Dark storm clouds stretch across the distant horizon to the north. I can see them out my fifth-floor window in Grace Hall. They look like distant mountains. I wish they were.
They remind me of mountains that rose to the sky in a place I lived for a short time in Wyoming. It’s been 30 years since I lived there. I still miss those mountains. They felt like home.
The clouds also make me think of John Rudolf, Notre Dame class of 1970, and his attempt on Everest. He is there now, thousands of feet beyond base camp. I’ve been getting the play-by-play reports and email photos.
A few weeks ago I stood at the desk of a highway motel, having driven solo for 11 hours. I was beat; it probably showed. “Where ya goin’?” asked the clerk. “Looze-iana,” I said. “Headin’ home?” she asked. “Yep,” I said. Then I thought, Home? Am I heading home?
My wife, who is a South Bend native, often points out that I have lived in Indiana far longer than anywhere else, working and raising kids. I have invested a life in South Bend and am loyal to it. Doesn’t all that make a place home?
It’s been more than 30 years since I lived in Louisiana. I pretty much left when I was 18, though I returned briefly for grad school. But even now, especially now, I sense the depth of my Louisiana roots, although I once tried hard to run away from them.
I’ve wondered sometimes why South Bend and Indiana have never gotten into my blood. Is it the proximity to Chicago and my attention going toward the city’s media and sports teams? Or is it because my deepest involvements over the past 30 years derive not from South Bend but from Notre Dame?
Not long ago associate editor John Nagy (ND master’s of arts, 2000) and I had lunch with Dan Towle, ND class of 1977, at a burger place in Eddy Street Commons. We knew Dan from his good work with the HIV-afflicted children of Lesotho. And now Dan, along with other Notre Dame alums, was one of the first doctors on the ground in Haiti after the earthquake. He told stories, showed us photos, talked about his efforts to get Notre Dame people to arrange for another flight there. John was on that plane with Dan a month later. University photographer Matt Cashore, ND class of 1994, went there for us, too.
So I think of places and I think of the people in Haiti — the 230,000 people killed and the 1.2 million left homeless. I think of those giving their lives for that place, and of John Rudolf climbing the deadly Himalayan ice fields — done to raise money for Andean Health and Development, started by David Gaus, ND class of 1984, to serve the poor in Ecuador. And I think of Notre Dame and South Bend and the global reach from here, of all those whose world is so much bigger and smaller than my own, those who have made the planet their home, and the need to be good neighbors everywhere.
And I think back to that night in the motel lobby, when I was heading to my boyhood home, to meet my sister driving down from Tennessee. Our mother had died a few weeks prior, leaving no family in Louisiana. We were on our way down to clean the house out, put it up for sale, with me figuring I’d probably never go back there again, to the place I call home.
Sometimes I think there’s something inside certain places that speaks to something inside of us, like a little piece of our soul stirred by the heart of the place. And as is often the case with such things, it doesn’t really matter what we think.
Kerry Temple is editor of Notre Dame Magazine.