Sunday, January 31, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 20—Ocean Beach/The Great Highway

Time and again, San Francisco does nearly everything in its power to end our relationship. The nutty politics, the secularism that rules the roost and the perennial challenges of city life wear me down. It's a grind plus. And yet, this City by the Bay is a place I remain committed to—not because I have to, but because I want to. This city/county where my mom grew up and my grandparents settled after immigration is my home. And, one of its greatest attributes has risen out of this pandemic. It is 20 on my 20 for 2020: the closure of the Great Highway along Ocean Beach.

As written on Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy's website

Picture a 3.5-mile stretch of white beach with few tourists and no high rises. It's just you and the waves and the seabirds at Ocean Beach, on the westernmost border of San Francisco, adjacent to Golden Gate Park. Great for strolling and flying kites, but the water is frigid and the currents hazardous for all but the most experienced surfers.

What this description of Ocean Beach is NOT telling you is the reason there are so few tourists. It only alludes to why it might be you and the waves, interacting with the wildlife and the water. The last line of the descriptor is a give away, but so is the famous quote by Mark Twain. You might not know exactly where he wrote: the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco, but I do. With pen in hand and paper drenched by the fog, Samuel Clemens was inspired by Ocean Beach in the Outer Sunset of San Francisco in July, 1880.

To me, Ocean Beach answers the question why those without expectations are happiest. Arrive in the summer for a day at the beach and you'll be disappointed (unless you're down with gray, fog and a good fleece). Arrive in November, December and January and what you find is however.....magnificence.

In How the Great Highway became San Francisco's most unexpected promenade, Fiona Lee writes

When the pandemic shut down most of the city, much of the 3.5-mile road closed to car traffic and transformed into San Francisco’s newest promenade, one that hugs the edge of the continent and overlooks the sea — the Westside’s version of the Embarcadero.

This long, smooth stretch of concrete has been given a new life. Every weeknight or weekend we aren’t shrouded in wildfire smoke, people flock here to enjoy this urban parkway between Lincoln Way and Sloat Boulevard, to bike and walk, to breathe in a little ocean air without a mask, and to simply enjoy life where we can enjoy crowds while staying socially distanced.

It’s become one of our few “third places,” neither work nor home, left to us now as nearly everything else — restaurants, malls, churches, movie theatres, retail shops, coffee shops and much, much more — closed in the wake of COVID-19. (Yes, some of these places are reopening, but they don't feel safe like the outdoors do.)

I believe that the closing of the Great Highway has done more for the mental and physical health of San Franciscans that any other public health program. 

In December and in January, I came to the Great Highway to find weather and waves that rival any beach in Southern California. I have walked the shore solo and with friends (thank you Haley!!). I have witnessed some of the most remarkable breakers and prolific sunsets that left me utterly convinced Abba Father is the Potter, the Creator and THAT is the work of His hands. I have arrived to this space totally spent, down and in low spirits and every time, I leave feeling a little lighter. I urged my students—many who live as many as 30-40 miles away—to make the trek to the Outer Sunset for this place. Sacred Space, indeed.

The Roman god Janus is depicted with two heads—one looks back and the other ahead. Writing the remaining 10 of my 20 for 2020 in January allowed me to realize how grateful I am fo so many meaningful memories, life giving relationships and experiences as this list suggest. My gaze is focused on all that is to come.  Here's to 21 in 2021.

Photo Credits
Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach Sunset
Top photo is one I took for the purpose of this blog... In doing so I ran into a former coworker and had the good fortune to catch up and walk together!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 19—Conversations with Coach Niele Ivey

When I give a talk, the host asks me to submit a biography. This is that two minute speech that informs the audience who the speaker is and why they are qualified (hopefully!) to speak. In addition to the standard information, I always try to include in my bio something personal and something unexpected. In recent years, I have made mention of my favorite sports teams: San Francisco Giants, Notre Dame football, professional golf, etc, my ongoing goal: to lower my golf handicap and my personal dream: to have Erin Andrews' job. Perhaps I should reference fellow ND grad Hannah Storm, too. I love SportsCenter. Regardless, a brief stint in their line of work serves as Number 19 on my 2020.

Hmm...maybe I should add Autumn Johnson to that list of names...

On September 30, 2020 ND Women Connect kicked off our “A Conversation with..." virtual series speaking with the Karen & Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Niele Ivey '00. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing the woman leading Irish hoops.

As written on YouTube, "In a lively Zoom interview, over 60 alumni, students and friends had a chance to hear first-hand about Coach Ivey’s experience as a student-athlete for the Irish, her close relationship with Muffet McGraw, and her excitement to be back on campus leading the Women’s Basketball team. Anne Stricherz ‘96, NDWC Pacific Northwest Regional Director and Service and Spirituality Chair, worked with the Alumni Association and Coach Ivey’s staff to bring this idea to fruition. NDWC Board members Donna Leary Smith ‘81, Lauren Mack ‘98 and Sheila Delaney ‘99 asked Coach questions submitted by attendees."

