The Gist: Forest Preserver

Adrift and listless under the pandemic’s restrictions, one man picks up a sense of purpose in the woods — and encourages you to find your own way to serve.

Author: Henry Schneider ’15

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Shelter-in-place restrictions made me feel less a “captain” and more a “castaway,” adrift at sea and no longer in control of my own fate. I’ve been fortunate to keep my health and my job, but as my social and work calendars cleared, I had extra time with little purpose.

Among ‘L’ trains and skyscrapers in Chicago, I often miss the beauty of nature that meant so much to me growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in a family passionate about the outdoors. My fiancée, Kate Friedli ’15, ’19J.D., and I went hiking in a forest preserve north of Chicago.

Photo by Kate Friedli

We found the forest preserve littered with pop bottles, beer cans, Styrofoam and other trash. I was used to this from the city, where I’m guilty of walking past trash in the streets. Not my problem. On our hike, I remarked to Kate that I couldn’t believe how much litter marred such a beautiful place. She said if it bothered me so much, I ought to do something about it. She was right.

I have since spent nights and weekends collecting bag after bag of bottles, plastic and other trash from the forest preserves around the northern suburbs. In the midst of their busy lives, people cast this trash aside. The free time during the shutdown is an opportunity to clean up this regrettable legacy of life as we knew it.

The COVID-19 crisis had left me listless. I felt there was nothing I could do to improve the world in a moment of great need. Cleaning up trash, although a small effort, has helped me remember that there is always something we can do to improve our communities.

My dad likes to wear a Center for Social Concerns T-shirt with the slogan, “Be the Change You Want to See in the World.” My parents live that way. My mom, Kathy Bego ’83, volunteers at a local low-income library and my dad, Jack Schneider ’83, works as a doctor in a rural community north of Grand Rapids that might otherwise have limited health care access. Cleaning up the forest preserves has become my own small way of following their inspiring example.

I challenge my family, friends and the Notre Dame community not to accept feeling adrift. Instead, chart a course that motivates you to bring positive change to your communities and to the lives of the people around you.

Henry Schneider lived in O’Neill Hall 3B and Irish Crossings. He still knows that O’Neill is the best dorm on campus even though his brother (and fellow Mendoza bro) Leo Schneider now lives in Keenan.