Life and death

Author: Kerry Temple ’74

One of America’s most prolific and popular writers once said, “Reading without thinking is nothing. For a book is less important for what it says than what it makes you think.”

While this notion guides the magazine’s editorial approach all the time, it’s especially true this issue. We set out this time to get people thinking about life. The meaning of one person’s life. And life on earth. And the stages of a human life and how humans are grandly inseparable from the teeming, evolving, dirty, starry universe. And the sanctity of all life, each life. And what it means to give one’s life for others, to redeem one’s life, and even how to incorporate death into the living of one’s life. We brought here, too, stories of childbirth and motherhood and how it feels to spend a lifetime in prison.

As we moved deeper into the issue, we decided to clear room in the magazine to give the subject its due. We even moved those essays we run at the back of the book into the feature hole, so all the stuff on life would be contiguous. That meant concluding the issue with class notes (once described to me as “the book of life written backward”). Despite these maneuvers, we know we haven’t exhausted the topic; there’s much more to write and think about.

But in the midst of making this issue something happened that would shock anyone into thinking differently about life. An earthquake struck Haiti. The destruction and death were virtually unfathomable. In the weeks after the cataclysm the death toll mounted — 100,000, 150,000, 230,000. The scenes from Haiti were alarming. Bodies and rubble, rescue efforts and orphans, those maimed and hungry, and thousands more dying in the residual calamity that befell that impoverished, disabled nation despite the world heading to help.

The rapidly firing events had us thinking about practicalities, too — about this issue, the breaking news, what we could do at the magazine’s website, I’ll remember these days as the time Notre Dame Magazine plunged into the sea after testing the waters for a time: We began operating on two fronts — a quarterly magazine in print and an online magazine posting timely reports and photographs from alumni who were on the ground in Haiti.

Our online magazine had already been expanding in recent months as faculty and alumni were being recruited to offer opinion and analysis on various topics at our website. The aim was to provide readers with new offerings daily, and invite readers to join the conversation.

At the time of the earthquake we had writers reporting on their March for Life experiences and a campus gay rights protest as well as weighing in on Supreme Court decisions, Christian-Muslim relations, abortion and current movies. As we were posting dispatches from Haiti, we were asking friends and colleagues to write personal reflections about four giants in the academic life of Notre Dame (Fred Crosson ’56Ph.D., Ralph McInerny, Liz Christman and Bob Burns) who died within weeks of each other.

The pace had us thinking like daily journalists even as we kept to our quarterly print deadlines. The dueling demands have been invigorating yet challenging for us. We hope it gives you more to read, enjoy and think about — because as Louis L’Amour once said, “A book is less important for what it says than what it makes you think.”

Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.