The Mocking Voice

February 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

For my 30th birthday, I wrote a little story.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.  (I’ve always wanted to say that!)

 

…..

 

She wasn’t exactly the person I would have chosen to sit next to at the bar, but when you’re competing for an open stool with about fifty other Saturday night partiers and a casual acquaintance waves you in next to them, the least you can do is say hello, how’ve you been.

We’re not close friends, this girl and me, despite knowing each other for basically ever.  We just haven’t spent a lot of time together and besides, I feel like we live really different lives.  She’s kind of a loner, and I’m not happy unless I’ve got eight different friends bouncing around me.

But that’s a lame excuse for not really getting to know someone and I realized as much, as we sat next to each other at the bar and made small talk about our lives.  I’m going to actually get to know her tonight, I thought suddenly.  It might not work, but lately I’d been trying to talk less about myself and listen more to other people’s stories.  You’d be surprised how many times you can hijack a conversation by relating everything the other person says to something you’ve experienced.  I discovered that sometimes just listening is much more interesting.

The bartender slid a Blue Moon in front of me and gave her another whiskey on the rocks.  As she took a sip, I noticed her lipstick was the exact shade of raspberry I’d been trying to find for ages, and I complimented her on it.

She gave me a strange look.  “Thanks,” she said, a little hesitantly. “You really like it?”

“Yeah, I do!”  I almost started rambling about my Estee Lauder Siren Red lipstick that had been discontinued and how that exact hue of pinkish-red had apparently never been duplicated despite there being literally thousands of other lipsticks out there… but then I remembered my promise from before and I stopped.

“You always have on great makeup.”  I said instead, which was the honest truth, I swear, not just some ritual girly compliment.  I certainly didn’t think it would have the effect it did, though.

Her eyes filled up with tears and I thought she was angry before she looked down at her drink.  “Do you know, I almost didn’t wear any makeup tonight?  What difference would it make? It never does any good.”

“I… well, yeah sometimes it is a hassle but…” I trailed off, and she instantly filled in the gap.

“I’m sorry.  I’m just having a really bad few weeks.  I was going out with this guy, and I thought he really liked me, but of course he didn’t.  So I came in here to have a drink to relax and wouldn’t you know, he’s over in the corner with some leggy blonde bitch.”

Being a rather leggy blonde myself, I kept my mouth closed and waited.

“It’s always the same,” she laughed harshly.  “I can’t get past my own insecurities. I’m never good enough for myself.  I know that guy isn’t worth my regret but in my mind, it’s just another case of me not being enough.”

I spoke cautiously, not wanting to hurt her more, but trying to understand.  “Not being enough what?  Pretty enough?”  I was baffled for a second, but then I got it.  “You don’t like the way you look.  You don’t think you’re attractive, do you?”

Her eyes flashed as she laughed again, but I didn’t think the anger was directed at me anymore. This was a more internal hatred, a deep, festering wound.  “No.  I don’t.  I hate the way I look.  I deliberately avoid mirrors when I’m out in public.  I’ve literally never taken a selfie.  I hate my body.  I hate my face.”

I sat quietly, listening to the bitterness in her voice.  The bar was crowded and noisy but her low, loathing words seemed to echo in my ear.

“I bet you never hear a voice in your head.  How could you?  You’re tall and thin and pretty.  Guys are always asking you out.  How could you know what I hear, what goes on in my head?  Every day, this horrible little mocking voice is in my ear, in my head, jeering, laughing, asking me why I even bother with a diet when it doesn’t help, why I would ever think a skirt looked good on me.  Look at those rolls, the voice taunts me. You look so gross.  Seriously, how could you think that dress was a good idea.  Every day, a  whispering, mocking, running soundtrack to my life.”  She stopped talking abruptly, and then looked right at me.  The anger was gone; only misery showed stark in her eyes.

“In over twenty years, I’ve never once looked in the mirror and been happy with what I saw.”

Her voice cracked with pain and I thought to myself, we are all so full of hurt, so burdened with the weight of our struggles.  I didn’t know what to do, because to say the expected “You look fine! You’re beautiful!” would have been unbearably cliché.  She would have shut me out instantly.  And I realized, sometimes when the depth of someone’s pain is outside your skill to heal, you just have to spill your own guts as well.  Sometimes only sorrow can comfort sorrow.  So despite my earlier resolution, I set my glass down and said, “Do you want to know what my mocking voice says?”

“Sure,” she shrugged, staring down at her hands, still speaking quietly.

