Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Pieces of Perspective and Inspiration: Does This World Series Warrant an Asterisk?

It's not in my nature to delight in the misgivings of others. I aim to be a positive person and usually want what is best for people. That is, unless you wear Pantone 294....or are on the receiving end of one of my favorite cheers. When I yell "Beat LA!" I mean it. 

For the past eight years, those pesky Dodgers have captured the National League West. And with the payroll and the talent they have, they should. But to my delight, they have returned to Chavez Ravine without the Commissioner's Trophy again and again. Their faults, their floundering and their failings somehow make the San Francisco Giants 2010, 2012 and 2014 World Series titles that much sweeter. Is there a Yiddish word for the OPPOSITE of "Schadenfreude?"

With a 3-2 game lead in the World Series, LA may do what they have not done since Kirk Gibson rounded the bases in 1988. 
It goes without saying that 2020 is different in the sports world and everywhere else—and yet a World Series is underway. I have wondered, if I were an LA fan, Would I want the title as much as I would in a "regular" year? Will it mean as much?  The Giants fan in me takes smug satisfaction in thinking they will get their "just desserts" in this way....or will they?! Fortunately, ESPN's Sports Daily podcast "Jeff Passan on a World Series Unlike Any Other" provided some much needed perspective. And so entries number 5 and 6 of perspective and inspiration stem from  the 2020 Fall Classic. Enjoy.

Perspective: ESPN Daily host Pablo Torre asked, "Does this actually feel like a real World Series to you—given your experience in the past and what you are witnessing right now?" ESPN columnist Jeff Passan responded.

This does not just feel like a real World Series, this feels like the culmination of a season that almost shouldn't have been. Major League Baseball pressed forward with the regular season in hopes that it would reach the post-season. When the Marlins had their COVID outbreak and the Cardinals had their outbreak, MLB could have very easily shut things down. They chose not to and what happened over the two or so months on the season, to me, was something as every bit as difficult as 162 games. 

It may not have been as tiring physically, but the mental grind that players went through everyday to abide by protocols, to during the course of this month—about half of it to be separated from their families—and I understand this is not quite what the NBA bubble was like but I  look at those people who say that this season warrants an asterisk and I agree.

It warrants and asterisk for how tough it was and for how impressive what the players have done, is. 

I will look back on 2020 whoever winds up being the World Series champions and give them even more credit than I do a typical championship.

Whether it's a baseball player, whether its a baseball writer, a podcast host, or whether it is any other person out there in the world right now, we all know how hard 2020 has been. To be at your absolute apex professionally, in front of no fans every night, in front of this silence when you're used to something different! I think it took an incredible amount of mental strength that players probably haven't been given enough credit for but hopefully they get their due this week.

Many sports reports are entitled "Inside INSERT YOUR SPORT HERE." Passan's remarkable insight affirmed when someone speaks from "Inside Baseball" he or she has a perspective worth considering.

Inspiration: If you happened to catch Game 5 in this series, you were reminded why we love sports. It was a four hour plus dose of inspiration. But I have also found it in the Rays' defense. As great as the Ray's outfielders are, as is the left side of the infield, I'd like to give a special shout out for Ji Man Choi. 

Passan and Torre spent several minutes discussing the 6'1" 260 pound first baseman. They said "For a man of his size to do the splits is truly a marvel. Choi is a large man. I almost think he does it to show off a little bit."

Choi inspires me because if he can do the splits, so can I. I also appreciate how he conducts himself on and off the field. He's a good hitter, strong on D and in the dugout I can't help but notice he smiles all the time. There's only one Ji Man. 

In Conclusion: I am hoping this Series goes to seven games. Regardless of who prevails, whether or not baseball history puts an asterisk next to the winner, I will truly see that with the perspective of those Inside MLB and all it has taken to make 2020 a go. Thanks to the athletes, coaches, families and admin who let that happen. It's been a great ride.

Photo Credits

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Remembering Robert Walsh, S.J.

On September 23, 2009, I walked into Room 202, a classroom I shared with my beloved colleague Michael Shaughnessy—"Shag." I came in with way too much energy and enthusiasm than one should on a Wednesday morning. 

"Today is the Boss' birthday!" I said.

Looking at me with moderate disbelief, Shag had to have been wondering why such news was that exciting to me. 

I added, "He's 60 years old. Can you believe it?" 

"60? Shag said. "60? No, he's 40." 

I chuckled, thinking to myself of his boundless energy. I said "yeah, he acts that way a lot doesn't he?" 

Shag looked at me again, mouth agape. Then it clicked. "Oh....the Boss....The Boss! Bruce Springsteen! I thought you meant our boss, Patrick Ruff. A case for context!" Typical Shag—on point and ready to connect to our curriculum. 