Coach Ivey was fantastic. She was tremendously generous with her time and gracious in her support of ND Women Connect. All attendees gained a deeper appreciation for the work of this woman, who has earned a championship ring as a player and as a coach for the Irish I strongly encourage you to watch some, if not all of it here.

Though I did not consult Andrews or Storm for specific pointers, I have studied their example enough to have a sense of what makes for a good interview. If you have ideas, please share them with me. In the meantime, here are two principles from which I stood. 

First, a good interviewer must have knowledge of and respect for the subject.
I had read quite a bit about Coach Ivey, as a player, an assistant coach, when she went to the NBA and even more when she was hired as the fourth coach of the women's program. To read more about her life in preparation for our time together was a treat; it confirmed what I already thought to be true. Some people do not live ordinary lives, they live extraordinary ones. Ivey is an extraordinary woman. That is evidenced by minute 3?!!!

Coach in prayer—Basilica of the Sacred Heart

Second, a good interviewer knows they must set the stage and get out of the way.
Good questions, yield better answers. I worked hard to frame the dialogue so that Coach could and would speak with specifics, new stories and a smile. In that way, we succeeded. I hope she learned more about us and about herself. I'll let you be the judge of that from what you see.

I have struggled to write about this event because it was, like Ivey, extraordinary. I believe it captures the time we are in—though disconnected because of a pandemic—connected in new and meaningful ways.

The success of this event was not possible without assists from many friends. Sara, who put us in touch. Karen, the leader who made sure all details was in lock step. Donna, who I could check in with and support at any time. And of course, Coach Ivey.

Though I don't know that I will be moving to Bristol, CT anytime soon (ESPN headquarters!), this event led me to connect with Haley Scott DeMaria again and share our mutual interest in creating a podcast. Faith Fondue was born from the "Conversations with..." series.  Here's to more of them! Happy to facilitate.

Photo Credits
Coach in Prayer
Autumn Johnson

Sunday, January 24, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 18—The KonMari Method and Option

I haven't read an official number, but I do wonder what percentage of Americans took to the KonMari method during the COVID quarantine. Though released in October 2014, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up"—Marie Kondo's manifesto—found new followers as shelter-in-place forced us to confront the clutter in our homes and in our hearts. And, I must admit I am now one of them.Thus Number 18 on my 20 for 2020 is responding to my teacher—as disciples are called to do—with a comment and a question.

Chapter 4: Storing Your Things to Make Your Life Shine concludes with a call for the reader to "Appreciate your possessions and gain strong allies." In it, Marie* writes "One of the homework assignments I give my clients is to appreciate their belongings. For example, I urge them to try saying, "Thank you for keeping me warm all day," when they hang up their clothes after returning home'."

I have to admit, this is a stretch for me. While I do think there is something to be said for being intentional about many things—appreciation, gratitude, caring and mindfulness—I do not have it in me to pause and say those words out loud. Do you?  Walt Whitman said, "Be Curious. Not Judgmental." I am curious about this practice. I'm not judgmental of this suggestion. And still—I know myself. However, Marie appealed to my senses, and to Sports and Spirituality a few sentences later when she wrote,

Of course, I know some people find it hard to believe that inanimate objects respond to human emotion, and it could indeed just have been coincidence. Still, we often hear about athletes who take loving care of their sports gear, treating it almost as if it were sacred. I think the athletes instinctively sense the power of these objects. If we treated all things we use in our daily life, whether it is our computer, our handbag, or our pens and pencils, with the same care that athletes give to their equipment, we could greatly increase the number of dependable "supporters" in our lives. The act of possessing is a very natural part of our daily life, not something reserved for some special match or contest." 

Without a doubt, some of my most prized possessions as a young athlete were related to sports. The annual trip to Wink's Swim Shop to purchase Scottsdale Swim Club's team suit was a sacred pilgrimage. I remember saving enough money from babysitting to pay for my new Dunlop tennis racket. It was white, with turquoise strings. I carried that on court weapon with pride. Even today, care for my golf clubs and golf gear get priority over ....a lot of things. Thus Marie's challenge isn't lost on me. Her message makes sense. If I can care for my possessions carefully here, why can't I do it there. 

NB: I do not talk to my golf clubs, nor do I name them.

Reading, implementing and practicing the KonMari method has been a fun point of conversation among my friends and family. One of my golf girlfriends presented to me what she refers to as the KonMari option. Similar to the nuclear option, it is intense. And, it got me thinking. 

My friend shared that in this past year, she has applied Marie's advice to her friends. If a friendship doesn't spark joy, now is the time to let it go. This exercise has enabled her to see the emotional clutter that comes with some relationships. I think she's on to something. Do you? Too strong? Necessary? 