“You’re right,” I began, “I don’t hear a voice when I look in the mirror.  I don’t hear it when I try on clothes at the mall or walk past the glossy magazines with their tall and slender models.  Instead, I hear the mocking voice when I see wedding pictures on Facebook, or baby pictures on Instagram.  The mocking voice scoffs and jeers at me, a nasty little companion inside my head. It says, “Ha ha ha, look at all these people who managed to do this one thing, this one simple thing. All these people were able to fall in love, and stay that way.  All these girls had the man they loved say to them “I want you, forever”.  How many people get married each year? How many have babies? It’s like the most common thing we do and you couldn’t even manage this. You couldn’t even manage this one simple thing. So many girls get pregnant that we have a law saying you can kill your baby if you don’t want it, that’s how often it happens.  And you couldn’t even have a baby by the time you’re thirty, you complete loser.  You have literally wanted to be married for your entire life and you couldn’t do that yet, either.  You are thirty, and you are such a failure.

I stopped there, because I was about to cry and heaven knew I’d spent enough time crying in public for the past two years.  She turned and looked at me over our drinks, and I saw true friendship in her eyes for the first time.  “I didn’t know you had a voice in your head too.”

We all have a mocking voice.  We all hear the smirking scorch of its acid tongue behind our flaws and failings.  You flunked another class, idiot. You quit another job. You got wasted and slept with another stranger, you slut.  You can’t lose those fifteen pounds no matter how hard you try, fatty.  You have something wrong with your brain, who would ever want you, crazy?  You let so many people down this week.  You’re too busy to be a good mother.  You’re too lazy to build a career.  You’re too dependent to be a strong woman.  You’re too independent, it turns guys off.  You don’t look like Karlie Kloss, you don’t sing like Taylor Swift, you can’t write like Hannah Brencher.  You don’t have any best friends.  Why do we torment ourselves so, girls?  The voice mocks on: Another black-out wasted night. Another diet started only to be abandoned. Another one night stand, ‘just for fun’.  Another drug or another pair of shoes or another gym class or another guy to text just so the loneliness doesn’t eat you alive at night.  You suck.  The mocking voice slithers into our heads and down into the pits of our stomachs, hissing contempt and disgust for all our vulnerability and mistakes.

There are always wounded pieces of our secret souls, even in those who seem to have everything we’ve ever wanted.

I turned to her- this unique, interesting, intelligent girl who had somehow deceived herself into thinking she was not good enough-  and I said, “Listen to me.  This is what I would make you know if I could: you are not alone.  We are all missing pieces inside; we all hear those poisonous thoughts.  But you can’t let the mocking voice win.  You have to shout over it, drown it out with love and friendship and truth.”

“I don’t even know what truth is,” she said bitterly.

“Then keep looking for it.  Keep searching.  Look for it in the beauty of humanity, in the commonplace faces of your everyday life.  Listen,” I said again.  “A funny thing happens when you stop hating yourself because you don’t have the answers, when you start letting others in, letting them help you through the pain.  You realize that love can silence hate, goodness can drown out contempt, that the world is full of simple, joyful voices.  Our lives are songs, they’re stories written in sunlight and in shadow.  Find what makes your voice sing.  Find the words of your story; write it bold and bright or quiet and humble.  It’s your voice.  It’s your story to tell.”

She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear and gave me a measuring look.  “What does your other voice say?”

That made me laugh.  I’d been trying to figure it out for so long.  But I gave her the truth, because what else did I have?

“It says ‘Look at you!  Your arms are not empty without a husband and child; they are full to bursting with relationships!  They are overflowing with true friendship and love, spilling over with the joy of new faces and experiences!’  It says we are made for relationship, that God wants us to be in love with Him and with each other.  It says love is sacrifice; it’s hard and gritty and real and when it breaks, it hurts like a knife in your heart, but forgiveness is the mightier sword.  It says there are hidden gifts in every person and the purest joy lies in discovering them, in making known to someone that simply to be who they are is wonderful to you.  It says there will always be a yearning in my heart, a longing for the strange ache of beauty, because we are restless by nature, strangers and sojourners in a land of light and darkness.  We long for mystery and yet love to be steady.  After 30 years, my other voice says we are not made merely for this world, we are made to make it better.”

I looked at her again, with her pretty lipstick and winged eyeliner and her dark eyes so full of pain, and I said “Love yourself.  The world is a better place with your voice in it.”

…….

