ACE logo

The ACE Summer Through the Lens of the Chambered Nautilus

Friday, May 22, 2015


In order to explain to you what I am most looking forward to about ACE Summer, let me first introduce you to an incredible animal. It’s called the chambered nautilus (above).

A little bizarre for sure, but looks aren’t everything—the inside of this animal’s shell is extraordinary. I’ve adopted the nautilus shell as something of a guiding symbol for my life ever since it was introduced to me in high school. Here’s why: Every year, at our Opening Banquet, the headmaster read “The Chambered Nautilus,” a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Holmes finds inspiration in the nautilus because it is a model of constant self-improvement. As the nautilus grows, it builds new compartments and closes off the previous ones. In each old compartment, air is trapped, which then buoys up the nautilus as it navigates through coral reefs.

What I love most about the nautilus’ growth is that it is in the shape of a spiral. Linear growth is flat and circular growth is frustratingly unproductive, but spiral growth is perfect. Spiral growth allows for true progress, and yet, no matter how much you grow, you retain the same center.

I’ve found the nautilus to be an apt metaphor for my growth thus far. My first year of teaching has definitely been spent growing into what Holmes calls a “more stately mansion,” for the life I live as a teacher is, in many ways, “nobler” than the life I led as a college student. It is the closest I have ever come to truly living a life for others and for God.

But come June 6, it will be time to return to Notre Dame for some much-needed relaxation and camaraderie. As teachers in ACE 21, we will metaphorically seal off the experience that was our first year of teaching and start to build new internal homes for our improved and enlarged selves. As we do so, the past will become part of what “buoys us up” in the present.

This process, however, takes time. I imagine that time, plain and simple, will be one of the greatest gifts of ACE Summer. Time to reflect on the past, time to imagine and dream for the future, time to reconnect with friends, mentors, family, and even God (in the special way that he is present only at Notre Dame). Time to wander and walk. Time to explore.

If I grow as a nautilus does, I can trust that the moral compass—the guiding principles at the center of my life—haven’t changed. The center holds.

Of course, as beautiful as this concept it is, it’s not always that easy. Like the nautilus, I sometimes feel like a “child of the wandering sea.” I sometimes ask myself: “What am I doing here in Florida, so far away from any home I have ever known?”

But given time during ACE Summer to reflect and reorient myself, I have faith I will discover that though I have wandered, I have not really wandered away from my spiritual home, but instead circled around it, building “more stately mansions” to house my nobler soul.