Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Runner's High Revisited: Life Lessons from Appalachia

I've heard you can get addicted to the runner's high. There is probably some truth in that, but I'll leave that to a biologist to explain. As a former runner, I miss that release of endorphins, that shower of goodness that convinces every runner they can go back and do it again, no matter how short or long, flat or fast, hot or cold. That being said, I've been able to pinpoint precisely what I miss most about running and it's not the runner's high. No, it's not the freedom of the road, or the breaking of that tape (maybe because that never happened). Though I miss running with friends and family, its efficiency and the independence that comes with running, what I actually miss most is "the climb." However, my past week in Wheeling West Virginia with the Appalachia Institute (out of Wheeling Jesuit University) revealed that I might find "the climb" ...and the runner's high elsewhere.
Almost heaven....West Virginia
I traveled with another teacher and six female students to Wheeling, a small city in the panhandle of West Virginia to participate in a one-week service trip. As an ethics teacher and an American Studies major, the struggles of the Mountain State were not unfamiliar to me. Rural poverty, underemployment, exploitation of this rich land's natural resources, environmental degradation and the effects of flooding are but some of the challenges this area faces. We traveled nearly 2500 miles to learn and to listen, to serve and to be served. We were not disappointed.
Learning about Mountain Top Removal, a way to extract coal—a resource for cheap energy.
One day, we served at the warehouse for Appalachian Outreach, Inc. Located in Moundsville, a vibrant town but 15 miles from Wheeling, AOI's website proclaims:
Guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit, the mission of Appalachian Outreach is to help relieve the burden of poverty and the loss of dignity suffered by the people of Appalachia who, through no fault of their own, struggle to meet the basic needs of daily life. 
We continually look for contacts in counties where accessibility and opportunity are limited and other charitable agencies are lacking or struggle to meet local need. We also look for contacts locally that will support the mission of Appalachian Outreach, therefore building a network where the dignity of all is respected and the love of God is proclaimed through prayer, word, and deed.
Through donations, AOI was able to secure what was once a Giant Eagle grocery store to serve as their storehouse. It is hard for me to adequately describe this space, as it was filled from top to bottom, front to back with donations that are sorted and organized and brought to places throughout West Virginia. Many people might see the material goods in this space and conjecture most of it isn't worth anyone's time. Not AOI—every donation is a gift intended to help the people of Appalachia meet their needs. And affirming the dignity of the human person means realizing that different people have different needs. AOI intends to provide for all of them. 
The AOI storehouse is cold in the winter because there is no heat and unfortunately for many, very warm in the summer because there is no air conditioning. The example of the full-time volunteers gave us the wherewithal to work hard and dig deep despite the high humidity and lack of airflow. Those leaders and volunteers were the faces of selflessness. We were met with deep and sincere gratitude for our time and willingness to help. We were made to feel much like the donations—a gift not to be forgotten. Before we left, Terry, a 71-year old volunteer asked me to send our group photo with our names written on it. I can't wait to send that.

The lead volunteers saw our group: two women and six able-bodied teenage girls and put us to work! One of our tasks was to move an entire shed full of donations into a truck, both of which were outside under the beating sun. Without any sort of breeze, the dust and smells made us uncomfortable. We loaded and we lifted. One of the girls tried to offer comfort in reminding us that we were getting in a lot of steps. We bit. 
In spite of his age, Terry put us to shame. He lifted the boxes we struggled to stack and made sure we knew how to pack everything in, so we could take as much as we could to the people downstate. Once we emptied the shed, Terry asked us to bring in the mattresses from inside the warehouse into this truck. With two of us per mattress, we carried and hauled what would be new beds for people in need. Some sort of competition emerged among the group and made it fun. We were struggling but we kept moving—we had to! 

At one point, I looked at the truck and wondered how we were ever going to fill it. But once we loaded up the mattresses, a vision emerged, we were going to make it and I realized I had been here before; it was the climb. Push through and keep going, because the reward wasn't unfamiliar. 
When we dropped the last mattress in, our group ran back inside to fan the massive fan that was blowing our way. One by one, each of us filed in, put our arms up in victory and our runners high set in. We smiled. We were glowing in sweat. We had a great sense of satisfaction, the kind that affirms human dignity....and feels like a runner's high. For me, it was a moment of grace. I hadn't felt that way in a long time, but I knew in an instant, it wasn't any different. 