Marie Kondo believes that she has "summed up how to put your space in order in a way that will change your life forever." I find her goal to be both ambitious and necessary. I do believe the magic of tidying-up is an art form. Is it life-changing? magical? Not sure....but I do want to do better in respecting what I have and and what I own. I also want to continue thinking about the effect of physical clutter on my life as well as the emotional clutter from people who spark negativity or pessimism. Get ready 2021! 

*Marie is the the nomenclature used on her website

Photo Credits
Spark Joy

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 17—Two Lessons from Philip Rivers

Every summer tor the past ten years of my teaching life, I have had the same goal: to get to the bottom of a basket that lives next to my desk. It is full of magazines, newspaper clippings, exemplary student work. My plan was to file or pitch, re-read or respond to special stories, profiles and spiritual practices. The basket hasn't gotten smaller, and the pile has only grown larger each and every summer. The good news, however, is that shelter-in-place afforded me with the time and opportunity to forge ahead and through it. I'm glad I did as the announcement of Philip Rivers' retirement after 17 seasons in the NFL isn't Number 17 on my 20 for 2020....but information about him from that basket is!

On Inauguration Day 2020, the public learned that the 39-year old quarterback is now pursuing another opportunity in the game of football. This fall, Rivers, will coach football at Saint Michael's High School in Fairhope, AL. I imagine they are accepting transfer applications.

Rivers is popular and he is polarizing; I'll let you make the call. Professionally, it's hard not to respect all that he has done. T
hough he never got to the Super Bowl, Rivers stands fifth all time in passing yards and touchdown passes. He started the final 240 games of his career without interruption. This stalwart stat is second to Brett Favre's streak of 297 games. Personally, he has been known as a great teammate, but a challenging one. He is outspoken in many things—what he expects on the field, and  in particular about his Catholic faith. For that reason, I remembered and recorded these two insights from a Catholic publication—which I tossed after transcription. I found both to be very interesting! Enjoy.
What kind of temptations and challenges have you had to face as a football player?
The biggest key to avoid those temptations is to not put yourself in those situations. And it’s not just as an NFL player, it’s in any workplace, in any city, anything you’re doing, anywhere after dark, after midnight. I think it’s Corinthians 11 that says “Bad company corrupts good morals.” If you’re not in the wrong b
ut you continue to put yourself in tempting situations eventually may give in. So that’s always been something I’ve lived by all the way through – don’t put yourself in those situations. Even though you may be strong enough to go somewhere and not fall into sin, avoiding it from the start will certainly help.

You’re known for your very passionate style of play. How do you talk trash as a Christian? 
I am known as a trash talker, but I’m not saying any trash out there. It’s all in fun; just like you would give a little jab to your brother in the backyard, it’s the same way out there. You know, as I grew up with my dad being my coach, that’s the way he coached—with a great deal of passion and energy. So that’s just the way I’ve done everything. I play the game like I did when I was a kid in Alabama, even though there are a lot more cameras and people paying attention. And the trash talk is nothing I couldn’t go home and tell my wife or my mom. That was the thing that really got me through some of the bumpy roads. That I knew I didn’t have to defend anything that was wrong But I did understand the way anything can be spun by the media, so that was a learning lesson for me.
In his new position as head coach of the St. Michael's football program, Rivers will be able to help young people not only talk trash but play the game with passion and energy. And, when he leads his team in prayer, especially the Our Father, he can not only pray "Lead us not into temptation" but teach a little more. Congratulations Phil and good luck Coach!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 16—Body Scan Meditation

In the court of meditation and/or yoga, I will be found not guilty. I will never be charged for spending too much time in the classroom of silence or the school of mindfulness. I wish I were different. I praise their value and preach their virtues and still, I am negligent of participation and practice. I won't even offer an alibi.
Shelter in place and the virtual classroom however has brought me as close as I may ever get. A good friend and colleague offered biweekly "Meditation with Mary." I showed up because I would prefer to be "guilty." I would like to latch on to this spiritual practice and discipline. During the darkest days, I can say I found one that resonates with me personally and with athletes. Thus, it is Sweet 16 on my 20 for 2020. It is a Body Scan Meditation and thanks to Mary, I am posting it here. 

I believe this meditation is a great exercise for student athletes. It can be used once a week or more. Perhaps you will use it with your team the day before a contest or a big game, at home or on the road. A coach, captain, manager or player can read it. Enjoy! Namaste.

Body Scan Meditation by Mary Reilly

This meditation helps us get in touch with our bodies, and focus on each part. It is important to just recognize, and not judge, how we are feeling. The mind has power to heal, make us feel strong, and is so connected with our souls. Remember, the Spirit of God is within us (1 Corinthians 3:16), so listening and acknowledging your body is key!! 

I hope this 5-10 minute Body Scan allows you to feel grounded and ready for your sport!


  • Ground yourself in God’s presence: become aware of God all around you and acknowledge that this moment is a gift. Plant your feet on the ground, close your eyes, and begin to notice your breath.

