When I returned to my hometown of Northern Virginia for summer vacation, I felt a kind of dissonance almost immediately. My early days were spent taking walks and car rides with friends, down winding streets that once felt so familiar, but now so different. My elementary school had been demolished, replaced by the bare bones of a new monstrosity, and the gazebo that had been the centerpiece of my youth was no longer open after sunset. Needless to say, it took me a few weeks to feel like myself again – it took many trips to my favorite coffee shop, many late-night catch-ups, and many journal entries. Of course, I missed my school friends and the daily stimulation of university life, but, perhaps more than that, I realized that I missed the Grotto.
Throughout the summer, I found myself longing for a safe place in my hometown where I could cry and unpack my emotions and feel it all – a place where I could be alone but among others. I found myself desperately trying to fill that void, desperately trying to find my Grotto. I tried to go to St. Mary’s Basilica, the one with the high ceilings and ornate paintings, but it didn’t feel right; I tried to sit along the Potomac River, the moonlight glinting against the water, but it didn’t feel right; I tried sitting in my car in the high school parking lot listening to nostalgic music, but it didn’t feel right. Nothing had quite the magic I found at the cave; nothing could compare.
Just when I thought I had tried all the places worth trying, I felt a strange call to go to the hill near my home. I had just finished tutoring my neighbor and needed a moment of solitude, so I sat perched on this grassy hill for an hour, hearing the noise of cars combined with the crickets, feeling at both haste and silence. I looked at all the drivers passing by and started thinking about all their lives, all their homes, all the complexity of their relationships, their jobs and their families. But thinking about all these worlds I would never know didn’t make me feel small, it made me feel like a precious part of a beautiful whole. I was there, alone, a stranger watching from a quiet hill, but somehow I was so connected to all these drivers. I was bound by the humanity and beauty of being in the same place at the same time as all these complete strangers.
It was then that, for the first time since I was home, I felt this overwhelming and heartbreaking feeling of Grotto, a feeling of warmth and familiarity like the smells of our youth or the taste of our food. favourites. On this hill, I was transported back to those cold South Bend nights, clinging to my woolen coat, my fingers turning blue, as I walked towards the Grotto. I was transported to the times I saw the cavern glow, the times I felt the warmth and love of hundreds of candles representing hundreds of people and intentions.
Without a doubt, what makes the Grotto are the people. Without the people, the Grotto would not be lit with candles every night; without people, the Grotto would be useless. I have always thought that the Grotto was a place where everyone could feel everything, regardless of origin or religious belief. At the Grotto, all are welcome. Some cave enthusiasts are Catholic, others are not; some go after parties, others after school; some will pray, some will sit and watch Tik Toks in peace; some go there when they need a good cry, others go every night. Some cave lovers go there in packs, others go alone; lit candles for their best friends, lit candles for people they haven’t even met yet; a few candles lit in the hope of a good test result, a few candles lit following a bad test result. Cave lovers come in all shapes and sizes, with different needs, desires, and lives. They look a lot like the drivers on the busy street near my house.
Maybe my Grotto will always be that hill near my childhood home; maybe later in life my Grotto will become a person, a feeling or a prayer, but I am learning that we all have a duty to ourselves to bring the Grotto wherever we go. We all have a duty to be more human to each other, to be the flame in the vacant corner. The Grotto is not just in Notre Dame, Indiana. The Grotto is for those times when you’ve been looking for a complete stranger; the cave is in that friend who is there for you unconditionally or the song that always puts you in a good mood. The Grotto is our place of comfort here, but I’m convinced that all roads lead to the Grotto, even if those roads take you far, far away from Indiana.
Kate Casper (aka Casper, Underdog, or Jasmine) is originally from Northern Virginia and currently resides in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.