Those who serve regularly will probably tell you this high keeps them involved. In God's greatness, God knew our mind, heart, body and soul long to be one. At AOI, all were connected.
At prayer that evening, I shared with my group that I no longer run. I told them I don't look at runners with envy. When I see the cross country team racing down Sunset Boulevard from Golden Gate Park. my gaze is never forlorn. I had so many great years of running; it's all good. But, from time to time, I really do miss the climb and yet, I found it and felt it that day is Moundsville, WV. I can probably find it in other forms of service to others that demand my mind, heart, body, and soul. 

Jesus wasn't lying when he told us the poor can be our greatest teachers. Thank you Appalachia Outreach, Inc for your service and for those you serve. 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Whitney Houston and Context: Her Sports & Spirituality Moment

Since my good friend and I found out the movie "Whitney" was coming to the silver screen, we have been planning to pay our tribute and express our love to a woman we both believe has the single greatest voice in America—maybe ever: Whitney Houston. Another friend was surprised by our enthusiasm. He said, "You want to see that movie? Why? We know how this story ends." Make no mistake about it, the story of Whitney Houston is a tragic one, and the film doesn't hide the difficult and often dark truth. 
As written in Rotten Tomatoes
Whitney Houston broke more music industry records than any other female singer in history. With over 200 million album sales worldwide, she was the only artist to chart seven consecutive U.S. No. 1 singles. She also starred in several blockbuster movies before her brilliant career gave way to erratic behavior, scandals and death at age 48. The documentary feature Whitney is an intimate, unflinching portrait of Houston and her family that probes beyond familiar tabloid headlines and sheds new light on the spellbinding trajectory of Houston's life. Using never-before-seen archival footage, exclusive demo recordings, rare performances, audio archives and original interviews with the people who knew her best, Oscar®-winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald unravels the mystery behind "The Voice," who thrilled millions even as she struggled to make peace with her own troubled past.
"Whitney" was much heavier than I anticipated. I was prepared for the drugs, the questions about her sexuality, and even the abuse. I wish I could tell you the victories—those brilliant moments, the rising of her shining star— trump the losses, but that's not possible. No, not when the story concludes with not one, but two lives that ended too soon. Whitney died on February 11, 2012 and her daughter Bobbi Kristina died but three years later.  So the question remains:  Why see"Whitney?" For me, though Macdonald unravels "the mystery behind the Voice" (though I think that is overstating it), what I gained is something I am always seeking: context. 

For example, playing golf today, I was chatting away between strokes, when my friend said to me, "Anne, I got the context, let's get to the story." I laughed, smiled and responded right back "I love context." I know I give too much of it—can that be a bad thing?!  In this case, learning more context behind the female singer whose music underscored my young life, made me appreciate her—even more, and feel the loss—much more.

For Whitney Houston,  the success of "Bodyguard" took her fame into another stratosphere. However, what so many Americans revere, cherish and still recall is her performance at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Whitney was not the halftime show. No, she sang the Star Spangled Banner before the game. She did not even practice. This concert was a Sports and Spirituality moment, par excellence. 

In light of current events, the state of race relations and the significance of how athletes and others respond to our national anthem today, I was fascinated by the context of Houston's landmark performance in Tampa Stadium. I learned that she was "inspired by Marvin Gaye's loose, jazzy interpretation of the anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game." The movie explains quite thoughtfully how this song has always challenged Blacks and therefore Gaye's version, in the setting of professional sports, serves to challenge and mediate, raise questions and still unite. As written in Cannes Festival Review, 2018, she took a song for which African-Americans had ambivalent feelings and reshaped it to highlight the theme of freedom. Coming at an especially patriotic time for the country during the first Persian Gulf War, the performance had enormous resonance and still brings tears today." Perhaps for more reasons now than we might know.
Macdonald included Gaye's performance for all to see before revisiting Houston's rendition. Brilliant. Gaye's music and his voice illuminate what he shares in this video clip (please watch). He said, "I felt signing with that type of music in the background gave me inspiration. I asked God, that when I sang it, would He let it move me and souls." It did. It still does. Thank you, Marvin Gaye.