  •  Inhale and exhale...make your breath long and deep...inhale (4 seconds) and exhale (7 seconds)...continue this for about three long breaths.

  • Imagine you are breathing in something good and exhaling something you don’t need (for example: inhale love and exhale negativity).

  • Let thoughts come and go...your mind will try to take you away from the moment. It is OK and just gently bring your mind back to the breath/present moment.
Start body Scan: 

Begin with your feet and bring your mind to focus on the feet for a moment. 

  • How do they feel today? Our feet carry so much for us and we often don’t get to thank them. 
  • Take a breath and acknowledge your feet. Let the weight go from them.

Moving up, your legs do the same thing. 

  • Notice how your calves feel today. Is there tension there? Let it go. Relax. 
Knees and thighs: Repeat. Just take a breath and notice how your knee caps feel and then to your thighs. 

  • What do your legs need today?

Hips: Send your attention to your hips. Repeat what you did before. Just breathe. 

  • How are your hips feeling today? Let any tension in your hips go you might be feeling. 
Stomach and chest: Feel your breath within your stomach and chest. Feel it rise and fall. 
  • How are these areas feeling today? Let any tension in your stomach or chest go and just breathe. Create space.
Right Arm and Hand: Now move down your right side with your mind. 
  • How does your right arm feel? How does your right hand feel?
Left Arm and Hand: Repeat and notice any differences between the left and right.

Shoulders: Breath into your shoulders and let go of any tension you feel there. We carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, but for now just let it go.

Neck: Repeat, notice any tension in the neck, and let it go.

Face: Focus on your jaw, nose, mouth, and forehead. Let go of any tension and just  be.

Be grateful for your whole body.

Conclude with a final prayer and think of three things you are grateful for today. 

Photo Credits

Monday, January 18, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 15—Who is a Future Host of Jeopardy?

With all due respect to Korean baseball and the Bundesliga, sports in short supply led my parents to channel their love for competition elsewhere. I'm not sure why it took a pandemic for them to latch on to Jeopardy, but like so many Americans, they did and they love it (notice the present tense). Because I have been in their bubble since the beginning of COVID, I joined their bandwagon, this bandwagon. And our love for the late Alex Trebeck is what is driving #15 on my 20 for 2020.
Category: Leaders of the Pac(k).
Clue: Aaron Rodgers.
Answer: Who is a future host of Jeopardy and the 2020-2021 NFC MVP?

On Saturday evening, I joined in my parents' now nightly routine and watched what was Trebeck's final episode of Jeopardy (recorded months prior). The Canadian-born American, who hosted the show for 36 years  died of pancreatic cancer at his home November 8, 2020. He was 80.

News of Trebek's death sent celebrities and fans around the country to social media to express their grief—including an athlete who led his team to the NFC Championship game, #12 for the Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers.
As many football fans already know, Rodgers was a contestant on Celebrity Jeopardy in 2015—and a winning one at that! As written in Packers' Aaron Rodgers to guest host Jeopardy!, the All-Pro QB said, "the show has been so special to me over the years. It’s been a staple at my house here in Green Bay for the last 16 years 6 o’clock, watching Alex and trying to get as many questions as I can. When the opportunity came up in 2015, that was a dream come true. It really was. To be on there, to get to meet Alex was just such a special moment. We’re all obviously sad about his passing.”

Football fans will have to wait until the day before Super Bowl LV to find out if Rodgers will be honored as the NFC MVP for the third time. And, they will also have to wait to find when and if he will host "What is America's most popular game show?"

As written in The Guardian, 
Rodgers first made the announcement earlier on Tuesday during an appearance on Sirius XM’s The Pat McAfee Show. A representative from Jeopardy! declined comment and said no announcement has been made about future guest hosts. 
“I may have jumped the gun a little bit, so I apologize to Jeopardy! if they wanted to announce it,” Rodgers said. “I just got so excited on the show earlier. It kind of just went down the last couple of days, us figuring it out. It is very exciting. It’s for the offseason. We’ll be even more excited when that opportunity gets a little closer.” 
“We all have so much love and affection I think for what [Trebek’s] meant to just that half hour, that 22 minutes of our lives on a daily basis for those of us who are big fans of the show,” Rodgers said. “To be able to be a guest host is really, really special for me. I can’t wait for the opportunity.”
The show is currently using a series of interim hosts to replace Alex Trebek, all the while knowing that no one can nor will replace who Jesuit Father Joseph McShane called "a brilliant man who is the nation's schoolteacher."  According to America magazine, McShane said, "He teaches us about how to live each day with purpose, with focus, with determination, with love, and without being obsessed with oneself." 

Reading about Trebek in this light illuminated just how much he shares in common with professional athletes. They too live each day with purpose, focus, and determination. If only more of them could become less obsessed with themselves and look at the gifts, talents and knowledge of others....even if it is trivial. That's what love is and love does. 

