Editor's Note: Growing into the light

Author: Kerry Temple ’74

With the coming of autumn my wife moved two big pots of outdoor plants into a south-facing, upstairs window. The pretty annuals didn’t last long. But each pot also contained asparagus ferns, spindly, lovely and green. They have flourished, despite being indoors, climbing the window panes, stretching up into sunlight, their fingery lacework now almost 4 feet tall.

The calla lily, too, which came to us after a funeral several years ago, has thrived, although I hardly notice that thick, deep-green plant that never seems to grow or change. It just sits there on the floor in a corner near the glass-paneled back door — except that every now and then a white lily blossoms and turns its face to the sunlight, catching the rays and showing them to me.

Their life and beauty and happy reach to the sun have been daily encouragements to write about sunlight this winter — a story that found its way to the cover largely because of David Pohl’s vibrant artwork.

But if you read only one story in this issue, I’d like it to be “Irreconcilable Differences.” It’s by a student — a young woman from China, April Feng — and it’s short and wise and sweetly powerful. It is a story about living with differences. And about growing into the light.

It is only an accident of timing that April Feng’s essay is in the same edition as a short news story on some racial issues that flared up on campus this winter. But in some ways, it’s a fortuitous circumstance. One casts light on the other.

“Irreconcilable Differences” actually reminds me, too, of a concept John Dunne, CSC, ’51 emphasized in a theology class I took decades ago. He talked about learning from other religions, other philosophies, other perspectives and ways of thinking. It was necessary, he said, to “pass over” into those ways of thinking, those diverse mindsets, in order to know them well enough to have an informed understanding. Like learning a river by being immersed in its currents rather than standing on the banks as an observer. Or walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Even a temporary experience — an attempt to see something from the inside out — brings a more authentic understanding than one based on observations intended to cite differences and divides. Today’s world has plenty of those. And it won’t get better until we look for the good ground between us and respect, even cherish, the differences and distinctions inherent in a world of 7 billion people.

Notre Dame, as an institution aiming to do some major good in that complicated world, has embraced that diversity, that world. It’s necessary. It’s who we are now.

Ken Garcia ’08Ph.D. discusses that in his article about walking the campus hallways and noticing all the voices, all the levels, all the theories, beliefs and knowledge in animated discourse here. He pinpoints the dialogue between disciplines, between faith and reason, art and science. It’s a fun, engaging and eloquent portrayal of an institution whose history, mission and future is all about growing into the light. I’d recommend you read it, too.

Kerry Temple is the editor of this magazine.