Houston commented on her own performance. She said, "If you were there, you could feel the intensity. You know, we were in the Gulf War at the time. It was an intense time for a country. A lot of our daughters and sons were overseas fighting. I could see, in the stadium, I could see the fear, the hope, the intensity, the prayers going up, you know, and I just felt like this is the moment. And it was hope, we needed hope, you know, to bring our babies home and that's what it was about for me, that what I felt when I sang that song, and the overwhelming love coming out of the stands was incredible."

Part of me could see and feel those very same sentiments: fear, hope, intensity as well prayers in the theater where we—her beloved fans— gathered. A diverse crowd, it wasn't easy to revisit 
the race riots that transpired in Houston's hometown of Newark, NJ. We all hold (some) fear of where our country is headed. We hope that those who have been abused might learn from her example. No child, no human being deserves to be taken advantage of. Ever. A child must share the wrong with a trusted adult. I hope and pray children have but one such person. Intensity isn't necessarily a bad thing. Whitney's voice had an intensity like no other. But as the movie reveals, the intensity of life on the road, the fame, the money led to jealousy, infidelity, and mistrust. So....prayer? Whitney Houston was a woman of prayer. She grew up in the Church and loved to sing Gospel music. And yet, the demons were many and the context of "Whitney" reveals to me they were too many. Fans often blame Bobby Brown as "the beginning of the end" but the truth of the matter is he was but one piece of this beautiful, though broken puzzle. Let's keep praying and as I truly believe, she lives on. her music does and probably always will.

Photo Credits

Monday, July 16, 2018

Bracketed Morality Extends Beyond Sports: Thoughts on Bill Cosby and Cardinal McCarrick

In the latest issue of Notre Dame Magazine, I learned that the sitcom star and comedian Bill Cosby is the first person in the University's 176-year history to have their honorary degree rescinded. Notre Dame President, Father John Jenkins, CSC issued a statement on April 28, 2018 that stated: 
“As a result of his conviction today on three felony charges in a sexual assault, the University of Notre Dame has rescinded the honorary degree awarded to Bill Cosby in 1990. While certainly troubled by serious, public accusations made by multiple women against him, the University elected to wait until due process had been afforded the accused, and a verdict delivered, before rescinding the honor."
After reading the headlines of today's New York Times, however, Notre Dame may need to do it again. Theodore Cardinal McCarrick was awarded an honorary degree in 2008.

James Martin SJ offers important insights in his article, Cardinal McCarrick, seminarians and abuse: how could this happen? Please read. One answer, among several, to this critical question is simple: sin.
After a three year hiatus, I will return to teaching Ethics, Morality, and Justice, a required Religious Studies course for 11th-grade students at St. Ignatius. Part of me thinks I should change my approach to teaching a class that can be very heavy and demanding. For example, I have often felt emotionally spent when reading and writing, lecturing and addressing topics like genocide, late-term abortion, hunger and human trafficking. Rather than internalize the gravity of these decisions and what leads individuals to commit crimes against humanity/assaults on human dignity, I've thought about being more playful with the everyday moral decisions we make. What makes sin so alluring? Why is it just so easy to lie? After all, who's to say what's wrong—right? Move over Wormwood, you might have some competition?  I doubt it.

To make the topic of ethics and morality playful is one thing, and I think it's a good place to start. But not confronting or grappling, professing, challenging or asserting beliefs and teaching about it is another. Perhaps one of the greatest wins the devil has in our world today is our reluctance to even use the word "sin." 

As a Catholic, faith formation included teaching about sin, how to recognize it and its iterations. Yes, I learned what is a venial sin and a mortal sin. Said distinctions might make some people uncomfortable, and that's ok. I think sin should make us uncomfortable. Why?...because we are all capable of it....because it is real. ...because it causes division, pain and hurt. We see the effects of it every day both personally and socially. For example, morning, noon and night, I see human beings sleeping on the street. Many are completely strung out and lying in filth. This moral issue has not abated in the city of Saint Francis where I live; homelessness is growing. I hope and pray my heart never hardens against the men and women some call bums, street people or "the homeless"...but it might, and that scares me. To deny that sin has something to do with what I see and my feelings about it are delusional. Discussing and determining how to respond is important and challenging. This is what makes teaching ethics worthwhile.
In Sports and Spirituality, I build on what my students have learned in Ethics by introducing a concept called "bracketed morality." Defined in the article "What Role Does Ethics Play in Sports" Kirk Hanson and Matt Savage write,
Some argue for a "bracketed morality" within sports. This approach holds that sport and competition are set apart from real life, and occupy a realm where ethics and moral codes do not apply. Instead, some argue, sports serves as an outlet for our primal aggression and a selfish need for recognition and respect gained through the conquering of an opponent. In this view, aggression and victory are the only virtues. For example, a football player may be described as mean and nasty on the field, but kind and gentle in everyday life. His violent disposition on the field is not wrong because when he is playing the game he is part of an amoral reality that is dictated only by the principle of winning.
My students like to "play" with the idea of bracketed morality—there's something to it. We debate whether or not it is possible to be completely selfish on the court and selfless off of it. I ask, Do you know an athlete who is a gamesperon on the field, a sportsperson off of it? To what degree? Explain!