So grateful—during these hard times—for shows like Jeopardy who help us yell, laugh, and say Wow...
Clues: Merci Alex Trebek! and Allez Aaron! 
Answer: Who are respective MVPs in their line of work?

Friday, January 15, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 14—Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Connection

Every December, I anticipate a special delivery into my mailbox. It's not a Christmas card or package, a holiday bonus or treat. It's an issue of what is now a monthly publication; it's Sports Illustrated's  Sportsperson of the Year. When I saw LeBron James gracing the cover for the third time, I wasn't entirely surprised but I wasn't excited either. That is, until I realized that he was one of five honorees. 

The 2020 Sportspersons of the Year are Activist Athletes—Champions for Life. Champions for Others. In addition to King James, Patrick Mahomes, Naomi Osaka, Breanna Stewart and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif have been recognized "not only for a championship performance this year, but also for turning their athlete fame into a platform for social activism." Great call, SI! And though it would seem plausible that Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, MD is #14 on my 20 for 2020 because he is the only current player in the NFL who also has a medical degree, what I find equally remarkable is the connection he shares with his Coach, Andy Reid. 

Duvernay-Tardif is an offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs. He made headlines when he became the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020-2021 season so that he could "continue his efforts on the frontline against COVID-19." He hasn't played a single snap this season and hasn't seen the field since the Chiefs victory in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2, 2020. 

I can only encourage you to read the piece written by Jenny Thompson, an eight-time Olympic gold medalist turned doctor that reveals why he "traded in his uniform and cleats for medical scrubs." I invite you to listen for yourself to the ESPN Daily podcast, which aired on Christmas Eve. That really was a holiday treat. I am including a full description of it here.

Time and again, I have been reminded during these difficult days that so many people do not live ordinary lives. In the choices and the work of this French-Canadian right guard, I find a man who is far from ordinary, Duvernay-Tardif is extraordinary.

His coach Andy Reid feels the same way. At a press conference at the beginning of the 2020-2021 season he said 

I'm a huge Larry Duvernay-Tardif fan so I understand the dedication to be a doctor. We are all blessed to have doctors in our lives. They're givers, they're not takers. They are givers. Larry has that quality. I just think it's tremendous dedication to his profession, what his future is going to be and mainly to the people he gets to help. 

Coach Reid spoke of his player with deeper appreciation for doctors than most might think. Believe it or not, his mother is also a doctor AND she attended the very same medical school as his athlete. When I heard this "fun fact," I paused. I thought to myself  Are you kidding me?" Big Red's mom went to McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, too?! Unreal.

One thing that feeds my soul is connection. I delight in discovering that I share common experiences with friends or family. I love finding out from others that we know the same people, have visited the same cities or shore, or been to similar spaces and places. And, when I hear that others have a connection—like the one between Coach Reid and "Larry"—I can't help but smile. 

My niece Grace taught me the hand gesture for connection. This small sign only deepened my appreciation for her and the many ways humanity shares the same.

It probably didn't take Coach Reid's mother and Duvernay-Tardif's common experience of a medical degree from McGill University to build a connection between two talented, hard working and generous men. But it certainly didn't hurt either. When we become aware of the connections we share with others, the world just isn't that big of a place. We can all lend a hand or in the case of Duvernay-Tardif who stands 6'5" and weights 322 lbs, a pretty big one.

Congratulations on SOTY and Godspeed in your efforts on the other gridiron!

Photo Credits
with Mahomes
Coach Reid

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 13—Justice Amy Coney Barrett

Faith Fondue, my new podcast is a melting pot of topics, ignited the flame of faith and guided the Holy Spirit. My cohost, Haley and I proclaim on our show: No politics! as fondue features a Swiss cheese, and is therefore neutral. We are equal opportunity prayers; we pray for everyone.

Though this blog isn't overtly apolitical, it's not exactly silent no matters, either. Therefore, I would be remiss if I did not include Amy Coney Barrett's Opening Statement at the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing from Monday, October 12, 2020 as number 13 on my 20 for 2020. You might not like her politics, but you can't deny that she speaks Sports &  Spirituality.

Near the end of her 15 minute speech, she states

I would be the first Justice to join the Court from the Seventh Circuit in 45 years. And I would be the only sitting Justice who didn’t attend law school at Harvard or Yale. I am confident that Notre Dame will hold its own, and maybe I could even teach them a thing or two about football. 

As a final note, Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank the many Americans from all walks of life who have reached out with messages of support over the course of my nomination. I believe in the power of prayer, and it has been uplifting to hear that so many people are praying for me. I look forward to answering the Committee’s questions over the coming days. And if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed, I pledge to faithfully and impartially discharge my duties to the American people as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Thank you.

ACB thanked her mentors and teachers, the female Justices who blazed a trail and concluded with football, faith and the power of prayer. 

