Standing around another ND tailgater, with some good old friends, on a postcard autumn day full of pomp and pageantry, trumpets under the Dome and the parade of our gladiators to the stadium, we are nostalgically comfortable with each other and with ourselves. We kill the competition with stylish sportsmanship on the field and show them how it is done outside of the stadium. After all, we invented most of this game day stuff. We have been to dozens of games here together over the years and they have all merged in our minds as one big impression of close friends and a related place. We were very close, for a short while, a long time ago, as the saying goes. We had a contented, simple sense of place, of belonging, of being home.
We remember the sights, sounds and smells, the thick humidity of summer, the clear cold of winter, the squeak of steps on snow when below zero, the scent of fresh baked bread from the dining halls or the dryer smells from the laundry, the buzz of the blimp on big game mornings or the pre-dawn trample of the steps of the crew or soccer teams running themselves into shape. Some of our old haunts remain; the peaceful bench by the lake, the cusp of the huge Sycamore tree by the Grotto bi enough for four, the skateboard hill behind the Dome stretching from the Cathedral crypt to the laundry, the seedy side door of the Rock, the arches of Lyons and Morrissey, the old melting yellow building bricks baked from the mud of the lakes, the impeccable gardens, the timeless statues, the diverse trees and the plush quads – the endless quads, serving as pathways and playgrounds.
There are new quads now and bigger buildings, arenas and stadiums, fancy gardens and golf courses, upscale fountains and monuments that seem out of synch with the simple, sustainable place we look back on, often in black and white, or at best, sepia brown colors. This small, ivy covered, academic village of 10,000 explodes into a manic city of 100,000 sports fanatics for the weekend with too many beers, and not enough cell coverage or port-o-potys. How much is enough, how much is too much, when will it end or even slow down? How many more new buildings, dormitories or domes on the stadium do we really need? Would the money be better spent improving the education provided or on trying to stabilize the cost and trim the graduation debt that most students incur?
And there is much more planned. Always more. If some is good, is more always better? Is this progress? Is it human nature? Is it tied to physics, economics, evolution or biology? Is it similar to the relentless growth ambition of a cancer cell? Is it survival of the fittest in the educational world? Is it our fatalistic fascination with geometric population growth or is it necessitated by the relentless demands of the time value of money? Is this growth model akin to a swimming shark - if it stops swimming it dies? If we stop growing do we die? Is nothing sustainable?
Will this endless growth diminish our personal university experience or make it that much more rare and valuable? Will it dilute our sense of the people and the place? Native Americans say you can never step in the same river twice. The river changes, you change. It’s kind of like the maxim ‘You can never go home.’ But sometimes you can. We return to our old friends and our old sense of belonging, again and again. In a world that is growing increasingly complicated and confusing we turn back to each other and to this place of peace, searching for the security and simplicity that we remember. So as we grab another beer and tell one more story at a tailgater, ‘where we were’ does not seem to be so out of reach, for the moment.