Both men share a birthday. Shag always called Patrick—principal at Saint Ignatius College Prep— "boss." To me, there's only one Boss. But this post isn't about context and it's not really about a boss either. That's because though he was technically my boss, I can only describe Robert Walsh, SJ as priest and pastor. He died of cancer yesterday at the age of 70. I would like to offer but two examples of the impact he had as well... a ministerial boss.

One of the most loathsome tasks as a faculty member is proctoring lunch duty. Anyone who tells you it isn't a big deal is not doing what he/she is supposed to be doing. What might that mean? At SI, lunch duty involved walking around one of three assigned areas to supervise kids. For example, kids cut in line. They shouldn't. They leave all kinds of trash behind. I never understood why this was a problem when garbage cans are available and close by. And, in spite of my best efforts to pray for those who go hungry in class, too often lunch duty found me staring in horror as uneaten plates of food or nearly perfect sandwiches in the garbage. I am pretty sure an unsuspecting Sophomore heard me rant on why that was not and never will be okay. Sorry and not sorry. 

At Saint Ignatius, this duty meant that you didn't have your lunch period for about three weeks. The deans would issue certificates of completion once your term was up. Many of us hung these with pride. I did.

The big problem with lunch duty however, is that it is one the best ways to get to know the kids. In an unstructured setting like lunch, you see who among your students are friends. You see how they interact with one another, care for one another, look our for one another and even exclude one another. And as much as I would have traded it for other responsibilities, I knew lunch duty was important. I must say, I also had great verbal spars and story sharing with kids during lunch. I can still recall many of those conversations.

Although the principal was assigned to a given shift, the president was not. However, this did not matter to Robert. He made a point every day at lunch to walk around campus and talk to students. I know this because I would watch him do it. 

I was always curious to know how Robert knew so many kids. Turns out he assisted a local pastor in presiding at Mass. An SI grad himself, Robert knew a number of students' parents and grandparents; I cannot underscore how significant this is in the formation of a young person! He would ask them about these family members or let them know when he last connected with them. He would talk to athletes dressed up for their games about their upcoming opponents. He smiled, he laughed and he talked to the teachers on duty, as well. Students were always respectful and appreciative of his presence and his kindness.

A true blessing in education is when relationships that develop in this way extend far beyond graduation. For example, I know this is how he developed a life long friendship with Steve Dunne and Brad Walsh, two former students from Loyola High School. Robert was "the boss" at Loyola from 1992-2005 (as both principal and later as president). When St. Ignatius was looking for a head boys' volleyball coach, he reached out to them. In fact, one of my favorite athletic memories at SI is when Dunne and Walsh led this team capture the WCAL Championship title.

Coming from a competitive volleyball background in Southern California, they strengthened the Wildcats' program.They harnessed the physicality of some great athletes and added mental focus and strong coaching.  The title game was supposed to be held in San Jose at the home of the league powerhouse. However, because of AP testing, Bellarmine decided to keep their tables up in the gym. SI opted to host, capturing a home court advantage the Bells didn't think they would need. SI won in five games. It was a huge upset. The gym was electric. Robert was there, delighting in moment. I hope someone credited him for the assist: former students leading current students to excel.

In 2010, Robert showed up to visit me in the hospital, I was grateful to see him and I can't say I was totally surprised either. He came to check in on me and pray with me. I'm pretty sure he told me I didn't look good which was both true and funny (to those who know him!). When I was moved from St. Mary's to CPMC a few days later, he returned. He brought me a card, signed with his signature excellent penmanship and got to meet my mom. He offered her spiritual support by spending time with us. Knowing I would be having a big surgery, he extended the Sacrament of the Sick to me. You just don't forget the people who show up in times like that. Years later, we would always talk about my week in the hospital and celebrate the success of medical technology. I am forever grateful for his ministry—of presence and of faith. 

A ministry of presence. This how I hope people remember Father Robert Walsh, SJ. Like many leaders, he had strengths and deficiencies. He worked at SI during tough times, but I am ever grateful for the example he gave to me that one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another is our time, our willingness to connect, our care and concern for one another and our families—in faith and in friendship. That's a pretty good boss....

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Photo Credits
With Alums

Thursday, October 22, 2020

ISO: Inspiration and Perspective

March 25, 2020—ten full days into shelter-in-place. COVID-19 was no longer a virus in a foreign land. I looked at my podcast playlist only to find that the next episode of On Being was entitled "Ross Gay: Tending Joy and Practicing Delight." All I could think was: "yes, please." 

Krista Tippet's warm and welcoming voice was met with one that radiates what he writes. Ross Gay, a professor of English at Indiana University, is the author of a poetry collection Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude and a book of essays, The Book of Delights. He co-founded The Tenderness Project together with Shayla Lawson. Poet, writer, teacher and activist who tends joy and practices delight? Thank you, very much. And yet, in light of what was happening around me, those dispositions felt out of touch. I wondered, What might he say?