I would like Justice Barrett to know that I too sincerely believe in the power of prayer. Perhaps, however, she already knows that. Before her nomination. I reached out to Jesse—her husband/my classmate and friend—with an email entitled "Greetings and Prayers." I shared a few updates from my life and said I would pray for them. He responded "Thank you so, so much for the prayers -- we need them!"  I responded by asking them to pray for me, too.

In thinking back to this time, I was reminded of what I learned from a Holy Cross priest. who said "the Constitution of the Congregation of Holy Cross states that we "spend the least amount of time talking about the things that matter most to us." Those words written by Father Basil Moreau C.S.C still ring true.

A Supreme Court Justice takes a stand on issues that matter deeply to people, their lives and their livelihoods. When a woman or man is nominated to this position, their example affords us the opportunity to talk about what matters most...or not! 

Notre Dame and sports, supporting friends and family—those things matter to me—but they are just the starting point...or rather the invitation for us to enter into the challenging conversations and complex questions we ought to have with one another, need to have with one another, for one another and by one another. Communities of faith should unpack whether or not prayer really does have power and why it is important. Is it? (I stated my answer above!)

In a time characterized by division, I want to say thank you to friends and family who have asked me my about my beliefs (and not made assumptions) in and around the nomination of ACB.  I appreciate those who go deeper and want to know "why."  I am grateful to those all those who have shared their own views, when similar and different from my own. I am thankful for those who had the courage to listen and to those who had the courage to be heard. We cannot continue to talk about the need for this in our country; we must strive to do better.
And, if we can talk Notre Dame or football along the way, even better. 

Photo Credits
ACB Speech

Sunday, January 10, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 12—Hard Knocks Two for One

When is the last time you were the new kid on the block? No matter what your age, entering into a new community isn't easy. You are the newbie. We all must earn our stripes. Working through a rookie season or on a new team takes time; it's an adjustment. If you don't believe me, just ask Tom Brady. And I put myself in this position two years ago, in the Fall of 2019 when I started teaching and coaching at Saint Francis High School.

Thrilled by the actuality of being able to eat outside (there is no fog belt in Mountain View, CA) I saddled up to a table of six male teacher-coaches. I guessed this might be a safe space given that my colleague and partner—the JV golf coach—was with this crew. Everyone was welcoming and hospitable but this group of cronies were used to one another: their own six-pack. I listened, I ate my lunch and smiled. I am pretty good at those things. And then one guy started talking about the latest episode of Hark Knocks (Oakland). I could remain silent no more. I met a match, I found a friend and the first thing I said to him this fall as I returned to school is how much I enjoyed Season 15. Hard Knocks: Los Angeles is #12 on my 20 for 2020. 

In case filming during the strangest season in NFL history isn't enough, this season the HBO docuseries profiled two teams for the price of one: the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers. Since its launch in the summer of 2001, Hard Knocks has always kept the focus on a single team. In the post Hard Knocks: Los Angeles' preview: What to expect this year Dan Hanzus writes, 

For posterity, here's the full rundown: Ravens (2001), Cowboys (2002), Chiefs (2007), Cowboys (2008), Bengals (2009), Jets (2010), Dolphins (2012), Bengals (2013), Falcons (2014), Texans (2015), Rams (2016), Buccaneers (2017), Browns (2018), Raiders (2019). The Rams join the Cowboys and Bengals in the hallowed Hard Knocks two-timers club.

 And since they share a a respective home field—the state of the art, mesmerizing SOFI stadium—the double feature made sense and added to my enjoyment. Already a fan of compare and contrast, I appreciated observing the dramatically different personalities and coaching styles of Sean McVay and Anthony Lynn. And, I must add—coming from a COVID crazy compliance obsessed city, I couldn't stop critiquing the mask wearing styles (or lack-thereof)  between them. 

Hanzus added

Hard Knocks has a winning formula of beats we've come to expect, and so many of those beats are simply not an option in the current climate. Ken Rodgers, VP at NFL Films and the showrunner for Hard Knocks, said "this first episode to us is starting to become a look into an American workplace going back to productivity in the midst of the biggest story in the last 100 years in American culture," Rodgers said. "It just so happens to be the industry is football, but anyone who watches this is going to recognize what people are going through." He added, that even getting the show to production in light of logistics was "maddening but also creatively inspiring." Rodgers and NFL Films had to rethink how they did everything.

I'm glad they did as three memories stand out for me that speak to the moments we have lived through, reflective of our time yet revelatory about football.

1. COVID testing.

I have been tested twice for COVID (and tomorrow will be #3). One time, I self-administered the swab and the second time, I went to COLOR SF where professionals do this 1,000 times a day. I entered both tests with a reasonable amount of fear. Why? Because so many of the players—who are tested at minimum three times a week resist as seen here. 

They admit to their fear of the swab. They complain that it is entering their brain. Their technicians promise them it won't hurt. The squirm and squeal; they get it done. This cracks me up.

Football is undeniably physical and demanding. These athletes are hit and tackled, run down and hit again but another human being who weighs as much as 30, 80 or 100 pounds more than they do. That necessitates fear....or should!

