Flying to Chicago as I write this, my feeling of anticipation is like that of a kid on Christmas Eve. That’s because for the first time in my life, I am going to not only have the opportunity to walk the grounds of Notre Dame University –an institution I have revered since early childhood — but to see its legendary football team in action. And that’s not even the best part!
For anyone growing up Italian Catholic, Notre Dame football was a way for the family — or at least the men of the family — to bond. To this day, my son, my dad and I regularly connect, at least via phone, to talk about the latest exploits of the “Fighting Irish.” And this weekend, as guests of the university, we will all be there to watch them play, including my dad, son, son-in-law and grandson – a pilgrimage more exciting than any previous get-together or trip I can ever recall us having engaged in as a family.
What this wonderful occasion has brought home to me is the importance of being receptive to people who have that indefinable “spark” that makes me want to relate to them, as well as holding on to a sense of reverence for certain institutions and the dedication it takes to maintain them.
This particular invitation, in fact, came about as a result of my having been guided by both of those inclinations. While in Buenos Aires several years ago, I was working out in a hotel gym, when I felt compelled to talk to a stranger who was likewise engaged. Now this is somewhat uncharacteristic of me, since I normally keep my headphones on during a workout and concentrate on what I’m doing.. But there was something about this guy — he just seemed to havean aura about him that made me want to engage him in discussion. He turned out to be a priest – and not just any priest, but Father Tim Scully, a member of the upper echelon at Notre Dame. Upon learning this, I told him about our family football tradition. I also mentioned that no one in my family had ever actually attended the university, although my son Nick did try out for the team when he was a senior in high school.
That conversation resulted in Father Scully inviting me to attend a game as his guest. But I was unable to take him up on the invitation, due to the fact that the e-mail address I had written down was wrong and I subsequently lost contact with him.
Then quite coincidentally — in fact, somewhat miraculously, as I noted in a previous blog — I was in Sao Paulo and ran into Father Scully again in the lobby of my hotel. This time, I attended the mass he said for the rest of the group that had accompanied him, which he then invited to Notre Dame as his guests. You can be sure that this time, I got his e-mail address right, resulting in the invitation being extended to the other “fans” in my family as well. So whatever the outcome of the match between the fighting Irish and Navy, it’s one game that I and the rest of the “guys’ in my family will surely never forget – and a pilgrimage that I can’t help thinking was predestined to take place, given how it all came about as a result of a chance encounter that actually repeated itself. (Now, what do you suppose are the odds of such a thing happening?)