One of the storyteller’s tasks is to know where to begin. It can get complicated sometimes because there are no clear lines of demarcation in life. There’s no set boundary between now and then. We carry the past around with us. Every starting point derives from what came before.
It’s also complicated because each of us is a mixture of ingredients—from our genetic inheritance to memories still fresh in our minds, from the cognitive circuitry of the cerebral cortex to the layers of invisible forces that drive behaviors, guide decisions, touch our souls, make us who we are. And as we try to figure out just who we are, we realize how much of our makeup comes from outside of us. Our parents, our upbringing. The neighborhood we grew up in, the teachers we had, the experiences that affected our lives.
Each of us is a rich and fascinating composition, deserving of consideration, contemplation, a story. But how do we decide what goes into that story? And where do we start?
When examining our lives or telling our life story, many of us hearken back to ancestral homelands, to the branch of the family still planted in Italy or to forebears who connect us to the old sod. Others identify with racial, ethnic and cultural histories. How many of us—when taking stock of ourselves—call upon the people and places of generations past, as if they are intrinsically woven into the fabric that is us? Which, of course, they are.
This edition of the magazine takes a look at beginnings, some of the influences that define us, shape us, point to our roots. The hometown. The geography of our making.
The cover treatment originated with University Relations veteran Dick Conklin, who retired to his old Minneapolis haunts after decades at Notre Dame. We asked him to write about that return home and what he found there. Then we asked others to write about their hometowns.
As we were pulling these threads together, hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast, demolishing homes and hometowns and ways of life. Although much has been reported on this destruction, we included a few stories about their effect on some Notre Dame people—and people whose lives should be affected by ours.
Another tempest, one that begs questions of beginnings and self-identity, has been roiling of late. Disagreements over creation, evolution and life on Earth have intensified recently as another theory on the origin of our species, Intelligent Design, has rekindled the quarrel between science and faith. It also has drawn Notre Dame people into its flame—on all sides of this ultimately unresolvable enigma.
And then, as if on cue, (and because of lines cast upon waters long ago) we received—unexpectedly, serendipitously—an essay about science and faith, an essay by a woman pondering the culinary lessons of Hurricane Katrina and another essay by a woman who ventured into the caves in France whose walls were painted by ancient ancestors 30,000 years ago (adding a poignant voice to our chorus of storytellers ruminating on the meaning of hometowns).
These final additions, which tell us more about who we are and which we slipped into our Perspectives section, are but further evidence of life’s uncanny interrelatedness and of forces emerging in the present whose genesis can be traced to some distant past.
Kerry Temple, a 1974 graduate of Notre Dame, is editor of the magazine.