Life and Living Well

I’ll begin by stating the obvious: grad school is hard.

As graduate students, we are familiar with the toil of prioritizing and accomplishing our to-do lists. But grad student to-do lists grow faster than grad students can work. We’ve always got a nagging feeling that we ought to be doing something productive right now.

Part of what helps us tolerate long hours of labor and high expectations is knowing that it’s temporary. Only a few years of suffering; then comes the really meaningful work. We’ll land the job we desire, and then our life can really begin.

But we spend so much of our lives in this mindset. As an undergrad, we looked forward to grad school – that’s when I’ll finally get to do what I really want! And as high-schoolers, we looked forward to college – finally, a chance to be out on my own!

And then Master Yoda suddenly pokes us in our (metaphorical) ribs: “All his life has he looked away – to the future – to the horizon! Never his mind on where he was! Hm? What he was doing! Hmph. Adventure – heh! Excitement – heh! A Jedi craves not these things.” (The Empire Strikes Back) And somehow, in the words of a weird, shrivel-faced puppet, we recognize the truth: we can spend our whole lives looking forward to the next thing, believing that our life hasn’t begun yet.

But the fact is – it has. Life isn’t in the future. It’s happening right now.

And if life has meaning, it must be somewhere in the present. It must be here and now: in the friends and neighbors who, by chance or providence, surround us; in our own hearts and spirits, calling us to pay attention, to look – to really look! – and to listen – to really listen! Our life may not be what we’d like – but it is – it exists. And that’s good.

Work hard, then, but don’t be deceived – the meaning of your life isn’t all in what you produce. It’s in your relationships. It’s in who you are.

Listen to people. Bless them and tell the truth with humility. Don’t rush. Stop. See the living world around you. The beauty of it all is that life’s not useful- it’s just good. It’s all the gift of God, who didn’t need to create anything at all.

But he did. He willed the world to be. And he willed you to live so that he can love you. He’s already given you all that’s necessary for happiness, free, no strings. It’s there if only you have eyes to see – if you only ask him.

Trust God’s love. Hear his voice. Enjoy his grace. He is the meaning in the present moment. He is the Beauty in the beautiful. He is the Goodness in all that’s good.

3 things I wish I’d known during my first week at Notre Dame

The first week of grad school can be both exciting and stressful. Not only are you jumping into a full load of coursework, research, and/or teaching, but you’re also learning to navigate a new campus. Even simple tasks can become a pain when you’re trying to figure out where things are located or how the system works. So, with only two more weeks (!!) until the semester begins, I thought now would be a good time to share a few bits of knowledge that would have made my life a little easier during those first few weeks on campus.

  1. You can check out an umbrella from the library! After being caught without a rain jacket or umbrella during the torrential downpour that occurred during last year’s orientation, I will pass on this key piece of information that might have saved me from a very soggy trip home. If you find yourself stranded on campus during a downpour, head for the circulation desk at Hesburgh Library and ask to check out an umbrella–all you’ll need is your ID card. Bonus fact: the Library also lets you borrow other handy equipment including phone chargers, laptop stands, and international outlet converters!
  2. Time your coffee runs carefully. If you’re taking classes, there may be times when you have just 15 minutes to get from one building to another and refuel with some precious caffeine. Unfortunately, the same holds true for most of the students campus. Waddicks (on the first floor of O’Shaughnessy Hall) and Starbucks (in LaFortune student center) are notorious for ridiculously long lines between classes. So if you’re not constrained to a class schedule, it’s best to avoid the rush-hour headache altogether. But if you’re in a time crunch and you really need that boost to get you through your next class, it pays to familiarize yourself with the options along your route—you can scope out some of them in advance on this page (the listings under “Express Locations” are all possible options for caffeine on-the-go).
  3. How to print on campus. I’m a little embarrassed to say that it took me several days to figure this one out . . . I was coming from a university with a totally different system for graduate student printing so I foolishly ignored the PrintND signs posted all around campus. At Notre Dame, graduate students can print anywhere on campus using personal laptops, mobile devices, or campus computers. If you’re using a laptop, you’ll need to download the correct drive from the OIT website in order to get started. After that, you can simply hit print and then locate a nearby printer (they can be found in most buildings on campus). You’ll just need your student ID card to access your print queue. All grad students receive a yearly $35 printing credit that is automatically linked to your account. Click here for detailed step-by-step instructions on how to set up your devices and print your documents. You’ll also find instructions posted above most campus printers.

Summer in South Bend: Relaxation and Leisure

Many graduate students find themselves in South Bend for all or part of the summer. Campus is relatively quiet and sparsely populated, providing the opportunity for hours of undisturbed research and writing in the library or in the office, as well as time to tackle that to-do list that piled up over the course of the school year.

Yet the calm of summer allows space for more than uninterrupted academic work. It is also an ideal time to relax from the tensions of the school-year, to unwind and prepare oneself for the next cycle of classes, research, and teaching. One of the great thinkers of the late Roman Empire, Augustine of Hippo, wrote, “I pray thee, spare thyself at times; for it becomes a wise person to relax the high pressure of attention to work.” (De musica ii, 15) Few better exemplars of scholarly productivity and acumen exist in history: Augustine’s surviving body of work, which remains profoundly influential, consists of more than 100 books, over 200 letters, and nearly 400 sermons, many of which he composed while serving as a bishop, a position that involved numerous religious and civil responsibilities. Yet he also believed in the need for leisure.

Indeed, leisure is one of the most human of activities. A requisite for flourishing as a person, leisure affirms that human life has worth apart from productivity. In other words, we need not always be “accomplishing,” whatever the social or professional pressures we experience, nor feel guilty about using time to do what has no clear utility. To work without ceasing saps the vitality of joy, which is the heart of the good life. As another ancient teacher once wrote, “Of the making of many books there is no end, and in much study there is weariness for the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12 NABRE)

This being so, Ask the Salmon will feature various activities and opportunities for fun throughout the months of June and July with graduate students in mind. Check back regularly for new posts and, as always, feel free to Ask the Salmon questions about Notre Dame or graduate student life by e-mailing gradlife@nd.edu.

Does it really snow much in South Bend?

Riley Hall snowmanYES! Get good boots!

The South Bend area averages 81.8″ of snow per year, with much of that total coming from lake effect snow squalls off nearby Lake Michigan. The most likely month for heavy snow is January, though snow depth on the ground at any one time rarely exceeds 10″. Winter temperatures reach their lowest point in January, averaging 23.3 degrees Fahrenheit during the month. During the winter months, the daytime average highs are just over 30 degrees Fahrenheit, with the lows averaging 16.1 degrees Fahrenheit.

Source: National Weather Service