According to the On-Being website, 

There’s a question floating around the world right now — how can we be joyful in a moment like this? To which Ross Gay responds in word and deed, how can we not be joyful, especially in a moment like this? He is a writer, a gardener — also a former college football player. To be with him is to train your gaze to see what’s terrible but also to see what’s wonderful and beautiful. To attend to and meditate on what you love, even within the work of justice. We practice tenderness and mercy in part because to understand that we are all suffering is one quality of what Ross Gay calls “adult joy.”
What a test for our times. What a truth to behold.

Gay decided on this 42nd birthday to write a mini-essay every day for a whole year. Perhaps I should just speak for myself, but it seems that people often aim to do a given activity for one year. I'm curious to know how many finish the task. 

Tippet said "I did not know that the word “essay” [essaie, essayer] in French, means “to try” or “to attempt” — that’s so great." And it is with that spirit—to try—that tacitly gave Gay the permission to begin! 

Gay's findings served as the basis for this hopeful, wise, and for lack of a better word, delightful conversation with Tippet. She asked him, "So what surprised you, in the process of moving through that year and moving through that year looking for delight and writing about delight every day?"

He said, "Many things surprised me, I suppose. But one of the things that surprised me was how quickly the study of delight made delight more evident. That was really quick. And I wasn’t sure; I was a little bit like, 'This is gonna be hard, to just have something delightful happen every day'."

His insight however did not surprise me. I have always believed in a spiritual sense that "if you look for something you will find it." Seek out the good, and there it is. Unfortunately, the opposite is true, as well.

Tippet added, "You said somewhere that you developed a delight radar or a delight muscle." The athlete in me loves this metaphor. Flex, baby! Gay concurred, "Exactly, exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And it’s fun. It was fun."

"But what are some of the things that you noticed that you found delightful and called “delight” that you wouldn’t have imagined before you started?"  

Gay said, "You know. It just occurred to me — it made me realize how often I am delighted, how often things happen that — like you were doing this hand gesture, and you were doing these hand gestures. I was like, “I love hand gestures,” when you were doing that. I do them too, with abundance." 

I love that he loves hand gestures. And I love joy, delight and inspiration.

I don't have the self-discipline that Ross Gay has to write an essay every day for a year, but his experiment has stayed with me. And since I interviewed Coach Nielle Ivey and wrote the post "A (Case) Study for Perspective: Father Jenkins and ND Colleagues," I have been looking for inspiration and perspective every day. I'm happy to report that every day, either I find it or it finds me. 

Thus, I would like to offer 100 examples of inspiration or perspective in Sports and Spirituality. I don't know how long it will take to post 100, but let's see what happens. I will let the (Case) Study for Perspective serve as number one and I need to write about the ND Women Connect Conversations with Coach Ivey (perhaps I will end with that?) In the meantime here are two to share.

2. The Standing Backflip
There are many things I will never do, never accomplish, nor master in my lifetime. The standing backflip is one of them. However, for Dan and Kristin Sheehan, this was a weekly if not daily practice as cheerleaders at the University of Notre Dame. 

Today, Kristin is the Program Director of Play Like a Champion, an educational initiative that promotes ethics and character in youth, high school and college sports as well as workshops for coaches and parents! I have had the joy and delight of working with her and getting to know her and her family (their son Jack was the leprechaun 2018-2020) 

On his 55th birthday, Kristin and Dan celebrated at the Michigan City Dunes where Dan was caught on film doing a standing back flip. Kristin wrote "still got it." Amazing! With jaw dropped, I couldn't help but clap for him in front of my computer screen! So inspiring. 

3. The Winningest Coach 
I'm pretty sure I've made the assumption that Luis Krug '79 clarifies and corrects. This Letter to the Editor in the Autumn 2020 issue of ND Magazine brought a good perspective. I work at a high school that has 26 varsity programs. We work hard not to overlook any program, or any coach. This letter was a great reminder.

A vote for Mike DeCicco
While I respect and admire Muffet McGraw’s career and her professional and personal approach to basketball, I would not say she’s the most successful Notre Dame coach since Knute Rockne. I believe the fencing coach Mike DeCicco ’49, ’50M.S. should garner that honor. His teams won more than 90 percent of their meets, set a sport record for the longest undefeated streak and won national championships as well. Multiple All-Americans and United States Olympians came under his tutelage. McGraw was a phenomenal coach who represented Notre Dame well and deserves honors. But this one I don’t think is hers.
—Luis Krug ’79

More inspiration...more perspective to come tomorrow. Join me in the search! Share what you find...and what finds you. Startlooking! 

Photo Credits
Ross Gay
Ozzie Smith
Mike D

Monday, October 19, 2020

Be Water, My Friend

Empty your mind.
Be formless, shapeless, like water.
You put water into a cup; it becomes the cup.
You put water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle.
You put it in a teapot; it becomes the teapot.
Now, water can flow or it can crash!
Be water, my friend. 

