I know, it’s July.
But over Memorial Day weekend, something occurred to me that I have been thinking about every since, trying to process and understand.
This Fall, I will celebrate my 20th high school reunion - which has been on my mind because I volunteered to help plan in part. Which means this past Memorial Day weekend marked the 20th anniversary of my actual high school graduation. Which means, this summer - 20 years ago - I was 17 years old and anxiously anticipating my departure for Notre Dame.
That was the last of my carefree summers. The summers that I try so hard (too hard?) to create for my own children: a mixture of down time, family time, cousins time, beach time - summer fun. Life was exciting and wonderful 20 years ago this summer. How naive I was to my future.
What I have been reflecting upon is the innocence of my youth. How young I was 20 years ago (we were all a bit younger!) and, in many ways, how clueless I was to the hard knocks of life. Life was good, but it was about to be horrible. And I had no clue.
I rarely ponder my life “before the accident” - but when I do, it’s always to revisit my childhood: my family, how I was raised, why I started swimming and who I was as a child. Never (or at least “never” as far as I can remember) do I think about that time right before I left for college. Those wonderful months and weeks before my life would be forever defined.
This was hard for me. For someone who has had a chunk of her life out of her control, I like to control things…especially my emotions. It is usually only the unexpected that catches me off guard. Memorial Day caught me off guard.
Life can change so quickly. We see it too often. It happens to everyone at some point, and when it does - it can be difficult and painful, but also healing and beautiful. For in the sadness we often find the good. Sometimes those changes are beyond our control - but how we deal with them is not. We have a choice each day to live our life the way we choose to.
A choice. A blessing, for 20 years and counting…
I never know when I visit a new town, or give a talk, what feedback I will receive or whose life I might touch. But I have been thinking about a statement someone made to me while I was in Toledo:
I need to read your book and see your movie, because though your tragedy, you found your faith; through mine I have lost it.
This came from a woman who recently lost a close family member in at tragic accident, and I have been thinking about her - and my faith - ever since.
Because through your tragedy, you found your faith…
But when did I know that? Did I know I had found my faith - or that I was finding it - at the time? Or is it only in hind-sight that I am able to see the seeds of my faith grown, nurtured and fed with prayer and light during my time of darkness.
Sometimes we can’t see beyond our daily struggle. Sometimes life is too challenging to fully understand the lessons we are learning and experiencing. What I do know is that while I struggled, I felt loved. I knew I was being prayed for, and that many others - from all religions - shared their faith with me. Did I know I was finding my own faith at the time? I don’t think I did. I think with reflection I learned gratitude. With each letter, card and prayer that was sent, I felt a deep appreciation for the outreach of others.
If you are struggling and feel you are losing your faith, take comfort in knowing that faith can be found at anytime. Surround yourself by those who are faith-filled (this is where I was fortunate to be at Notre Dame during my time of darkness). Take comfort and draw strength in others’ faith, when you don’t feel you have your own. Soon you will find that you do.
This past week I was a guest at the Notre Dame Club of Toledo Golf Tournament. I am not a golfer, although this event was so fun, it might actually turn me into one. It’s a scramble format, where each foursome is paired with a celebrity. However, I didn’t play…this year.
Instead I was invited to speak to the golfers, post-tournament. I was also asked to speak to a group of age-group swimmers at the pool while the others golfed. These two talks are fairly indicative of what I do: you never know how many are - or who is - going to show up; you never know what someone is going through in their life at that moment, who might need to hear what I am going to say; and you never know the lessons you might learn yourself.
On this visit I was reminded of the Notre Dame family - and more specifically the Notre Dame swimming family. I stayed with a family whose daughter swam at Notre Dame. If you follow Notre Dame swimming, you have heard of her. She is one of (if not the) best and fastest swimmers to go through the program…and I was excited to meet her. Not only meet her, but stay with her and her family - to be welcomed into their home and become friends. It didn’t matter that we had never met: swimmers are always family.
And Toledo was as well. There was a sense of community and pride in their city that was evident in each person I met. Everyone was excited not only to welcome me to the golf tournament, but to welcome me to their city - their hometown. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all felt this way about our lives and our hometowns - proud of who we are or what we once were - instead of complaining about the world, state or town in which we live. Celebrating the past and cherishing the present; and working to make the best for the future. I had never visited Toldeo, but I am sure I will be back!