Building Community the Notre Dame Way…When You’re Not There

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I was recently asked to answer this question: How do you form community in post-grad life, and what are some challenges you’ve run into in forming one?

My first response was:

This is my second response:

My Dad’s favorite way to refer to Notre Dame: Catholic Disney World. I knew Notre Dame was a different and beautiful type of place, but I never really believed that fully. For better or for worse, it truly is.

 

I was super involved with faith life and community at Notre Dame. I lead retreats and small groups for campus ministry, I did Vision twice, I had a theology major, and I was an RA. In other words, I bought in HARD. My experience or advice thus might not be applicable for people who were excited to leave Notre Dame. I was ready to leave, but I didn’t want to. I knew it was time to “go forth”, to use a bit of a cliché.

There’s a story by David Foster Wallace called This Is Water. It is essentially about a bunch of fish who are swimming around, constantly bathed in water, but because they are so used to it being there they cannot name it because it’s ever-present. This is what community is like at Notre Dame—you barely realize how much is there, because you are enveloped and surrounded by it constantly.

So when you leave, you’re a fish out of water?

No, Adulting is not that bad. However, You Are Bad AT IT. If you’re at all like me, you’re bad at many things, but it is like this with community, too. At ND, there are tons of structures and clubs in place to help people cultivate and be wrapped up in a sense of belonging. In post-grad, you mainly have to build these things for yourself. In this sense, it is both terrifying and satisfyingly liberating. If you’re anything like me, you will feel both.

That being said, you will form community. It just might not be as immediate or look how you first want it to. Since you’re building it yourself, you have to do the work—put yourself out there, seek to find common ground, and perhaps embarrass yourself a bit. It’s not comfortable.

Think back to your first year at Notre Dame. It didn’t feel how it does now, as a senior about to leave. You were most likely scared and uncertain, and definitely felt alone sometimes. But eventually, it became home. Post-grad doesn’t build in community like Notre Dame does, but you’re also no longer 18. It’s harder, but you are better at it than you were four years ago.

My Rector referred to your first year out of ND in a really apt way: it’s your freshman year of adulthood. You will not know how to do super basic things, you will get parking tickets, you will accidentally eat an expired egg and be sick for two days, and you will miss the automatic love that surrounds you at Notre Dame. Luckily, you probably won’t make the freshman year lanyard mistake again.

Last things:

You will be in a brand new place with people who think and act and talk differently than what you got in the Notre Dame Bubble. This is difficult but a wonderful blessing. Choose to have a learner mindset rather than a judging mindset. This is one I had to be taught and am still learning.

You will get lonely sometimes, whether that be when you’re by yourself or you’re with a ton of new people. It’s okay–don’t run from it. Even in loneliness, you don’t ever have to be alone. Let it deepen you.

Notre Dame may be physically far but it will always be near. Your memories, relationships, and the ways you’ve changed at Notre Dame remain and grow with time. It has changed you, and it will continue to change you in new ways you cannot yet expect. Our Lady has taught you, and now you get to live it out in a real way because you are ready to. Trust yourself, and when
you don’t, learn to lean on the family of Notre Dame that loves you from near and far.

At the end of the Notre Dame Prayer Book, Fr. Jenkins write about something called the Notre Dame Spirit and taking it out into the world. For me, the Notre Dame Spirit is community that does good. While leaving Notre Dame is disorienting when trying to find community, it also opens up in you a huge sense of gratitude for ND and an awareness of what it has planted in you. You carry in you an agent of and an ability to create those lovely communities where you go, and that’s how you take Notre Dame with you.

It’s tough, but it comes, and you love it more for the time you had to spend making mistakes and building it. Wait and see.

 

 

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