The world is a wreck. This is not a new or shocking revelation, I realize. Waking up to my news app almost feels like waking up into a bad dream, sometimes. Which, frankly, can be exhausting. However, when the world seems particularly exhausting, Notre Dame students are uniquely fortunate in that fact that we have the Grotto. I’m not even a particularly religious person, but I firmly believe that the grotto is a transcendent place. Even if it’s just for the few minutes you sit there and gaze into the flickering candle light, the rest of the world seems to melt away. Let’s face it, in the midst of whatever the current shit-show is, sometimes you just need a nice Grotto story.
My “nice grotto story” occurred a week ago, when I woke to an 8 a.m. text from my cousin. She graduated from Notre Dame last year and is now forced to pine for the Grotto and the rest of campus from her job at a cushy law firm in Chicago. But I digress. The text said something along the lines of, “Hey Maddy! I was wondering if you could stop by the Grotto sometime this morning and light a candle for my friend’s dad. I’m not sure what’s wrong exactly, but I heard he would appreciate some prayers this morning. If you wouldn’t mind taking a picture of the candle, I’ll send it to my friend.”
So, of course I rolled out of bed and headed out to the Grotto. There weren’t many people out and about. It was nice to experience the quiet of campus, even if I was still half asleep. When I reached the Grotto, I was greeted by the slow wash of calm I have become accustomed to upon seeing the gently flickering candles. I slipped in through the gate and selected a candle. A slight breeze ran silently through candle flames and I cupped my hand protectively around the match as I lit the candle.
I stood there for a minute, praying for a complete stranger, surrounded by countless candles that were also burning for complete strangers. I felt completely enveloped by a feeling of connectedness with all the people who had stood in the very place I was now standing, offering up prayers through small flames in what is undoubtedly, and overwhelmingly, an exhausting world.
The whole visit took me no longer than ten minutes and, honestly, after I sent my cousin the picture of the candle, the experience faded into the background of my hectic day. Later that night, my cousin sent me a screenshot of her friend replying to the picture of the candle I had lit, and it read, “Thank you so much, you have no idea how much this means to my family and I.”
I don’t think any other moment has better crystallized for me what people mean when they say that Notre Dame is like family. I’m gonna be honest; I always thought it was just a promotional phrase the administration invented. Now I realize that the grotto is really a microcosm of the larger idea of the Notre Dame family. Even if you’re physically far away, there will always be someone to light a candle at the Grotto for you. Always a group of strangers who aren’t really strangers at all who feel the same sense of love and calm at the Grotto as you do.