Up until the moment I drove away from Notre Dame, I’d been racing against the clock, probably since I was in high school. When I made the decision to leave my job, I did it knowing it would allow me join friends at the Notre Dame-Navy game, but what I would do after that was fuzzy. I didn’t really have a game plan. I’d simply had enough of a work situation that was not bringing out the best in me. I could have looked for another job, and that would have been the normal thing to do. But I didn’t love being back in NYC. I liked it — but felt the need to explore other options.
When you get to your mid-fifties, you are at one of three levels in your career. You’re either calling the shots at the top, holding on for dear life at the next level down, praying they don’t cut you before retirement because companies don’t value your 30-40 years of service and experience and need your “inflated” salary to make the year-end figures work, or you’re like me — looking down the barrel of retirement with not enough saved and no reason to think you’ll ever stop working until you take your last breath. At which point you look at your current situation and if it feels like it’s sucking the life out of you, why stay? Life is short, and getting shorter all the time for me. There’s no future point to consider other options and play patient. I knew what I had in front of me, and I knew it was not what I wanted. So I threw the dice in the air, wondering if I shouldn’t be looking at other options, other ways of living, other career paths in this third stage of life I’m entering.
Then the idea for a C-Tour came up. If I’d spent any time working out a plan for it and prepared myself well enough before I left, I would never have gone. There was no point coming back east after I’d gone to Notre Dame, so I banked on a few days in Chicago to stay with one of my best friends, Cat and her family. There I knew they would give me a chance to rest, regroup, and actually plan out the first stage of this road trip in the womb of their welcoming home.
Cat and her husband, John, are my heroes. Cat and I roomed together my senior and her sophomore year at university. Our friendship deepened a few years later when she finished school and moved to NYC to join an advertising firm. Her rise in advertising was stratospheric, becoming one of the youngest VPs ever in one of the biggest firms in the world at the time. There she met her future husband whose own career was circling the executive office. Still, every Saturday you would find them at a local church in the city running a soup kitchen.
A few years later they would marry, Cat would leave her career to raise her children with John, who was now heading up advertising firms and major accounts in international cities. Their jet set lifestyle was enviable from the outside, but wearing on the soul and together they decided to move back to the US where John would chase a personal dream to become a chef. It meant downsizing and downsizing again when the waves of fortune rolled against them. Through it all their commitment to each other, and to a faith I never shared, was consistent and inspiring. Nothing that they have done has been wasted or regretted. Cat now runs a very successful real estate office along with supporting and fundraising for several charities in the area, and John is Chef John, feeding 180 mouths at the local churches and soup kitchens, and teaching cooking skills to disadvantaged kids in Northern Chicago. They live a modest lifestyle and make room for everyone.
And I was fortunate to kick off this tour with them. When talking to Cat about books, she gave me a copy of one of her favorites, Beverly Donofrio’s Looking for Mary, and said, “You have to read this.” I was a big Mary fan as a kid, despite having lost my religion in subsequent years, so I started it my first night there. In the morning I read a review that mentioned the author went in search of Mary sightings in the US. Voila! I thought – I’d always wanted to go to Lourdes – I’ll find one of these places on my way around the country, and see what I feel when I get there. I eagerly googled “Mary sightings in the US” and the first one to pop up was in none other than C-hampion, Wisconsin!!! LOL!
Naturally I took it as a sign, so I mapped it and decided that would be my next stop. I’d been toying with heading straight across the country on I 80, out toward Cheyenne and down to Denver, but Champion was north and would put me on I 90 and the decision to head there has determined the course of the rest of this road trip.
So I wrapped myself up in the warmth of my friends in Chicago, did a little laundry, and left after a few good nights’ sleep to head into the unknown.
Next stop, C-hampion. Mary? You hear that…?