I stood looking up at the magnificent ceiling of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. We were visiting the Notre Dame campus – actually attending a college girl’s softball tournament.
My husband’s high school buddy’s daughter was going to pitch, and Mike had asked if I wanted to go. Quite honestly, I had been looking forward to staying home, but the thought of a road trip with my husband sounded appealing enough. He assured me (not a huge sports fan) that the game would only last about an hour. I can sit through most anything for an hour. It’s something you learn to do in life.
I told my mother that what we were doing, and she asked if we were going to tour the campus. I said I didn’t think so. She said, “You must!’ I shrugged and said we would just have to wait and see what happened. I didn’t know if Mike would consent, or if I would have the strength to insist if he was not interested or cooperative. Was it a battle worth fighting?
The sky was overcast and the threat of rain hung in the air like a wet towel. It sprinkled on our windshield, and then turned into an actual shower. I waited for Mike to say we may as well just go home, but we continued on. I was enjoying having him to myself; just the two of us, like we were on a trip. The rain dissipated, and we arrived on campus with the help of my iPhone guidance.
The parking lots were all packed. There were people walking everywhere, all dressed up, and we realized it was commencement weekend. Mike was a little put out at having to park “a million miles” away. We parked and grabbed a couple waters and snacks and headed in the direction of the softball stadium. I hiked behind him, grumbling about how fast he was walking – always three feet ahead of me.
Finally, we arrived at the softball stadium. We stood in the short line to buy our tickets where the prices were posted. I noticed that if I were just two years older, I could have saved $2 on my ticket – YES, they consider fifty-five a senior citizen.
It was easy enough to find where Mike’s friend would be sitting, as the stadium wasn’t very large. His friend’s family was there, but his friend was still in the parking lot drinking beer. They informed us that this was his ritual.
Watching the game was fun and exciting, and his daughter had two hits, making us the good luck charms, as she had not had any hits all season. Pitching was her thing, but the coach had pulled her due to an error in the last game – or so they said, so we were disappointed that we would not get to see her amazing pitching ability.
The sun blazed its way through the hazy day, and I felt my skin burning. I texted my mom that I was enjoying the game but felt like a menopausal stuck pig. I was drenched in sweat.
When it was apparent that we were going to win, Mike said we could leave. It was the seventh inning. We said good-bye and headed off. I had looked up a map of the campus and showed Mike where the Basilica was located. I assumed it was the beautiful building my mother had spoken of. I didn’t ask to do. And I didn’t wait for his consent. Somewhere inside, I had decided this was something I wanted to do. It was something I deserved to experience.
We headed that way, and after a few round and about turns, we could see a golden dome rising above the trees.
It would have been easier to find had we been birds, but we finally ended up in a parking lot that said you had to have a pass. There was plenty of parking, and we decided it was worth the risk of not having a pass, and parked there. It appeared that this was as close as we were going to get in the car, and we would have to walk. We debated on whether we wanted to walk (some more). I came very close to saying, “Let’s just come back another time when it’s not so crowded.” But that voice was quickly followed by another wiser voice that said “next time” never comes.
There were lots of people meandering down a tree-lined, paved path that ran alongside a massive pond, and we joined in the promenade.
I felt a familiar feeling come over me. It was the same feeling that I felt when I arrived in Germany back in 1985. Old European buildings surrounded us, the presence of a reverence for old and nature, and the feeling of God’s presence.
We came upon the Basilica, an impressive piece of architecture, and I snapped a few pictures with my phone.
The huge doors arched up, shining like a mirror, and Mike commented on the many coats of polyurethane – his contractor self observing the finish. We stood in awe, staring up from the bottom of the steps, when a few people, casually dressed, came walking out.
“C’mon, let’s go in,” I said, as I went ahead without waiting for his consent or approval. My feet were going. There was nothing that could stop me.
Inside there were people sitting in the pews, staring meditatively up at the Sacristy. Other people were wandering quietly about taking pictures. Music played quietly in the background. I didn’t know whether to genuflect and make the sign of the cross or get out my camera.
“Wow,” we both exclaimed in a whisper.
It was the most beautiful church I have ever been in. I have never been to Italy, but have always envied my daughter’s experience in her travel there and the churches she explored, but I felt that this had to be in equal measurement. The entire ceiling was painted a deep cerulean blue with gold stars, all of the wood was ornately carved, and the doorways arched, framed with carved wood that came to a point at the top. It was so magical and spiritual that I cannot explain the feeling that came over me, but tears began rolling down my cheeks. It was art. It was God. It was love!
We turned and walked silently out, and I sniffled and wiped my eyes, and Mike responded with, “Yeah, that was pretty amazing!”
“I’m so glad Mom insisted we do this,” I stated, wiping a tear from my cheek.
Once back in the car, I realized that the experience had taken me back. Back to when I was just seventeen years old and had dreamed of attending St. Mary of the Woods College for girls. I told Mike I wanted to drive through St. Mary’s campus, as well. I punched it into my map app, and told him we were only five minutes away.
Again, letting my heart and my phone guide us, we arrived.
As we drove down the tree lined entrance, I realized the campus was nowhere as grand as Notre Dame, but there was a simplicity about it that felt like home. Lots of green grass and trees and a real sense of a love of nature.
Yes, I would have loved it here. I began to cry.
I cried from the depth of my heart – the cry that reaches down deep and pulls out the pain that has been wedged underneath rocks and buried alive. I cried with regret. I cried for time gone by. I cried for what could have been. For lost opportunities, and for not believing in me.
What was it about me, so deep within me, that at seventeen, I didn’t even realize was there? Why didn’t I let my dreams lead me instead of my fears? Why did others seem to follow their dreams, fight for what they wanted, forego any disapproval and climb every obstacle to get where they knew in their hearts they needed to go, while I believed that dreams were for other people? Why did it take me thirty-five years more to believe that I, too, deserved to follow my dreams?
I have a good life now. Three wonderful children, a nice home, a nice car, a decent job, and a husband who understood when I cried. I have found my creative self, my great love of nature, and a sense of who I am. Those are all the things one is supposed to explore and hopefully unearth during those formative college years, even though some never do.
I am grateful that although I chose the rocky, uphill (both ways) climb in life, not realizing that some things look hard, but taking the “easy” way can lead to a harder time, I have made it to where I think I was supposed to go. Maybe I would have made it here faster. Maybe I would have done much larger things in my life. I guess I won’t ever know.
It’s funny how the day all unfolded. I’m grateful for the chance to go through that door, to feel my past possibilities, missed opportunities, and still remain grateful for all I have, all that I love, and all those that love me. Maybe now it is time to lay regret to rest and let gratitude and compassion take its place.