The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara, where Hanson and Savage teach, responds:
An ethical approach to sport rejects this bracketed morality and honors the game and one's opponent through tough but fair play. This means understanding the rules and their importance in encouraging respect for your opponent, which pushes you to be your best.
To me, the concept of bracketed morality and Hanson and Savage's stance on it resonates beyond sports. I think it's true about sin. How? Sin in our lives is seldom confined to one area. Unfortunately, it tends to corrupt—over time, completely. For example, the same article that mentions the rescinding of Bill Cosby's honorary degree also mentioned a tragic and unfortunate incident that occurred at the time he earned the distinction.

Notre Dame Magazine writes, "Cosby’s appearance at the 1990 Commencement turned controversial when he berated Dean Brown ’92 for his grade-point average at a gathering of black graduates and their families, leaving the former football player in tears."

The South Bend Tribune adds: 

Earlier that day, Cosby spoke at a gathering on campus of about 300 people, mostly black graduates, their families and friends, according to South Bend Tribune and Associated Press coverage at the time. 
The 20-minute session ended with an angry confrontation after Cosby asked graduating student Dean Brown, a member of the football team, his grade-point average. When Brown replied that it was 2.5, Cosby criticized him and essentially said that wasn't good enough, others in attendance said at the time.
"We kept waiting for the punchline," Brown's mother, Saundra Brown, told The Tribune a few days later. "He was devastated," Saundra Brown said of her son. "I don't know if he (Cosby) realized the impact." 
Dean Brown grew up in a single-parent household in a Canton, Ohio, housing project. His father left when Dean was 5 and his mother suffered a stroke at age 25 that left her unable to work for eight years. 
Brown went on to a successful career in education before his death in 2012 at age 44, but the man known to his friends as “Big Happy” felt scarred for years after the Cosby incident.
Reading what Cosby said was appalling. Why would you do that? How can you treat someone you don't even know that way? And yet, I find those same questions can be asked of his other sin—assaulting women—only to the "nth degree." Why would you do that? ...How?... I should not be surprised that the same man who had caused so much hurt, damage and violence against women could and would extend that spirit, a bad one, to another human being. 

We must be careful, reflective and much more, sin does not subside. Unfortunately too many men—former seminarians and priests can speak to that truth about Cardinal McCarrick. I don't know enough about this man to know if he was virtuous, kind, and loving in every other area of his life. It's possible....but I have to wonder. Yuck.

What might be the biggest wrinkle in all of this, however, is that Christianity calls us to love even the sinner. You've heard it before: "hate the sin, love the sinner." Oh boy. I'll play with that idea another time. Tonight, I'm going to pray for the victims of sexual assault—those named and unnamed. I want to pray for the response of the soul of Dean Brown, his wife and family. I pray for those hurt by Cardinal McCarrick. 

Photo Credits
Cardinal McCarrick

Headlines at ND
Commencement at ND

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Serena Williams: Finding Happiness Amidst Defeat

In the 2013 documentary "Venus and Serena," Serena Williams admits "I hate losing more than I enjoy winning." One need not be an ardent tennis fan to see how true this is for the 23-time Grand Slam winner. She is the fiercest of competitors, thriving under pressure. However, today, though playing in the 2018 Wimbledon finals to share the record of all time wins with Margaret Smith, she fell in straight sets 6-3, 6-3 to the 11th ranked Angelique Kerber of Germany. The trophy ceremony lasted almost as long as the match. I sat watching her uncomfortably figuring she was hating every minute of it. I was wrong. 
I looked at the seven-time Wimbledon champion and understood a quote offered by Phil Knight in his memoir Shoe Dog. He wrote, "happiness is not a what but a how." Indeed, Serena confirmed for me that her journey, like any journey we take toward greatness, must be appreciated in the moment. It requires a bigger and broader perspective than what the outcome offers. Was she happy she lost? No. But her overall insight and demeanor said something different.

