Of Mrs. Rice, Daily Mass, and the Camaraderie of Faith

pats-and-hedwigs

The Blessed Eucharist is precisely food, which explains why it is the one sacrament meant to be received daily.
~ Frank Sheed

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Of Auto Insurance and Raising Sons: An Open Letter to MetLife

Kindness to a father will not be forgotten (Sirach).

Dear MetLife,

My son, Ben, is a resident freshman at Notre Dame this year, and he’s not making use of any of our vehicles while living on campus. Consequently, he’s not driving at all, and I called you recently to inquire about taking him off our auto insurance policy to save some dough.

god_quad_in_the_winterscholasticYour agent (let’s call him “Eric”) was very kind –  although I thought it was a little strange that he neglected to comment on my son’s good fortune at becoming a domer. Regardless, Eric informed me that Ben could not be removed from our policy until he obtains a policy of his own first – a MetLife rule.

You’ll forgive me for grumbling a bit – finances are tight these days, both for my son and for us. Still, I guess your rule makes sense, what with your risk/benefit analyses, amortization tables, and the liabilities involved. Anyway, Eric was savvy enough to offer me a conciliatory gesture: A discounted rate for full-time college students who only drive occasionally, mainly while home during breaks. The gesture worked – I was consoled – and I asked Eric to see if our family qualified for the special rate.

When he came back on the line, Eric indicated that he was all set to enroll Ben in the discounted program. “Just a couple questions,” he noted. “First, is your son attending a college 100 miles away from home or more?”

Now there’s an interesting question.

Technically, Ben is a mere 5 miles away from home – within walking distance really. Unlike most parents dropping their firstborn off at college, I didn’t have to take time off from work last fall to make a road trip with a van full of boxes and suitcases. Instead, it was a short ride up Miami Street and then over to Eddy and Notre Dame Boulevard – we were there in 15 minutes. I dropped Ben off, drove home, changed from jeans into Dockers, and headed to the office.

So, no, Met Life, he’s not 100 miles or more away from home. Not even close – at least in terms of geography. In fact, when Ben asked me to meet him at Notre Dame’s bookstore for coffee last week, it required only a minor detour off my daily commute, and I gladly obliged.

Coffee_and_Bagel“You buying?” I asked cautiously, after placing my order for a bagel and a schmear. Ben grunted, and the lady behind the counter laughed. I laughed, too, but I still let him pick up the tab.

As we ate our bagels and sipped our coffees, we talked. I shared a bit of what was going on at home, but I mainly listened, relishing the exorbitant luxury of a tête-à-tête with my collegiate son. Physics, chemistry, calculus. (Are you kidding me? Way over my head…but do continue.) A seminar on classic literature, plus his work-study jobs and life in the dorm. “And did you see that game last night?” he asked – the big one against Duke. “Here, check out these three-pointers” (photos on his phone) – “unbelievable!”

Then it was time for me to get on to work, and Ben to class. “See you later, dad.” No big deal, right? Almost like he never left home.

Why then, I ask you, the tears as I drove away – where did those come from? Just a few miles from home and work, and close enough to drop by for a chat, but the reality of the true distance between us hit me like a sledge that day. Can you see it, too?

I mean, here we are, MetLife: I’m in South Bend, and my son, grown to manhood, is a student at Notre Dame – just across town, sure, but embracing a life hundreds of miles away from my own. He’s learning new things, making new connections, and exploring new ideas well beyond me.

In short, Ben’s moving on, declaring his own direction, sifting through the influences from his youth and retaining only those that meld with his fresh start. How George-MacDonaldmuch further away could he be from my day-to-day existence? It could be 1,000 miles – a million even – and it would still be the same.

At least it would feel the same – I don’t suppose you offer an auto insurance discount for that, do you?

On the other hand….

All this is precisely what we signed up for as parents. We love our children, devote ourselves to their formation and upbringing, and then we work ourselves out of a job if everything goes right. “What father is not pleased with the first tottering attempt of his little one to walk?” asked George MacDonald, and then he linked that question with its corollary: “What father would be satisfied with anything but the manly step of the full-grown son!” Agreed.

Besides, in my case? I’m blessed with a full-grown son who sought out his dad for a meal and conversation, and so I’ve nothing to be whiny about – indeed, I’ve got every cause to rejoice! That pause last week over coffee and bagels wasn’t just a privileged luxury; it was an incalculable gift of grace and a profound sign of filial love. There might be a yawning gap between our daily lives these days, but it’s a gap that my son chose to bridge of his own volition.

So, never mind, MetLife. Leave our policy the way it is. It’s a bargain reminder that he’s not so far from me after all.
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Empty Stadiums, Empty Promises

J8255969ohn Dillinger robbed his last bank here in South Bend – the Merchant’s National Bank, at 229 South Michigan Avenue. On June 30, 1934, Dillinger and his gang entered the bank, shot up the ceiling, and got away with $29,000. A South Bend traffic cop, Officer Howard Wagner, lost his life trying to intervene, which prompted J. Edgar Hoover to put a $10,000 bounty on Dillinger’s head. About a month later, Dillinger was gunned down by Chicago police outside the Biograph Theater.

The building at 229 South Michigan Avenue still stands, and you can visit it today. But it’s no longer a bank. In fact, it looks like the Cambodian restaurant that’s housed there now was always there – like it belongs there. It doesn’t even look like the building was ever a bank.

Down the street a piece from the Cambodian restaurant stands another old bank, but this one definitely retains it’s bank-y allure. The building at 911 South Michigan is an imposing edifice with big marble-looking pillars, and it’s frieze still2769984996_d9aae32fa5 bears the name, “South Bend State Bank.” It definitely looks like someplace you’d want to store your cash, maybe even today. I’m not sure what’s there now, but what you can see from the street gives an unmistakeable message of safety and security.

It seems like most banks used to be built that way – big, sturdy, stone, impregnable. It was a marketing ploy even after it became obsolete in terms of actual security – after, that is, money was not kept piled up in safes any more, but was relegated to digital blips on computers and fiber optic filaments.

Today, long after banks transmuted into storefronts in strip malls and mere counter space in grocery stores, colleges and universities have gotten into the act of building big to impress and sell.

Last fall, Colorado State University was in the news for the pricey football stadium they were building, despite the poor performance of the CSU Rams on the field. Even now, after cutting back the plans by $20 million, CSU’s president Tony Frank still insists the $226.5 million they’ll still end up spending is in the University’s “best long-term interest.”131008085725_new-csu-stadium-01

The CSU story is unfolding at a time when stories abound about the sinking relative value of a four-year college degree – and at a time when CSU itself wants to raise tuition by 5%. It seems the more colleges and universities spend on stadiums and amenities, the less cost effective it is for most Americans to obtain a college degree, especially when it involves crushing debt. And even when they do manage to get through college, many graduates struggle to find gainful employment in the fields in which they trained, not to mention the struggle to pay back loans.

So, what’s the alternative? Skip college and become, what, a plumber or something?

Well, maybe. For some – why not?

Better that than, say…, getting robbed.

 

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