidently the priests in Corby Hall have been discussing the Notre Dame Trail. I am told it is frequently a topic of discussion at table. I gather they sit and consider the prospect of walking 300-plus miles across Indiana over thirteen days in the August summer heat and humidity, and I hear their universal conclusion is: That’s not gonna happen. I love that image. It gives me the giggles. I love the picture of all these priests sitting down to dinner – all these men who have dedicated their lives to God and their intellects to the study of chemistry and theology and history and engineering and their hearts to future generations of students from around the world – and someone bringing up the idea of walking across Indiana like it’s a way to relax and unwind, and the rest looking at him like “You mad, bro?”
My job here is not an easy one. That’s not a woe-is-me comment. I’m not looking for sympathy. I feel remarkably fortunate and honored to have the assignment I do on this excursion, this walk, this pilgrimage. But, really, it’s not easy. It’s my job to be honest. Try being really honest – truly open with what’s going on in your heart and mind – whilst at the same time hoping not to offend anyone. I mean, the sky is honestly blue, but beyond that we’re likely to get into some trouble. But that’s my job, here.
In case you don’t know Haley Scott DeMaria (’95) by name, she’s the Rudy of my era. Haley is a pretty amazing woman and her reasons for walking the Trail are pretty amazing reasons and her story is in turns heartbreaking and uplifting and there are important people to honor and mention.
Beginning is the hardest part. That goes for just about everything. If there’s something I’ve learned, having crested what is (mathematically, at least) “middle age”, it is that I’m actually not as good at beginning as I would like to tell myself I am. I’m ace on the accelerator. Give me a direction and I’ll get us there. When Opportunity knocks, I answer. I grab it by the lapels and give it a big, mushy kiss. I bring it in and pour it a drink. We’re best buds, Opportunity and me.
Bill Borders seems to be the sort who doesn’t ponder a bad decision too long before jumping in, which again is something to which I can relate. He signed up for the 5-day leg of the pilgrimage almost immediately and then let the organizers know “I can do the whole thing if you need someone.”