As much as I'm sure the player who loses the match would like to exit the "ring" quickly and quietly, the finalists at Wimbledon must stay for all of the tradition that Wimbledon offers. The All-England Lawn and Tennis Club is led by royalty. The Duke of Kent greets and thanks those who make the match possible—ball girls and boys, the chair umpire, etc. and presents beautiful hardware to the players who made it through the draw of 128 players.

I kept my gaze on Serena as she was handed the trophy for second place. I figured she wanted to throw it like a frisbee. I wondered how much she was having to fake her smile. Is that a grimace? Would she snap the plate in two after leaving Centre Court? Instead, the 25 seed, offered warm and sincere congratulations to the champion are gracious words for all to consider, as she held off tears. 

To Wimbledon announcer Sue Barker she said, “It was such an amazing tournament for me,” her voice breaking. “I was really happy to get this far. It’s obviously disappointing but I can’t be disappointed. I’m literally just getting started.

Barker responded by telling Williams, "you're a superhero supermum.” Holding back the tears, she paused, took a breath and offered as an authentic smile as she replied, “For all the moms out there, I was playing for you today, I tried. Angelique played out of her mind. She’s an incredible person and a really good friend so I’m really happy for her.”

I don't doubt that she was happy for Kerber. The "how" was evident. Kerber, a lefty played excellent defense. She made so few errors and responded so well to the best that Serena put on the court. For Kerber, the "what" is her first Wimbledon championship title. Maybe not her last...For Serena, I sincerely believe this loss will only fuel her to play better and at the US Open. Let's review the "how" and the "what" come September. I can't wait.

Thank you, Serena, for the manifold ways you continue to teach and inspire me.

Photo Credits

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Practice of Faith

Hitting tennis balls with my friend's nine-year-old son yesterday brought me back onto the tennis court for the first time in maybe 10 years. I no longer play tennis, my first love, but as I aimed to hit a few groundstrokes, serve and volley I was reminded of how I became a tennis player: I practiced, and summer was the best time to do that.
As many nights a week as possible, I met my friend Joy to hit tennis balls at our club. We were of the same ability—though I think Joy was a stronger and better player—and we were committed to practicing and improving our game. I took lessons and went to a tennis camp (thank you, Michael Wayman!). I played in matches, though probably not enough. I say that because competition enhances one's game through testing a player's mental aptitude in a way that practice does not. One can even get into the practice of competing. Had I done things differently, I would embrace this mindset, or rather, practice, and run with it.

Now that I am a golfer, I often wonder how much I should practice. The best golfers are committed to it. I see these men and women working on their short game all the time. They participate in a wide variety of putting drills, they aren't afraid to stand in a bunker for 15 to 30 minutes and work on getting out of it....finding different lies and varying their club selection. 

If it's a nice day and I have some free time, I know I should head over to the range at my club. It's's out of doors and there are plenty of people to distract me from what I should be doing. But, my favorite way to practice is to go out and play 9 or 18 holes. One can really practice if you don't have people in front or back of you—but, no matter how you slice it, in order to improve in golf, a golfer must practice. And what he or she must practice are the fundamentals, the parts of the game that well...might be boring. It might not be physically demanding or exhausting in the way that tennis, swimming or running is, but there is a mental fatigue. My back is often chewed up. Jane Fonda probably didn't know that when she first christened the cliche "no pain, no gain" she was talking even to those of us carrying clubs and wearing spikes. Thanks, girl.
Practice is a discipline that is in no way limited to sports. Whether it's a musical instrument, a foreign language or memorizing lines for a play, the need to practice is universal. The article "Bishop in Residence" by The Most Reverend Robert M. Lynch in the latest issue of "Notre Dame Magazine" prompted me to think about the practice of faith. 