We are living through unprecedented times. We long to return to “normal” life…whatever that is, or that was. We still live amidst uncertainty. Perhaps your school has returned to in-person instruction. Maybe you have full participation in competitive sports. And yet, we know not what the next few months will bring.

At Saint Francis High School, the athletic department continues to encourage coaches and athletes to be flexible. As reported to parents during the Back to School presentation, “flexibility is the unofficial theme of this year.” 

Bruce Lee—the late Chinese, Honk Kong, American martial artist and actor embraced this motto with his personal philosophy: "Be Water." His daughter, Shannon Lee, the author of the book Be Water, My Friend wrote, "for those of you who are unfamiliar with this quote of my father's, it first came into understanding around the practice of martial arts, which we will use as a metaphor throughout this book for living one's most engaged life. But most important to me, the idea of being like water is to attempt to embody the qualities of fluidity and naturalness in one's life."

She added, "Water can adjust its shape to any container, it can be soft or strong. It is simply and naturally always itself, and it finds a way to keep moving and flowing. Now imagine if you  could learn to be that flexible, that sentient? that natural and that unstoppable?" Could Bruce Lee have possibly known how valuable, how poignant his exhortation would be in the year 2020? Flexibility is the name of our game, and yet I found I have needed it in my own life...and in other ways.

Lee's philosophy hails
from the "Tao Te Ching," a Chinese philosophy text that is over 2,600 years old (the title translates to "The Book of the Way and its Virtue). Comprised of many poems, the Tao Te Ching has a passage that says, "the supreme goodness is like water." A fantastic TED Talk by Raymond Tang provides additional context and reflection upon the qualities of water. His insights on humility, harmony and openness have enabled me to embrace Lee's benevolent command. I think I now say it at least once a day.

  • Former student was obviously not happy to see me on campus. I had hoped we had moved on from whatever happened in the past. Be water, my friend.
  • Negativity. Complaining. Holding grudges. Unwillingness to assume the best or compromise. Be water, my friend.
  • I still don't have the answer to many of the questions athletes ask about our future season(s). I hope we will have them! Be water, my friend. 
  • The upcoming election? Be water, my friend.

As a Catholic Christian, the power and significance of water is not lost on me. We are washed from the stain of original sin at our Baptism. In John's Gospel, Jesus offers the Samaritan woman living water. She doesn't ask for it. It’s not something she can acquire or purchase. It's a gift. And he just says, “Would you like some?” I have always been able to pray with the song "Come to the Water." Water is flexible, formless and shapeless AND it is life giving.

Thank you Bruce Lee for sharing this beautiful teaching with me...

Additional Info
Wise beyond his years, Bruce Lee died on July 20, 1973 at the tender age of 32. 

The new ESPN “30-for-30" documentary by Bao Nguyen, reveals the magic and charisma the "Enter the Dragon" star brought to his brief but groundbreaking careers as both martial artist and actor. I recommend watching it for several reasons. Chief among is what Jack Hamilton writes in the article, ESPN’s Bruce Lee Documentary Is Way Better Than The Last Dance. "Be Water is best when exploring the subject of race, a topic that it approaches with rare sensitivity for an ESPN production. In the mid-1960s, when Lee was trying to break into Hollywood, there were essentially no roles for Asian men that were not variations on yellow face caricatures, casting them as either the wacky comic relief or the sinister embodiment of otherness. Be Water” examines the actor adapting to several different environments — until his “flow” becomes a tidal wave of superstardom."

The film concludes with Lee on camera, not just speaking but teaching the interviewer. Nearly 50 years later, his energy and emphatic call speaks to me. Shannon Lee's book is a wonderful addition.

Photo Credits
ESPN Be Water

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Press On Notre Dame

I woke up today feeling a nearly free of the agitation that has plagued me this past week. I said my morning prayers, extending gratitude to God for a new day, one that Miss Stacey, Anne Shirley's beloved teacher, would proclaim as "fresh and with no mistakes in it yet." 

I thought about the Notre Dame win 42-13 over Florida State. Football is back! I then brought to mind all the friends who have read, responded, rebutted and reached out to what I have written about Father Jenkins at the Rose Garden Ceremony. I remembered that out of difficulty can come growth, wisdom, understanding and insight. It's not something I welcome often, but it's not something anyone can shy away from in this day and age, is it? I feel privileged to have such conversations and yet they are exhausting. I took a deep breath and one passage of scripture came to mind: St. Paul's Letter to Philippians. He urges all Christians to "Press On."

I let the Word of God speak in my heart. "Press on Irish. Press on Notre Dame." This is not a matter of we did right or wrong—that has already been discussed. This was not a question of Should the Jenkins be removed from office? People are passionate! However, we are living in the aftermath. I thought: keep going....survive...advance.....Andiamo! Press On.