I don’t think the mocking voice will ever be totally silenced.  We are surrounded by voices and images all the time; we are sharing our lives and peeking in at others’ every day.  It’s a habit-forming way to live. Comparison and envy become inevitable.  I think the best way to combat them is to decide whose voice is most important to us.  Do we have a healthy balance of images in our Instagram feed?  If I’m beating myself up every time I see pictures of weddings and babies, why don’t I follow some amazing single women as well?  Women who travel and share beautiful pictures of foreign lands, women who are serving others in the poorest neighborhoods, women who have time to do mission trips and rooftop yoga and late-night coffeehouse writing sessions, because they don’t have to worry about teething babies and a spouse’s recent lay-off and balancing motherhood and a career.  Because while we are- none of us- free from the mocking voice, we all have so many other voices inside, just waiting to be heard.

 

30 (Forgiveness)

February 16, 2016 § Leave a comment

I wrote this on my blog last year for my birthday, and it’s all still so true:

“…for now, this is what I want to say, and it’s important, so pay attention: I’ve got the best friends in the entire world. I have sought and found the truth in faith, hope, and love. I’ve seen the sun rise over exotic shores and strange lands; I have realized my home is where my heart is. I’ve cried tears of joy at weddings and sobbed my guts out at a funeral.

I have learned that you can desire something with your heart and soul and the very weight of your bones and still lose it, and when you do, the loss of it will not kill you.

I’ve felt that peculiar ache that comes from yearning: I’ve felt it when I was outside in bitter cold winter air and heard the wild cries of Canadian geese flying far away above me, felt it when I rocked babies to sleep and wouldn’t put them down even though my arms were shaking, felt it in the living silence of Eucharistic Adoration as I knelt in the dim light before my God.

I’ve dreamed too small, drank too much, written midnight poetry, called my mom crying over boys, held my girlfriends as they cried, made dinner for the homeless, talked desperate people off terrible ledges, given money to gas-station strangers and car rides to meth addicts. I’ve looked for the beauty in commonplace scenes and discovered it in human souls. I’ve got hockey, hipster glasses, and a future in books and beautiful words.”

If I were to add anything further to this after another year, it would be about forgiveness, and the constancy of God’s mercy.  I have expended so much effort searching for the ability to forgive, never realizing it has been inside of me all along.  I have pursued it like a deer longing for water, thinking if I could only forgive, I could let go and live again.

But now I see more clearly than ever the paradox of love: we must die to truly live.

Forgiveness has often seemed to me to be a pearl just beyond my reach, a golden feeling I could not create within me.  But I needed to “put away childish things” – this search for a feeling, this elusive, darting emotion.  Forgiveness is already- always- within love, held by it, and strengthened with it.  If my love is a true sacrifice of self, then forgiveness follows from it in a way utterly natural.  To paraphrase Caryll Houselander: if you have hurt me, you have hurt Christ, who is within you.  I see the wound in Christ, in you, and I reach out to comfort that wound, because He is in me also, and wounded.  Therefore forgiving becomes not about me and my feelings, but about healing the wounds our sins have left on- in- the body of Christ.  This is letting go, or rather dying to my own self, my own need.  This is love, poured out like liquid gold refined in the fire of God’s grace.

Not I, but Christ who lives in me.

This is sometimes harder to apply to our own selves, whom we need to forgive just as often as we forgive others.  Every sin I commit wounds Christ within me, and my sincere contrition for them gives me the opportunity to say to Him, “Let me comfort you.”  I sometimes think of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, looking in agony at our sins and what He must suffer to expiate them.  How He must have longed to hear those words of comfort from us as He prayed.  My despair and anger wound the eternally loving heart of God, and after I realize this, I turn to Him inside me and repent.  But forgiveness of self is still necessary after the repentance, or else I run the risk of denying God’s utter goodness and mercy.  He forgives and we are cleansed, and our sin is made white as snow.  This must be acknowledged by me.  I cannot cling to my sorrow, wearing it like sackcloth and ashes.  We fall, we repent, we rise.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation is especially necessary at times when I cannot forgive myself.  We call it “Confession”, a little nickname, but should not forget that a Reconciliation between ourselves and Christ occurs as well.  We are not merely depositing our sins in a darkened room; we speak- we run, we press ourselves- to the Heart of Christ through His servant the priest, and He in turn absolves us, washes us, revives us.  He heals the death of Himself in us.  The tomb- the darkened room- is empty.  He was dead but has risen.

We live the Resurrection of Christ within us every time we forgive.

If I could choose one thing to do better as I enter my thirties, it would be to spread the knowledge of the constancy of God’s mercy.  Pick your head up, my friend. Let your heart be glad.  The mercies of the Lord are renewed each morning, so great is His faithfulness.  You do not need to search for Him; He is already waiting for you.  Open wide the door; roll away the stone.  Forgive yourself.  We are all darkened tombs until we allow -for He will never force Himself- the life of Christ to shine through us.  We were dead but now we live.