When I had my COVID tests and didn't flinch, for the first time I felt tougher than an NFL player. Thanks Hard Knocks.

2. So Fresh and So Clean.
The proper placement of music in a documentary sets me over the edge. I can easily move from fan to fangirl in as few as three notes. Hard Knocks knows football, and Hard Knocks knows good music.

Life in COVID-19 means much more than quarantine. It means cleaning and disinfecting, wiping and swiping a lot. For several weeks on the show, the players aren't even allowed to make contact on the field. They walk through plays and schemes. They train and condition outside and on the field. And when they take it inside to the gym it's in a venue that is as Outkast once sang "So fresh and So clean." What a great beat. Keep lifting guys. (I cannot 

3. From Hard Knocks to Hard Hits
If you play football, you have to be okay with hitting and getting hit. My Dad yells "block you gotta block" more than any other charge to the players. Easy for him to say. However, as I mentioned, COVID prevented players from doing this in practice for several weeks. 

At certain points during the workouts the players vented their frustrations on the sidelines. Joey Bosa of the Chargers opined time and again about missing that physical contact. I thought to myself of the irony—hitting it what shortens every players career. It costs them quality years to their physical well being, and yet they miss it. 

The first day of full tackle football practice is noticeably different. There is a current of electricity, unseen before, The guys are smiling, they are focused and they are grateful to give and take their hits. Once again, the opportunity to compare and contrast, the before and the after...take a look.

Although I didn't return to that lunch table that often, I did enjoy checking in with my co-worker about each episode. He warned me about getting Hard Knocked. I wasn't sure what he meant until three episodes in to Season 15, I ordered a Chargers hat for my good friend Haley who is a longtime fan. When I ordered a second one for myself (hey! this is not a conflict of interest as I already have my NFC team), I knew exactly what he meant. I put that white hat on—so fresh and so clean—was met with a few questions on the golf course about my choice and was given yet another chance to talk about the show and my hopes for their seasons. Congrats to the LA Rams for their win over the Seahawks and I hope the LA Chargers keep building their team.

Photo Credits
Coach Lynn
Coach McVay

Saturday, January 9, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 11—Dare to Dream—The Links Life

In a time when we have learned, lived and been reminded time and again: there are no guarantees, is it okay to dream? My question is not a rhetorical one; I ask it with humility. In an effort to offer an answer, I've noticed my psyche undertakes a small but sincere battle. Yes, no, maybe! My optimistic disposition wants to offer a resounding "yes," while the pragmatic, personal side says "not so much." Fortunately, I found an answer—not from within, but from a friend. Thanks to the sharing of her dream, I encountered what is number 11 on my 20 for 2020: The Links Life.

Lesley, who I know through the Women's Golf Network (WGN) at the Olympic Club wrote:

I don’t know if the WGN board is talking at all about future “on the road” trips, but I thought I’d send along a little something for consideration.

Take a look at the video link attached. Ireland has always been on my wish list for a trip, but seeing this just pushed it over the edge for me. And then take a look at all the other Ireland episodes these guys put together.  Heck, I’d be happy to copy their whole travel itinerary!

Would love to hear your thoughts on the possibility of putting Ireland on the schedule for 2022.

Reading her message was an emotional and spiritual shot in the arm. To read about it in the midst of limited travel and heightened restrictions didn't make me sad, I found it hopeful. 2022: We can do this!

I should have known golf in Ireland would be a shared dream among my golf girlfriends. I watched the video, smiling from ear to ear as I imagined the possibilities. The joy and beauty of Adare Manor was trumped by the delight of seeing Notre Dame alum and New York Times best-selling author Tom Coyne join this crew. What a great trip!

I have only loosely followed Tom's career as an outstanding golf writer. A year behind me at ND, I remember encouraging Tom to apply for the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program as I thought his affable nature, quick wit, notable presence and keen intellect would make for a great teacher. ACE's loss was creative writing's gain as he completed his MFA in the year following his graduation. When his first book "A Gentleman's Game" came to print and was made into a movie, I thought he certainly made the right choice. And, since that time he has written a number of best selling books that golfers everywhere appreciate.

But, I still see that teacher in Tom as demonstrated in the YouTube series "The Links Life." Created to accompany his next novel, "A Course Called America," these eight to twelve minute video shorts tell the story of golf, with Tom as the narrator. His input is stellar, his swing spectacular. 

He begins each episode with questions golfers and their families ask of each other: 

Is golf a game? A lifestyle? An obsession? My name is Tom Coyne and for me, golf is connection. It's a connection with nature, places, but most of all—with people. I've traveled the work on some crazy golf adventures and everywhere I go, I find people whose lives revolve around this little white ball because this isn't just a game—it's The Links Life.