In writing about Father Jenkins, I have tried hard to maintain an objective point of view, doing all I could to distance my emotions. Yet, I am aware that when we care about a person, this isn't easy.Perspective clouds and clarifies our vision. Relationships allow us to speak to and of a person's character—which according to ethics is subject to moral evaluation. How does one do that? Reflect, compare, contrast, look for evidence, determine a mean. Look for virtue and for vice! Consult others, Pray about it.

got to know Father John almost 25 years ago. I am a member of the third cohort of ACE teachers, meaning the program was in its early stages of development, consisting of but 150 teachers. We were on campus for eight weeks in the summer, taking education classes before being sent to an under-resourced Catholic school. We concluded our days with 10:00 pm mass in the Keenan Stanford chapel (and then a lot of us went out). I went every night. Whether or not he was presiding, Father John did too.

John Jenkins, C.S.C. '76 was also a classmate and friend of the ACE founder, Rev. Tim Scully, C.S.C. '76. Both priests are life long proponents of Catholic education. Father John supported all of us ACE teachers with his gentle and prayerful presence. He smiled and laughed easily. His kindness was real...but he was real too. He would call things as he saw them, which made me laugh a lot. I never questioned why we were friends--he told me. He said that he appreciated my goodness, a quality I had never thought about before. I've never told him this, but I would like him to know his compliment changed the way I see myself and aim to live my life. I fall short often, but I truly do seek to model goodness. 

In my time since ACE, I have reached out to Father John with philosophical and theological questions. He has always found time to respond and teach me more than I asked. I have run into him often on campus over the years, at the Women's Basketball National Championship game in Tampa, and even while running the Chicago marathon (He ran it. I was watching the race and eating a donut). He responds to my emails. He never fails to thank me for my work in Catholic education and for bringing the spirit of Notre Dame to my community. Truly, he is a spiritual Father in fullest sense of the what the title suggests. 

I have been close with school leaders before. The best ones never, ever complain or reveal the toll that their works takes on them. Father Jenkins is no different. This must be an isolating and lonely time. And yet, I know he has family he can turn to (he is one of 12 children) as well as those in community, the Congregation of Holy Cross. 

I have had some difficulty in ascertaining where Notre Dame can go from here. It's been hard for me determine what my hope is for Father John—beyond of course prayers for his health and well-being, which is why the motto from scripture: Press On brought some peace. I hope other members of the Notre Dame family will embrace this motto.

NB: This is NOT the same as "Fight On" as in USC ;-) 

Photo Credits
Pat Neary, C.S.C. , me and John Jenkins, C.S.C. at ACE Graduation
Press On

Thursday, October 8, 2020

A Case (Study) for Perspective: Father Jenkins and ND Colleagues

A friend and I are in the exploratory phase of a creating a podcast. Facilitating a successful launch requires developing a platform, determining our audience, designing a logo (aka pod-art), distilling best practices and so forth. Imagining what we might offer has been fun, as I love talking to others about this. I have to say, this conversation has been much interesting (and enjoyable) than the majority of those I have been having in 2020. I'm sure you understand. 

This past weekend, I had a long talk with my friends Michael and Lesley about the possibility of this podcast. Michael offered but one word as his advice for what this alleged podcast needs: perspective. He said, "Consider your perspective. Offer perspective. Maintain perspective! Perspective changes everything."

Michael Lewis, a tremendously talented and popular author has said all great writers have one thing in common. When the world is looking in one direction, a writer has the ability to look the other way...and then write about it. In short, he is speaking about perspective. A great podcast must do the same. 

Simple enough, right?...write. Truth be told, it's not that easy. I will let you, the reader consider why perspective can be a challenge. I would like to invite you, the reader to offer tips on how to broaden one's perspective. I urge you, the reader to share the benefits of doing so. In the meantime, I would like to offer one example of my own. I would like to thank a former colleague Peter for the virtual dialog that prompted this perspective. 

Question: Am I my brother's keeper?

Leaders do not act in isolation. I suppose some do, but we have titles for those.

As the New York Times has written: Notre Dame’s President Faces an Angry Campus After Getting the Coronavirus. Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. violated the protocols of the University in failing to wear a mask and maintain social distancing at the Rose Garden Ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett. In reading the article,
 I came to learn "at least 10 Notre Dame faculty members besides Father Jenkins attended the event and all except him have repeatedly tested negative for the coronavirus since returning to South Bend." There is no information about whether or not they were wearing masks.

I was aware that the Dean of the Law School, G. Marcus Cole was there because he is photographed sitting next to Father Jenkins, doing the right thing: wearing a mask. 

Someone said students who exhibited the behavior of Father Jenkins would be expelled. That comment led me to research if that was in fact, accurate. In the official Update Following the President's Address to StudentsUniversity policy notes  under "Addressing Violations" the following 

"It is imperative that students, faculty, and staff call one another to accountability for lapses in mask wearing, physical distancing, or gathering together outside of the guidelines above. Compliance depends on all community members having the courage to call others to behavior that protects us all." 

