Episode III: Return of the Townies
First, a shameless plug: Mike’s last post on homesoreness was awesome. The New York Times referred to it as “universally accessible, relatable, and vulnerable,” and it has a rating of 94 on Rotten Tomatoes for some reason. For anyone that has ever moved away for school, relocated from friends and family for a job, or even shipped off for a few weeks for sleep-away summer camp, you’ll find his words on point. I strongly recommend reading it if you haven’t already.
Conveniently, it also tees up the post you’re about to read. I've written much about the person (I think) I've become because of and despite my surroundings. I'll finally get off my existential soap box in a moment, I promise, but only after I share some experiences from a recent trip that serve as a tidy little epilogue to my last two posts.
The first weekend in June was a homecoming of several sorts. Rachael and I traveled back to South Bend, Indiana where we spent the vast majority of our formative years. We celebrated two awesome occasions - my little sister's 8th grade graduation and my five year college reunion - but I'm going to try my best to not make this the blog post equivalent of Kanye West's "Homecoming."
Rolling back into town via exit 77 on the Indiana toll road is always an exciting moment for me. You read that right. I get excited when I reach my destination in the middle of a state referred to as The Crossroads of America, which implies "keep on going, there's not much here." Rachael and I always keep an eye out for teenagers launching water balloons at cars exiting the highway from the hill at Roseland Park. Ya know... Just in case anyone were to ever decide to do that. Luckily our arrival into town was unopposed this time.
While we're fortunate to get back to South Bend a few times a year, this trip was unique because of the occasions and the awesome quantity and variety of people that we love that we were about to see. First up was my South Bend family for a celebration of Lucy's 8th grade graduation from the same grade school I attended (CG Sunglasses, can you lead us all in the Cougar Rumble? Thanks). Proud big brother moment coming at ya: my little sister has been the star of many middle school and civic theater productions, developed some mad skillz on the volleyball court, and was most recently honored with the Daughters of the American Revolution Award for community service. A triple threat at the age of 14. Oh and she's a diligent student, and most importantly a kind, thoughtful person. The future is bright because of her, my youngest sister Lila (an equally talented young lady doing similarly big things at 12YO), and their peers. They are a constant reminder, in-person and from afar, of the need to just be good to people, and I hope to make them proud.
We celebrated Lucy's graduation (cue Green Day's "Good Riddance") with several special meals at new and improved restaurants out on the town, a trip to Downtown South Bend to visit the revitalized Riverwalk for the requisite family photo shoot for mom - whom I have to thank for a few of the pictures in this post - and capped it off with the traditional brunch at grandma's house. We were missing a few Ahearn grandchildren during brunch, so unfortunately the debate about who the NBA's G. O. A. T. is went unresolved yet again (hint: it's Brian Scalabrine). Through it all, South Bend felt as familiar during our return as my family did.
During the second half of the weekend, Rachael and I moved back into the dorms at Notre Dame for a few stuffy, un-air-conditioned nights for Reunion 2016. I had all of these ambitious goals to reestablish my old undergraduate mindset. I wanted to relive all of the experiences I had as a student and observe and measure how my school, its campus and culture, and I had evolved over the last five years. I had high hopes of reacquainting myself with the Golden Dome and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, visiting the Grotto, walking the loop around St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s lakes. I wanted to see my university through a fresh set of eyes, cleansed of the anticipations and expectations I have based on four years of experience.
In large part, I failed to accomplish any of these goals in any meaningful way due to one reason. I couldn't alter my perspective enough to view Notre Dame as a visitor or outsider. I've been a graduate for five years, no small amount of time at a campus that's always building and renovating, and I have sparingly visited campus apart from a few afternoons in the tailgating parking lots before football games. But from the moment I set foot back on campus, I was "home under the dome" (I eagerly await your dorm dude comments; I'm aware that I just quoted every residence life brochure ever). Campus Crossroads is taking over Notre Dame Stadium, there are a few new dorms under construction, and you may happen across the brand new Compton Ice Arena and Stinson Rugby Field (Faugh a Ballagh!), but to me, the grounds and atmosphere felt as familiar as the day I moved into Alumni Hall as a freshman, and the day I said goodbye as a graduate. (Cue Vitamin C's "Graduation").
The reality is that my hometown and my alma mater have changed significantly since I sported an Indiana zip code. Five years' worth of opportunities and challenges have altered the physical face that I used to see each day. Their character, however, all the personality and stereotypes that go along with it, remain the same to me, because of the family and friends that shaped my homes as I've come to know them. That's a really satisfying and comforting feeling. Every time Rachael and I go back, there will be a new feature. Notre Dame is constantly improving its campus, save for the climate control systems on North and South Quad, and South Bend has become so much cooler since we moved away, adding a few breweries and nurturing a burgeoning art scene - I hope there is no connection to our departure and its resurgence. But the people that we love will continue to radiate the characteristics that feel so natural, instinctual, and familiar.
Despite South Bend's and Notre Dame's ongoing evolutions, the reasons that Rachael and I choose to return remain the same. To visit family and friends that embody our Northern Indiana hometown who are responsible for some of our fondest memories. And to celebrate their accomplishments, and support them in their challenges.
At least as long as they'll continue having us...
(Cue Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home")