Refulgence

January 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

Here’s a little secret about me:

I have never felt a strong connection to the feast of Christmas.  I understand the significance of it in my faith, of course, but it’s never given me the same kind of spiritual lift that Holy Week and the Easter feast do.  Maybe it’s because I’ve never had a baby?  Maybe it’s because I’m just so incredibly familiar with the story, it’s hard to make it new again every year?  Or because the older I get, the busier the holiday season becomes, even when I try to keep it simple?  (Everyone’s in town, everyone wants to hang out.  I want to hang out with everyone!  I want to bake cookies, to wrap presents and play all the Christmas carols!)  I don’t know.  Regardless of the reason, the birth of our Lord is a feast I struggle to make holy.  That sounds terrible but it’s true.  Really the only part of Christmas Mass that means something more to me than any other Mass is the second reading.  I was lucky enough to lector at Christmas morning Mass this year, which meant I got to say those words out loud to the congregation.  Hebrews 1:1-4 (emphasis mine):

“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory, 
the very imprint of his being, 
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.  
When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels, as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”

Refulgence is defined as “shining brightly, radiant”.  And I love that word.  It’s rich, it’s lavish, it resonates.  I love the idea of the Son shining the glory of God the Father over the earth by His birth.  “The very imprint of his being” is another beautiful phrase, all full of power and emphasis.  Especially for me as a Catholic who believes Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist at each and every Mass, it’s a weighty and phenomenal statement.  The imprint of God’s Being is at Mass, for me to take into myself.

Those are beautiful words, phrases, powerful sentences, and I love them all year round, but they don’t speak “Christmas” to me in a special way.  I just love the beauty and truth of them, the way I love all beautiful true words, the way the prayer “Look not upon our sins, but on the faith of your church” hits me in the gut every single Mass, and I always, always think of those I love who have fallen away from their faith, yet who still have that indelible mark of Baptism upon their soul.  Look not upon their sins, I pray every Mass, but see my faith, here it is, as small and weak and fragile as it is, it’s here.  Let my faith protect them.  What are we but oblations, after all?  Sacrificial love made real in our daily lives.  An offering in spirit and truth.

I’m getting off-topic.  I began re-reading Caryll Houselander’s spiritual classic “The Reed of God” again to try to get a little more in tune with the Christmas season.  It contains such moving reflections on Mary, it’s a perfect Advent read.

“He was completely her own, utterly dependent upon her: she was His food and warmth and rest, His shelter from the world, His shade in the Sun. She was the shrine of the Sacrament, the four walls and the roof of His home.”

In regards to Mary and Joseph losing the young child Jesus for three days:

“Christ suffered the sense of the loss of God, of being left, forsaken by God.

Our Lady, therefore, suffered the same thing: the sense of the loss of God.  And of all the sufferings of human nature, this is the most universal and the most purifying.

Therefore she lived through this strange, baffling thing for the love of God and for the love of us; she suffered it in Christ because Christ suffers it in human nature.

We have seen that her “Be it done unto me according to thy word” is uttered again in His “Not my will, but thine be done.”  Just so is her “Son, why hast thou done so to us?” repeated in His “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?”

Everyone experiences this sense of the loss of the Divine Child.”

She talks of Mary’s sacrificial life, of idols, grace, emptiness and faith.  She says in regards to speaking with people caught in sin:

“We should never come to a sinner without the reverence that we would take to the Holy Sepulchre. Pilgrims have travelled on foot for years to kiss the Holy Sepulchre, which is empty. In sinners we can kneel at the tomb in which the dead Christ lies.”

And in regards to the times in our life when we are seeking God and cannot find Him:

“He goes away that we may seek Him.  The sense of loss, the awareness of insufficiency, makes us long for Him as He is; it makes us willing to go out from ourselves and find Him where He is.

He wants us to seek, because he wants to give Himself to us.  It is an experience like the experience of emptiness: the emptiness must be there that He may fill it; and we must be aware of it in order that we may want Him to fill it.”

I love Caryll Houselander for the same reason I love Emily Dickinson: because they both possess a strikingly paradoxical way of writing about the loveliness and drudgery of life.  Mysticism and the matter-of-fact combined.  Her words paint a picture of the toil of daily life limned with the grace of Christ, refulgent with His presence.  And so perhaps Christmas is real to me after all, because these words bring Christ fully into my world, enfleshed in the souls around me.  I see Him not just in the faces I love, but in all I encounter: in the utterly familiar faces of my family, the faces of all my friends near and far, in a dear face now lost to me, in the homeless men on the Square, the drunken girl at the bar, the irritable couple at table 43, the refugees in the news, in all the faces of humanity, I see His face. His humanity.  Every time I stop seeing someone as merely an object, and instead view Christ in them, He is born to me again in the flesh.  In this way, I receive the gift of Christmas every day.