I am not shifting blame—let me make that very clear. We are responsible for our own actions AND and, I would like to raise this question: Should one of those 10+ faculty members have said something to Father Jenkins? Would I? 

As an ethics teacher, this event may now serve as an interesting case study. Some might think it would be hard to talk to your superior about what they ought to do. Yes, and I would add that helping other to do the right thing is rarely as easy task. As a Christian, I would like my students to consider: Do we have a moral obligation to help those in our community make the right decisions? Is it possible in this day and age to be our brothers and sisters' keepers? What does that look like? And how does that relate to this event. Finally, I would like to hear 
To what degree ought we hold these adults responsible? I wonder, did anyone perceive how this would look on the national stage. Obviously, Jenkins did not. Were all parties lacking wisdom and foresight?

I find this shift in perspective to be an interesting one, for it is not something I have heard anyone else talk about. I don't know if is an issue I would discuss on the podcast but the narrative has now taken a new turn—so I had to write it down.

In sports, we are constantly asking athletes to keep their eye on the ball, see the basket, or visualize the race. Perspective is essential. In this case, we see not one but many others who didn't see what might come from a bad choice and a big mistake. Perspective was lacking.

In spirituality, we are called to envision the world as God does. However, one friend told me recently that she thinks God is on vacation. I have to agree with that perspective....

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Notre Dame Family, Leadership and Light

I am sure I have felt this way before, but I can't recall when it happened last. On Saturday, I thought twice about wearing my favorite jacket with its interlocking ND. Two days later, I felt like a neighbor was staring at the shamrock pin on my vest: the one that represents the Fightin' Irish. My alma mater is in the spotlight—a spotlight of judgment and shame, disdain and mistake making. This is no easy place to be and for now it is where we stand. The University's campaign HERE has a whole new meeting.

In my best moments, I am able to take a step back, breathe and just shake my head. "I know, I know" is all I can say. At other times, I would like to offer things as I really see them. Instead the words of the Notre Dame Alumni Association Executive Director, Dolly Duffy '84, come to mind.

On a Zoom meeting tonight with other alumni board leaders Duffy said, "We are a family. We have to remember that. And families make mistakes. Notre Dame has made a lot of them recently." She paused and offered a knowing smile. "Right?"

I have always believed in the ethos of the Notre Dame family. In fact, "family" is a charism of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, who founded the University. I work at Saint Francis High School, founded by the Brothers of the Holy Cross. At the very center of our campus is a statue of the Holy Family, where paths cross, students gather, and we have the blessing of athletes. This sculpture is visible sign of what Father Sorin and the community taught, preached and lived. Today, I live out the spirit of family in many ways. For example, I never miss a chance to see the Irish when they come to the Bay Area. Every other Thanksgiving when the football team plays at Stanford I tell people that I will be spending the holiday with my nuclear family and the rest of the weekend with my Notre Dame family. Here come the Irish; I get to host them all!

To be a member of a family means that there will be conflict and tension, disappointment and even disgust. However, it also means caring for one another, extending kindness, loving and forgiving. 
Family is a foundation. It means you stand up for one another and have their back. In light of current events, I do not have an official charge for the Notre Dame family—how we should be or what we should say right now. No, I simply want to rest in Duffy's remembrance: We are a family.

On Saturday evening, a friend and fellow alumna brought to my attention that Father Jenkins was not wearing a mask at the Rose Garden ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett. Like many people she was shocked, disappointed and angry that the President was modeling behaviors contrary to what he has been preaching to students. What might be equally surprising is that I did not even notice. I don't know that I could have. How? Why? My vision was completely focused on one thing: the Barrett family.

Amy's husband, Jesse and I are classmates and friends. Jesse lived in Keenan and I lived just across North Quad in Farley Hall. We met my freshman year in our International Relations course. Over the course of four years, Jesse and I ate a lot of meals together and talked often. Though naturally gifted and very intelligent, I knew how seriously he took his studies. I remember thinking he saw the world in an amazing way—he studied Arabic, he traveled to Israel. I remember him telling me about his family in South Bend. I knew he was faith-filled and though he has a great voice (it's very deep) I recall that he was a fantastic listener. I remember wondering more than once, Why does he want to be my friend? I always felt like I was the lucky one. 

For me to see my friend with his wife and seven children at the White House brought tears to my eyes. Though I don't know Amy, I remember Jesse telling me about her when they first met. I know of the sacrifices he has made in his own talented legal career. I am inspired by her gifts and talents. I love that she is a working mom and that she is a beloved teacher! She makes me want to do more with all I have been given. 