Catholic Bishops are called to proclaim, teach and write about the Church's teaching for the faithful to learn, study and live. Ideally, the Bishop will shepherd the shepherds, tending to priests who know their flock or as Pope Francis has put it: smell like sheep. Unfortunately, however, this isn't always the case. Clericalism is real and the message from the pulpit doesn't always resonate with the lived experience of those in the pews. Many feel disconnected or unattached to a place that has been a spiritual home to families for 2000 years. However, such concerns/complaints could not be more uncharacteristic of what I read from Bishop Lynch. I am so grateful to have received his message. He wrote:
Last August I arrived on campus like any other student, my car overloaded with what I thought to be the essentials for a new school year. I had finally made it back to college after 40 years as a priest and 21 as a bishop. 
Father Jenkins asked me to spend a semester or more living on campus, doing whatever I wished to do.  
Originally I thought I might begin to write a book. But I also wanted to immerse myself in campus ministry and learn as much as I could about the students and their relationships with God and the Church. Upon arrival I received a schedule that did not resemble “retirement.” I would hear confessions for an hour at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart twice each week, celebrate Mass in residence hall chapels five nights a week and at the basilica every Friday morning, attend and give lectures at the request of the theology department, lead a weekend retreat for the young men of Old College as they discern vocations to the priesthood, conduct an overnight staff retreat for a University department, participate in a weekend retreat for 180 teachers in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program, and do anything else I wished or might be asked to do.
Clearly, Bishop Lynch was steeped in the practice of ecclesial ministry during his semester on campus. His example gave me pause to consider how I practice my faith, and how do students at Notre Dame.
When fellow alumni return to Notre Dame, they always discuss the changes to campus. New buildings and dorms abound. The amount of money is astounding. Is any stone left unturned? Is any walkway unpaved?  My classmates want to know if students today still "work hard and play hard" as we once did. I always inquire about their faith life and the practice of faith on campus. Bishop Lynch responds thoughtfully and eloquently to my query. He writes,
One thing I learned is that the Catholic faith at Notre Dame is alive and well. Many times I have heard parents lament, “My children went through Catholic schools from first grade to college and now they don’t practice the faith!” What I found here is that Catholic students — about 82 percent of the student body — arrive on campus with minimal to no knowledge of the sacraments; that they did not at home and do not now attend Mass because — they would say — their family did not make it a priority in family life. At Notre Dame they often struggle with things such as dorm Masses, Catholic teaching, the fine campus ministry programs and other manifestations and practices of the faith because these things are foreign to them.
I have no doubt that students at Notre Dame are disciplined and know the importance of practicing something...anything that is important in one's life. I am sad to read that the practice of faith, however, is foreign to them.

I believe the practice of faith must be taught, modeled, encouraged and promoted. As Catholics, we ought to commit to the practice of our faith and I will put my cards on my table: this means going to Mass. I will say more about that practice in a future posting, but for now, I would like to speak to this claim with a Sports and Spirituality analogy. Every cross country runner and coach know that the three most important words for a successful season are June, July, and August. Nothing beats summer running. This discipline makes practice in the fall more productive and yields a quiet confidence that builds strength, speed and stamina come time to race. 

Though many people think of summer as a time for long, lazy days and family vacation, I have never understood why that includes taking a break from the practice of faith. Bishop Lynch would, most likely, agree. He too, shows his cards in stating unapologetically 
I repeat and would defend the idea that the disinterest began at home with the faith practice, or absence thereof, that preceded these students’ arrival. The Church needs to work harder to convince parents in our local churches of the need for ardent faith practice, and not to seek cover in blaming our colleges and universities. There is a lot of work to be done, and it can and should be done at home long before a freshman arrives on campus.
The practice of faith need not be something a parent undertake alone. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, Godparents, families and friends can practice the faith with young people. In the same way I enjoy practicing golf with family or friends, so too do I enjoy going to mass with the ones I love.

I strongly recommend reading the entire article. I found it to be incredibly insightful, unassuming, realistic as well as hope-filled. I felt as though I received spiritual nourishment from his reflection that fed a part of me I did not know was hungry. I am grateful that Father Jenkins had the wisdom to invite Bishop Lynch to live among the Fighting Irish. The hospitality he encountered is how and it is why we can say "We are ND." And, I sincerely appreciate the call and challenge he put forth to all of us about how and why we need to practice our faith in June, July and August—as a family, with a family and to strengthen the Notre Dame family. Blessed be.

