She walks around the crowded yoga studio, stuffy with the heat of our bodies, pulsing with the waves of deep breathing in and out. Ubuntu, she speaks softly, stepping carefully between brightly colored mats while we lie stretched out in child’s pose. I am because we are.
She gently describes the South African philosophy, quotes Desmond Tutu, you can’t be human all by yourself. While we spend an hour stretching and sweating and shaking as our muscles strengthen, she speaks over and over about the interconnectedness of identity and community.
I listen to the rushing flow of our breathing in and out, sharing the same air and the same space, and I think about interdependence, being created and connected by community.
My body knows this. My mind knows this.
I am because we are.
. . .
Even before the game clock ticks to 00:00, the Facebook feed lights up like Christmas: GO IRISH! #1! NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, HERE WE COME!
Texts fly in, from every old roommate, from every corner of the county. Exhausted from running around the basement to celebrate the final win, we collapse in our chairs. Can you believe this season finally happened? Can you believe how lucky those kids have it, to be there right now? But family and friends on the phone, calling from living rooms and parties and bars and halfway across the world, remind us that we’re already lucky. In an instant, clichés about college-as-family shimmer into true.
We are – and remain, across the years and the miles – ND.
It’s what I loved about the place, of course. The community. The spirit when you step on campus. The collective sense of identity.
But what lured me in as a high school senior went far beyond school spirit or team pride. Notre Dame changed my faith life, too. Because it taught me how to be part of something so much bigger than myself, what it meant to choose a collective identity.
That despite our diverse and disparate interests, beyond our bickering, we can be drawn together by something greater than ourselves.
That the thin spaces and places that unite us, thick with tradition and the ancestors that came before us, put into perspective the worries of the present day.
That we can gather together under one big tent, whether football or faith, even as the sides flap open when the wind blows hard, even as we jostle and elbow each other inside.
Because when the crowd chants in slow, solemn circles round the stadium – We…Are…N…D… – you can’t help but feel the chill. We breathe together in the stadium, our gasps and whoops and yells and cries creating a single wave. Community. Collective identity. And the comfort and challenge always within.
Which is, coincidentally, what church is about, too.
I am because we are.
. . .
I’m firmly his favorite parent. It’s a fleeting phase, I know; they all are. So I soak it up for a season, laugh when he collapses on himself in chortles when I open the door to his room in the morning. Pure delight: she’s here!
He clings to me like a baby koala, nails digging into my arms, never wanting to let go. Even as he takes his first toddling steps and rolls new words around his tongue, he holds on even tighter. High school psych class taught me enough to know that he’s far past the stage of differentiating himself from his mother: he knows he’s not me. And yet something deep within him desires to hold on to this first, most primal, collective identity: I am because you are.
Perhaps it’s the greatest gift I could give my children: a strong sense of self, a firm foundation on which to build a life, a sure place from which to leave. But at the same time knowing that their lives are intimately bound up with others, people who love and need and depend on them, too.
What Catholic social teaching calls the common good. What Desmond Tutu calls ubuntu. What Notre Dame calls family.
I am because you are.