On Monday, a different friend and fellow alum sent me the apology that Father Jenkins wrote to the Notre Dame community. I read it several times now. I accept his apology. I believe he is sincere in his regret not because he has to be, but because that is who he is. Father John is a leader of integrity, purpose and prayer. To me, he models true Christian leadership which is defined by sacrificial service. Though he has been called hypocritical, in this instance I find him to be human. You might disagree.

In 2009, Father Jenkins hosted President Obama at the University's 164th Commencement Exercises. This invitation brought Notre Dame into similar spotlight. In an interview I saw, Jenkins admitted that he did not anticipate the backlash, division and contempt that event would yield. Nor did I, for Notre Dame has a long history of inviting the President of the United States to graduation. Obama changed our history as the first Black American in the Oval Office. But as Jenkins said, "I was wrong." He was forced to navigate tough waters during and after that time, let alone countless others (meeting the grieving parents of Declan Sullivan comes to mind) That is what leaders must do. 

I have often wondered why does anyone want to be a leader today? This question is more rhetorical than sincere, as I certainly would not want to lead a school on any level right now. 

There are those who lead because of the ego. They want the spotlight. Many are power hungry. Some don't think anyone can do it like they can. Some lead because they can. In some situations there is no one else! And some people lead because they are called to do so. They are willing to serve. They serve as models for what to do and for what not to do. The public is weighing in on Notre Dame leadership—from Father Jenkins to a potentially new Supreme Court Justice in Amy Coney Barrett, to Coach Brian Kelly (39 football players tested positive for COVID). We know it's no easy time. 

Being a member of the Notre Dame family means that I respect and love Our Lady's University. It is something I am willing to fight for. I know of its flaws and failings, I always want ND to be a "Force for Good" and I know it falls short. I also know this family has roots in the message and challenge of the Gospel. Right now, I can only offer that this family is both blessed and it is broken...much like the Body of Christ. And so in these tough times, though I cannot go to the Grotto—I offer this prayer and invite all those in the Notre Dame family to pray it with me. 

Let us pray 

  • for the health and well being of all those who are affected by COVID. 
  • for a world that builds bridges and seeks mercy.
  • for families—our own and those we create and in a special way for the Notre Dame family. 
  • that we love, learn, lead and live in your light oh Lord. Amen

Monday, October 5, 2020

Halloween Prep: Sports and Spirituality Style

Devoid of any specific expectations, I am very excited for the holiday season. I have already seen posts from friends horrified by Costco's Christmas trees and/or the snowy village on sale now at Home Depot. I'm not thrilled about jumping this shark—or rather this Santa—but I just don't have the energy to be angry about this. Thank you, Covid. Instead, I am doing all I can to enjoy autumn. I am embracing the days getting shorter, the signs of harvest and the orange and black of Halloween.

Halloween is more popular than any other holiday in San Francisco. Perhaps it's a reflection of the arrested development of the city, but October 31 is far from a celebration just for children. Homes here are decorated with lights, spider webs, tombstones, goblins, witches, pumpkins and more. Even though Halloween has allegedly been cancelled in 2020, I have a few ideas for how one can prepare for this holiday—Sports and Spirituality style, pandemic or not.

Costumes: Trick or treating is not required. People love dressing up for Halloween! While many devout, if not orthodox Catholics will recommend that children dress up like saints, I don't think you can ever go wrong as an Olympian, an athlete representing your favorite sports team or even better a great mascot! I am not a fan of costume that includes the adjective "sexy." Please, no "sexy" referee, nun, priest, deacon or defensive back. Thanks. Creativity is always a plus. If you are from our nation's capital, I dare you to dress up as a representative of the Washington Football Team. Good luck.

Candy: For me to recommend a healthy snack—a bag of trail mix, organic chocolate, a protein bar—for your trick-or-treaters might be prudent, but it would also be hypocritical. It would be honorable and yet it would be untruthful. The fact of the matter is I always wanted candy. I still remember the thrill of receiving a king sized candy bar from former Oakland Raiders' coach John Madden. In short, more is more.

Curriculum: I think it's important for young people to learn the legends that surround All Hallow's Eve. Those with DisneyPlus ought to view "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and for younger children "Donald Duck's Trick or Treat." These movies speak to the spirit of the American holiday. The religious roots of it are well served in Jim Martin SJ's video on Busted Halo entitled "Saints and All Hallow's Eve."

And for those who want a classic thriller, a true horror film—rather than watching "Halloween" (1978), "Hocus Pocus" (1993), or "The Exorcist" (1973), give this recommendation a thought. 

My friend Jimmy wrote, "if past sports competitions were scary movies, what’s your top 5?" What a profound question, for in many ways, the analogy works. Both elicit adrenaline and keep you on the edge of your seat. Most times, such stories do not end well. People get mutilated, the pain runs deep. It's rare that one wants to watch either again.

I will let my next post both reveal his top five....and mine. 

