comfort zone, why do i ever leave you?
Saturday I volunteered at a concession stand during a Notre Dame home football game. This concession stand raises funds for the University Village, the community of married student families. When I initially saw the sign-up sheet on our building door, I barely registered it as an object of even the slightest curiosity. The second time, I read the short text, explaining the purpose of the booth and need for volunteers. After passing it a few more times, I began to see names of people in my building scrawled on the time slots, and some mild feeling of peer pressure took hold of me, as well as guilt and self-searching over whether or not I think myself too good for peddling hotdogs outside the Notre Dame stadium. Then I thought about the fact that the University Village uses this booth to raise funds for community events and gatherings. They make a surprisingly large amount of money at this concession stand, and then spend the rest of the year trying to think of worthy ways to spend it. Residents can make suggestions, and I must sheepishly admit that although I’ve only lived here two months, I already have one. I think that we should bring in a qualified instructor to give a few photography lessons in the community center. There is a small group here who are interested.
I thought about all of this and decided that if I have personal expectations for how the money is spent, I should probably show my face at the concession stand.
Jeff went to the library early in the morning and we agreed I’d come with Esme to meet him for lunch on campus. As soon as I entered campus I was navigating the stroller through a carnival atmosphere of green and blue clad fans, making their mob-like way from north, east, south, and west into the heart of campus, carrying coolers and shouldering girl-children dressed in miniature Notre Dame cheerleading suits.
I’ve been living in South Bend for over two years now, and this is the first time I’ve been on campus during a home game. I had no idea, upon moving here, the monolithic living tradition that is Notre Dame Football. At one of the temporary jobs I had when we first arrived, I casually mentioned to an undergraduate coworker that I was “not really into football.” His answer, in all seriousness and sobriety, looking me full in the face: “Oh, you will be.” That hasn’t turned out to be exactly true, beyond the fact that I usually make it through viewing most of each game on television, whereas prior to coming here, I had never, ever watched a football game. But nevertheless, I found myself in a concession stand on Saturday, which I suppose put me at the heart of the festivities in a way I would never have imagined myself. The truth is, I was uncomfortable. I’m bad at commerce. Or, to put it another way, I get flustered when someone hands me a twenty, and expects me to add up the two brats, one bag of fritos, sprite, and oh, also a cheeseburger, then make change in the twinkling of an eye. I also dislike standing between the occasional but inevitable blatantly rude customer, with only a humiliating metal cash box separating them from me. Part of my job was to continually shout, “I can take your money over here,” in order to keep the line unclogged. How many people snickered back, “Oh, you’re happy to take my money, huh? Heh heh!”
Yes, ha ha. You’re the first person to make that joke today.
O.k., I am starting to sound derogatory, while actually, I don’t have any hard feelings towards football, or its fans.
I took my camera with me as a self-soothing device, and tried to capture the insanity of the atmosphere, but yet again, my limits as a photographer showed themselves to me, and I didn’t quite capture it. You would still have had to have been there yourself. Plus, I was supposed to be working, not taking pictures.
The whole experience reminded me of my limits and the persistent feeling that has been with me all of my life: that in some sense, I am always an observer, too self-conscious and other-conscious to ever lose myself to reverberating beat of the marching band. No matter how long I live in connection to the University of Notre Dame, I will still feel like an outsider to the football fanaticism. I will never totally and utterly convince myself to sincerely care or identify myself with the Fighting Irish. I will always care more about things like photography. While admitting that football is important to other people, and that this is valid and perhaps necessary, I myself will always value it not for its own sake, but for the fact that the money it brings in supports other things, like the far more quiet art departments on campus that perform plays and recitals, or even the more esoteric subjects, like the kind my husband studies. I will show up and try to take pictures, as an outsider, and I will hope that any money raised will be channled into something that will enable me to pursue a quiet hobby, far away from the Friday night pep rallies.
I think I’ve concluded that although sometimes I need to leave the so-called “personal comfort zone” (when did this corny phrase come into being??) and show up to things that feel awkward for me, I don’t have to feel bad for not feeling a part of the spirit of the thing. And I would even argue, contrary to what youth group leaders and motivational spokespersons are always saying, that sometimes, it’s better not to leave one’s comfort zone, unless there is a really, really good reason to do so.