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.”