Halloween will take place on a Saturday this year, the Sabbath. Though our spirits have been challenged, damaged and even bruised amidst social turmoil, economic strife, political division and personal health, we must look for signs of resilience and grit, hope and determination. To celebrate and find joy in something as simple as secular holiday might be more important than ever. Happy Halloween!

Photo Credits

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Fighting for Compassion in Medicine: Thank you Sam Grewe

The latest installment of "What Would You Fight For?" concluded with the charge: "Fighting for compassion in medicine. We are the fighting Irish."

Fighting for compassion? and in medicine? Something doesn't add up.  However, according to Notre Dame Professor Dominic Vachon, "We used to think it was important to train emotional detachment. That was wrong." He adds, "Here at Notre Dame we're teaching and studying compassion from the perspective of biology and neuroscience, to help our future doctors and nurses to have a foundation in a compassionate mindset. Both for their patients' benefits as well as for themselves."

Notre Dame's website reports, "In 1995 Vachon was a practicing psychologist, counseling health care providers worn thin by day after day of patient care. In time, Vachon, too, became burnt out. To survive, he emotionally detached from his patients but still harbored a growing burden. He wasn’t alone — more than 50 percent of physicians have symptoms of burnout, and the impact is seen on both the physicians and their patients. The antidote, Vachon believed, was a better understanding of compassion in caregivers. But he needed the science to prove it."

“There is a crisis of compassion in health care,” says Vachon. “Compassion is essential for patient care and it’s essential for the well-being of the clinician. The two go hand in hand.”There is more to medicine than the science skills." While it was surprising to me that health care was remotely devoid of compassion, I was not surprised in the least to read about the symbiotic benefit it affords patient and provider. 

Compassion, Vachon is quick to note, "is more than kindness and cheerful bedside demeanor. It has four distinct components: You have to notice suffering, be moved by it, want to do something about it, and act capably."

“Compassion is more than your feelings. Compassion is your motivation to apply your competence to that patient in front of you. Compassion is what drives you to be as competent as you can be,” he explains. “When you think that compassion is only about being sympathetic and warm and good bedside manner, those are all true, but what the science of compassion really helps reveal to us is that it’s not just your emotions. It’s actually how you manage your emotions, how you’re motivated to respond to the suffering in front of you. And how you can bring to bear all your competence right in front of you.”

I understand the *science* of the virtue. I appreciate the psychology behind the study. Medicine and healing, patient care and providence (lower case "s") depend on it. But, to me—as a believer, a Christian, a woman of faith and as a child of God—it is something more.  I have come to know and understand compassion best through the students of Father Greg Boyle.

In his book "Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion" recalls stories from teaching “Theological Issues in American Short Fiction” in Folsom State Prison. At one point, he notes that his students—convicted felons—use the terms sympathy, empathy and compassion interchangeably. He asks "What's the difference?"

"Well, sympathy," one begins, "is when your homie's mom dies and you go up to him and say, "Spensa — sorry to hear 'bout your moms." 

Just as quickly, there is a volunteer to define empathy.

"Yeah, well, empathy is when your homie's mom dies and you say, "Spensa, 'bout your moms. Sabes quĂ©, my moms died six months ago. I feel ya, dog." 

"Excellent," I say. "Now, what's compassion?"

No takers. The class collectively squirms and stares at their state-issue boots.

"Come on now,' I say, 'Compassion — what's it mean?"

Their silence is quite sustained, like visitors entering for the first time some sacred, mysterious temple. Finally, an old-timer, down twenty-five years, tentatively raises his finger. I call on him.

"Well, now,' he says, all eyes on him, shaking his head, 'Compassion — that's sumthin' altogether different."

He ponders what he'll say next.

"Cause,' he adds humbly, 'That's what Jesus did. I mean, Compassion . . . IS . .  God."

God is compassionate, loving kindness. All we're asked to do is to be in the world who God is. Certainly compassion was the wallpaper of Jesus' soul, the contour of his heart, it was who he was. 

Jesus pulled this off. Compassion is no fleeting occasional emotion rising to the surface like eros or anger. It's full-throttled. Scripture scholars connect the word to the entrails, to the bowels, from the deepest part of the person. This was how Jesus was moved, from the entirety of his being. He was 'moved with pity' when he saw folks who seemed like 'sheep without a shepherd.' He had room for everybody in his compassion.

When I think of compassion, I think of Jesus. It's that simple for me. He modeled the very definition that Vachon gave. Christ noticed the suffering of both men and women. Scripture reveals that he was moved by it time and again. We know he wanted to do something about it for He called on the Father. His miracles, His touch, His love brought healing. Indeed he acted capably.

Sam Grewe said, "My doctor's empathy —it helped me through some of my darkest days." No wonder we say Jesus is the light of the world. 

Thank you Sam for sharing your story—one of Sports and Spirituality, of hope and of healing.

Photo Credits
High Jump
Young Sam
Light of the World