I watched every episode with awe and amazement, envy (he gets a lot better weather than I did at some of these venues) and an increased appreciation for this great game. They say that golf is a thinking person's game but I would contend it's that much better when played with a reading and writing person. Some of his erudite comments, e.g. Who set these pins? Nero? Caligula? have stayed with me. Love it. I don't know what I enjoy more— the courses or the commentary.

Tom on the Cliff's course at the Olympic Club. Ep 7

Tom's ultimate claim, as professed by introduction to The Links Life is that golf is about connection. And if there's one word I use to describe spirituality in my class, it is connection. Golf can be a spiritual experience because of the way it connects us to what he said--people and nature and God's creation. It creates memories to which we are bound through the good and the bad. It has in the simplest way reminded me that it is okay to dream and that we should....and we need not do that alone.

Thanks, Tom. Looking forward to hosting you at the Olympic Club for a book event celebrating: A Course Called America. Hopefully in 2021—if not 2022!

Photo Credits
A Course Called America
Author, Tom Coyne

Monday, January 4, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 10—Perspective and a Front Porch

Rather than commit to a New Year's resolution, I know a number of people who embrace a theme. Instead of saying "I will do x" they adopt a singular word: gratitude, hope, or kindness to frame how they choose to live in the new year. I'm down with both. You? I have been flirting with this word for some time and I am ready to stake my claim. My theme for 2021 is: perspective. And, I will let number 10 on my 20 for 2020 tell the story of how this came to be.

If you were to ask me to design a Catholic Church—and believe me, no one has—I would offer but two recommendations. It's just my perspective, but being away from my parish church and becoming part of a virtual one has sharpened my vision.

Number one: I would keep the square footage to a minimum. 
I do not say this because mass attendance is down and has dropped rather dramatically in the past 15 years alone. Besides, that viewpoint isn't comprehensive. Though many churches have closed or consolidated, others have emerged in areas of the country that were once not largely Catholic. Furthermore, some of these newer parishes are following the model of Evangelical Christian "mega-churches." The motto of Field of Dreams; If you build, he will come is a moot point. They built it, people come! Weekly!

I recommend that a newer church be smaller because there is something to be said for the "feeling of fullness." When it's hard to get a seat, when folks have to stand, and when you are in close proximity to others—it's hard not to feel as though you are part of something. There is a different energy to a room that is full, as opposed to one that has people so far apart a bow is the only way to extend the kiss of peace.

A former colleague who was an outstanding development officer always sought venues for events that would create a "feeling of fullness." Thanks Mary! Such a space allowed others to more readily mix and mingle. One feels as though they are part of something; there is a "there" there. Let's create this in our Church!

Number Two: Design a parish with a "front porch." 
I grew up in a post-Vatican II church that was built in the round. While this was meaningful for worship, that structure meant we entered and we exited by different doors. People could come an be totally anonymous. Perhaps if we had a "front porch" or main door our community would have had a different experience.

A front porch—that area outside the main doors of a church—allows for attendees to greet and thank the parish priest. This is the space where families can catch up and where I have met other parishioners. It is also a place where I have wanted to avoid others—which is sure sign that I really should be at mass! The front porch is where a bride and groom can stand and greet their family and friends as one. 

Perspective: With COVID restrictions having closed my parish since March, this is a space I have missed. While most people miss the Eucharist, communal singing, and beautiful houses of prayer—I miss that front stoop. But the power of perspective—my 2021 theme shed light on what I already have, albeit in a new way.

As written about in "20 for 2020: Number 6—A Case for Online Mass," though my St. Vincent de Paul parish community is sheltered in place, I have become a member of a virtual one through friends and fellow members of the Notre Dame family. And, just this past weekend, I realized we have a front porch of our own!

After Mass, the liturgical coordinator Kristine seeks volunteers to read the following week. This is usually followed by razzing, updates, questions and unsolicited commentary at Father Tom, by Father Tom and with Father Tom. While I am a semi-regular contributor, my boss stays on simply because he loves hearing what others have to say. 

It's our virtual porch—but it's different. Realistically, most parish communal spaces don't work that way. However, after we log off of Zoom, my long time friend Mike aka "Eggroll" or by those who love him most—simply "Roll" and I text back and forth. 

this gave us lots to chat about....
Following mass before the College Football selection committee chose the four teams that would play in the post-season, Roll wrote "is it ok to pray that ND doesn't play Bama?" And this past Sunday, we recapped the (Yellow) Rose (of Texas) Sugar Bowl. Though disappointed, I do love breaking it down with a fellow alum who is realistic, insightful, and who makes me laugh. For example, when I wrote "We lack cornerbacks….need a big time WR again…. Missing Claypool, Fuller and Golden Tate." His response was "we need to pay these guys more." Pause. "Joke." Loved it.

At SVdP parish in San Francisco, I would have had similar conversations with others and I miss those. But the call to consider perspective—born out of the challenges of 2020—has allowed me to see and appreciate what I do have, in another way. Here's to 2021 vision!

Photo Credits
Vision 2021
SVdP Parish Porch
ND v. Bama