Photo Credits

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Swimming: The Only Sports That Can Save Your Life

I would like to read a stat on the number of Americans who spent their Independence Day holiday somewhere near, around or in a pool. The 4th of July is a day that symbolizes the essence of summer and for me, summer has always been associated with swimming. However, for far too many Americans and people around the globe, this is not true. While we were celebrating our freedom, I couldn't help but think of the 12 boys and their coach trapped in the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex. Sadly, some of the players can't swim, further complicating the arduous task of a rescue. Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said the kids, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach might need to don scuba gear for parts of their escape. Those who know how to swim will take to this procedure more readily. For those who do not, their fears are amplified. I still can't wrap my head around this story. We watch with hope and wait with fear. 
I learned to swim at a young age, competed on a swim team for six years and don't remember much of my childhood away from a pool, June through August. I am so grateful for those memories. I exercised, engaged in free play, earned more than my fair share of Vitamin D, made friends with children I might not have otherwise known and kept myself out of my parents' hair for hours on end. (NB: at very little to no cost, thank you!) When it came time to get a summer job, I found one teaching swim lessons at Sherman Swim School. That experience remains in my mind (and heart) as incredibly meaningful. It was challenging and demanding yet remarkably rewarding and important. Why? It affirmed my belief that any person—and when I say any person, I truly mean ANY person—can learn how to swim. Young or old, feeble or strong, able-bodied or not. Language isn't even a barrier! Every one of us can swim. Every one of us ought to learn how to swim.

In fact, "swimming in the only sport that can save your life." When I heard five-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin share this message at an event hosted by the USA Swimming Foundation, I had to think twice. As a swim instructor, instinctively, I understood what she meant. However, in my mind, I wanted to give this another thought. How does swimming do that? Beginning swimmers must always learn first to float. With this realization comes the understanding they will not drown. Once a person can float, they must learn how the body can move through the water in such a way that they can get to safety—a wall...a boat....a floatation device....or shallow water. I then thought, Do other sports save your life? Mentally, sure...but literally, no they do not.

The truth about swimming and its importance has become the focus of the philanthropic arm of USA Swimming. As written on their website
Established in 2004, the Foundation works to strengthen the sport by saving lives and building champions—in the pool and in life. Whether equipping our children with the life-saving skill of learn-to-swim through our Make a Splash initiative, or providing financial support to our heroes on the U.S. National Team, the USA Swimming Foundation aims to provide the wonderful experience of swimming to kids at all levels across the country.
Those in attendance at this event were avid swimmers. Many were lifelong swimmers, others had returned to the sport in recent years. Some swam in college while a few took up swimming when injury from another sport led them to the pool. I enjoyed hearing their stories about this sport, one that can be solitary and/or repetitive. I came to learn that the pool is a refuge for many, it has harbored new friendships and opportunities for competition and travel. I wish that more people realized that swimmers, like these folks, need not be considered "people of privilege" and I believe the purpose of the event was to make that reality more true than false. We ought to see learning how to swim as a fundamental step in every American's education. The sad truth is there is a lot of work left to do. I came to learn the following:
  1. No child is ever water safe. The goal of swim lessons is to make children SAFER in, on, and around water.
  2. 79% of children in households with incomes less than $50,000 have little-to-no swimming ability.
  3. Research shows 64% of African-American, 45% of Hispanic/Latino, and 40% of Caucasian children have little to no swimming ability.
  4. 10 people drown each day in the United States. 
  5. Formal swimming lessons reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning by 88%.
This Independence Day brought with it many questions about our country and who we are becoming. Current events around the treatment of migrants, growing income inequality, our leadership and our values have all Americans thinking hard, debating and discussing what it means to let freedom ring. Maybe you had an important and meaningful conversation poolside, or if you are lucky in the pool. Let us join together to become a better United States of America. Let us offer rights and opportunities to more Americans in our 242nd year. And as I see it, that should include the improvement of water safety, swim lessons and free play for children—in a pool.

Our prayers go out to all of those working on the rescue and recovery efforts in Thailand. I hope they can get to safety, quickly and safely.

