I was about two-thirds of the way through my first reading of Mel Livatino’s essay on gifts when it dawned on me. I had been primed for the realization, I suppose, because I had earlier in the day read Mark Phillips’ essay on grief.
The pairing that day helped me see how a good deal of gift-giving takes place on these pages.
Livatino writes about the mysterious gift that creative people receive when making art. He writes about how this gift travels through their art — whether words or music, paintings or performance — to land within the interior spaces of the recipient. The real gift is spiritual, the transferal of some part of one person’s soul to another.
In his essay, Phillips writes with love and hurt and a depth that exposes the personal grieving that we can all share in. Many of the stories told on these pages, in fact, deliver the heartfelt humanity of the writer, people we will never meet except through the words they craft, the meanings they confide, that may touch deeply those willing to pay attention.
As the convener of this sharing of self, the magazine, too, becomes a gift.
I occasionally hear people question the magazine’s offering “stories that have nothing to do with Notre Dame.” But beyond the substantial institutional content in each issue, the nature of the University recommends the sharing of stories told among friends — just as we revealed our hopes and fears and graces in residence halls long ago, and our intellectual curiosities in classrooms, and those dilemmas parsed in faculty offices and dining halls. In fact, for many of us the very essence of the place is this giving and receiving among family.
A day or two after reading Livatino and Phillips, I ran across this from the theologian Barbara Holmes: “Art is an expression of Spirit. A lot that comes out of artists is not coming from them. It’s coming through them. The reason art is so powerful is that when you have expressions of art coming through a group of people, a village, a community, you have a great deal of creative and strategic power that’s available to everyone.”
I think you could substitute “magazine” for “village” or “community,” and you would get one of the unique roles we play here. When you read what we call “a Notre Dame Magazine kind of story” and spend time with an issue of the magazine, you can come away with a very good sense of the place, its character and values.
I would like for you to think of this magazine as a gift. I would like you to see the stories here as gifts from writers sharing themselves with strangers. Read Livatino and Phillips this way — and Anthony DePalma and Cheng Wang and Jonathan Malesic. Read about Laura Burdick and Frank Szymanski, whose gifts are their lives. Then go to the back and listen to Michael Varga, the Nigerian writer Joseph Hope, Erin Buckley, Kirk Wareham and even Gina Rich talking about her hair. Please read them.
They are all stories of gift. They came together not as a well-laid plan but serendipitously, as gifts to us here, arriving unexpectedly and in unison, and we pass them along to you as we, once again, pretend we knew what we were doing all along.
Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.