Soundings: Threads of life

Author: Kerry Temple ’74

Kerry Temple

This thread goes back to 1985. Autumn. I am walking through the Notre Dame library. I spy a copy of The Saturday Review, and the attractive woman on the cover snags my attention. I pick it up to see who she is. My search takes me inside.

En route, I find an essay about J.D. Salinger. I find myself captivated by it. I note the author’s name. Mark Phillips. “A writer living in Cuba, New York.”

I track him down, and in the summer of 1986 Notre Dame Magazine publishes a piece by Mark Phillips in response to my request that he write about why Catcher in the Rye remains so popular decades after appearing on the American literary scene, still being avidly read by American teenagers.

Phillips, as I recall, later apologizes for pushing so close to deadline. He got waylaid, he says, because he had donated a kidney to his sister. We talk about that, and he agrees to write about that experience for us, too.

Over the next decade Mark Phillips writes for us regularly — some of the best, most intense, most human essays we have published.

Then our paths diverge, until, oh, 2005.

That year Mark emails to say his daughter Hope is thinking of attending, of all places, Notre Dame. I meet with Hope and her mother, Margaret, when they come to campus. Hope is as shy and quiet as I was as an undergrad far from home. She works at the magazine for four years and graduates in 2009.

Meanwhile, her dad, Mark, is back on our pages and writing better than ever. He and I have been in the same room but once in our lives, but I consider him one of my very good friends and also one of the truest and truly good people I know.

It’s one of the best benefits of working at this magazine — developing very good friends, despite the distances, whom you come to know through their writing, by talking out story ideas and life and writing with them.

The reason I’m covering this ground now is that Hope, who’s made her way into book publishing in New York City, and I were on a panel together a couple of nights ago. We talked to about 30 Notre Dame undergrads about “careers in publishing.” Hope was great.

After we said goodbye, I thought of all this — the way life twines around, how people come into and out of your life. I thought about my own kids, and the hooded sweatshirts and jackets they’ve worn — gifts from the Phillips family. I don’t know why.

Last night, a night after speaking with Hope, I talked to a writing class at Saint Mary’s College. The teacher who had me speak to her class was Susan Mullen Guibert ’87.

Susan was a student of mine one summer in a graduate-level writing course. About five years later our paths crossed again. We both were going through rough times in our lives. She made me laugh; her friendship and her light touch in getting through crazy life were gifts of grace through one of my worst passages.

As it often happens, we drifted apart as we both moved on with our lives — until one day I learned she was working at Notre Dame, having become a colleague of mine. Now here I was, talking to her class (with Susan, so typically Susan, in a cast and on crutches with torn ligaments from a hip-hop class). And with us still laughing at the twists that once hurt so bad.

So this morning, after these visits from the past, there is a story in the South Bend Tribune by Mary Kate Malone ’08. She’s a reporter there now, covering the police beat, and the piece is about the night she was being shadowed by a high school student who wanted to learn about careers in journalism.

They were called to what they found to be the scene of a hit-and-run fatality — the victim in a body bag, feet exposed, with Mary Kate trying to nudge the student away.

I thought of Mary Kate as an undergrad, an intern at this magazine, young, sweet, a little bashful, not — I would have thought then — a prime candidate for police-beat reporting . . . now being shadowed by a high school student and doing fine, tough work she can be proud of.

And so I think how interesting life is, how fun it is to travel, how clever the way of the world, the people coming and going, touching our lives as we all glide amazingly downstream.

Kerry Temple is editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email him at