Special Thanks to the Ferrero family for hosting and including me in this special evening! 
Photo Credits
Soccer Team

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

We Remember, We Celebrate: Comeback Season, Sports After 9/11

Our nation will turn 242 years young tomorrow. July 4th is a day to celebrate our independence, our freedom and all that it means to be an American. Though our national identity is rich and varied, it is not without complexity and turmoil. Being an American means many things—one that I'll deflect to offline discussions and debates—but chief among who and what we are is this: we are a nation that loves sports. My claim should come of little to no surprise. Our professional sports leagues: MLB, the NFL, the NBA and even the NHL are not only headquartered in the USA, athletes hail from all over the world to play for a franchise team. Our youth sports programs are robust, offering the best and the worst of modern-day parenting, family life, and opportunity. Though the USA might not be playing in the World Cup, you can't walk by a bar or a screen inside my gym without catching a game or three. Sports showcase the very best and the worst, the most challenging and important parts of what it means to be an American. Nowhere was this truer than at the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum, located at the World Trade Center site, the former location of the Twin Towers that were destroyed during the September 11 attacks, "is operated by a non-profit institution whose mission is to raise funds for, program, and operate the memorial and museum at the World Trade Center site." As further listed on its website: "the 9/11 Memorial Museum serves as the country's principal institution concerned with exploring the implications of the events of 9/11, documenting the impact of those events and exploring 9/11's continuing significance." There is much to learn, hold, revere and appreciate within this sacred space. I know that this museum is not an easy one for many people to visit. However a new exhibit, "Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11" is a significant one for those looking to further their study of Sports and Spirituality. 
As written on the Memo Blog
“Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11,” a new special exhibition at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, will open to the public on June 27, 2018. The exhibition explores how sports and athletes helped to unite the country, console a grieving nation and gave us a reason to cheer again following the 2001 attacks. 
In the days after 9/11, stadiums sat empty, sports teams could not fly and season schedules were disrupted. With most major sporting events canceled in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, team and league officials, athletes, coaches, and fans wondered when and how play should resume. 
“For so many in the weeks and months following 9/11, sports offered a welcome distraction from the weight of grief, an uplifting experience to share with others and something to cheer about,” 9/11 Memorial & Museum President Alice M. Greenwald said. “Some victims’ family members chose to honor loved ones by celebrating the sports they had loved, as leagues, teams, athletes, and fans came together to affirm that what we have in common is far greater than what divides us.” 
“Comeback Season” will illustrate many iconic moments — such as former President George W. Bush’s first pitch during a World Series game at Yankee Stadium and the New York Mets’ Mike Piazza’s dramatic, two-run home run during the first professional baseball game in New York City after 9/11 — as well as previously untold stories that highlight the unifying force of sports in American life. 
The exhibition will showcase artifacts and stories related to sports already in season on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as many sports and events in the months to follow, including baseball, football, hockey, NASCAR, soccer, the New York City Marathon and the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Though I was already familiar with many of the moments, profiles and events comprising the exhibit, I appreciated the use of 3-minute video clips at each display. Each one served to summarize the "story" of what happened, offering narration by pivotal players or lead characters per "chapter." Athletes donated and signed their gear—most of which honored NYPD and NYFD and, I will never tire of hearing the significance of George W. Bush throwing the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. Yes, he needed to throw a strike and no, I'm not the least bit surprised that he did. The most moving and yet meaningful component of this exhibit, however, was the everyday mementos of those who died in the Twin Towers. In the rubble and ruins, excavators found a collectible baseball card, a New York City Marathon medal, as well as a souvenir baseball. When I saw the golf ball, I wondered: Was it from a hole-in-one? As I looked at the charred mini football, I could imagine the tailgates over whence it once flew. These objects were the stuff of everyday people from everyday places. I thought of the sports memorabilia that colors my own home, my classroom, and my room. As powerful as it might be to see the ticket stubs from games that were canceled,  Mark Messier's signed jersey, or John Franco's hat with NDFY written in flames, these personal items offered a powerful narrative of their that we can each understand and need to see.

We have much to celebrate on July 4. And yet, I believe in order to celebrate, we must remember. This 9/11 Memorial Museum and its exhibits help us to do that through the preservation of architecture, the usage of space, mementos, memorials, symbols, art and much more. I'm grateful that sports and spirituality are a valuable part of it.

God Bless America.

Photo Credits
Mets gear
Father and Son
W Strike