 

“The gift of Christ’s Body makes everyone a priest; because everyone can offer the Body of Christ on the altar of their own life.

But the offering must be the offering of a human being who is intensely alive, a potent humanness, great sorrow and great joy, a life lit up with the flame of Love, fierce fasts and thirsts and feasts of sheer joy. […]

It is not in making our flesh unfeeling that we hallow God’s name on earth but in offering it to God burning with the flame of life.  Everything can be put into the fire that Christ came to kindle; and whether it be the bitter wood of sorrow or the substance of joy, it will burn upwards with the same splendor of light.”

 

The Reed of God

 

Throwback Thursday: Merv Edition

October 22, 2015 § Leave a comment

Today I was thinking about my old pet rat, Mervy.  Mervy passed away in January 2013, so this definitely counts as a throwback.  I wrote about him here when that happened.  He was the most affectionate rat and the friendliest one out of the 6 that I’ve owned.  (Charlie was the sweetest to me, but he wasn’t as good with other people, so Mervy gets the crowd-pleaser title.)

But today I was really just remembering one Merv incident in particular, the one that makes me so glad I have pet rats, because they’re smart and hilarious and sneaky.  It was mid-December of 2011, and I was still living at home with the rat cage in my bedroom.  I had a box of Gertrude Hawk chocolate Jordan Crackers in my closet, to keep it safe from the rats. (Yes, I keep snacks in my bedroom.  No, those snacks are never healthy.)  One day, I let the rats (Bob, Merv, and Willy at the time) out of the cage in my room to have some play time, as usual.  I left the room for a few minutes, shutting the door tightly behind me, and went to grab some laundry downstairs.  Mom distracted me on that fateful day, asking me a few questions in the kitchen, so that it was about half an hour before I made it back upstairs.  I went back in the room and immediately saw that my closet door was open.  When I poked my head inside, Mervy came scampering out of the closet, right between my feet, a Jordan Cracker firmly held in his mouth, and sticking out both sides.  “MERVY!” I exclaimed in horror and pounced on him.  He squirmed in my grasp, trying desperately not to relinquish his forbidden treat.  I pried it out of his mouth and then promptly popped him into the cage and latched the door.  Turning back to the closet, I saw he had chewed a hole through the bottom of the Jordan Cracker box and left cardboard pieces scattered around. I picked a few up and turned back around to laughingly scold him again.

And there he was, sitting in a corner of the cage, gnawing happily on ANOTHER Jordan Cracker!!  “Mervy!” I yelled again, and reached in and tugged the second one from his greedy little paws. I turned around and dropped both chocolates in the trash, picked up more cardboard and threw that out, and then spun back to properly scold my sneaky little rat again. And there he was, eating A THIRD JORDAN CRACKER.

“WHERE ARE YOU GETTING THESE FROM!?” I shrieked, feeling baffled and dismayed. Mervy’s twinkling black eyes laughed at me as he eagerly nibbled the chocolate treat that was bigger than his face. On a hunch, I reached into the cage and lifted up their little sleep hut.  Sure enough, there they were, a whole treasure trove of chocolate goodness.  Mervy had hoarded at least fifteen Jordan Crackers inside the opaque walls of the sleep hut.  He must have ferried them each individually into the cage from the closet while I was downstairs.  In half an hour! I started laughing so hard I cried. The image of him trotting back and forth across my room with these giant chocolates sticking out of his mouth was too much.  Then I took them all out and told Mervy he was a hilariously, adorably misbehaving sneak of a rat.

I don’t keep snacks in my room anymore.

420440_10150598663629142_440461058_nMervy on Rich’s shoulder

598822_10151118246189142_715515034_nMervy just wants some of Jill’s beer

snuggled up

Mervy snuggled up with Fred and Bob

Wild Grapes

October 8, 2015 § 2 Comments

Wild grapes are the best scent of fall.  Pumpkin is fine, I like pumpkin very much, but nothing says fall to me like clambering through the woods and catching that elusive tang of wild grapes ripening somewhere nearby.  The annual hayride at Zelinkas is coming up soon, so I’ll probably ride the wagon all the way into the woods and then jump out (setting a terrible example for the young children… “Kids, do NOT jump out of the moving hay wagon.”) and tramp around the forest looking for the grapes and all the other ephemeral childhood memories hidden within the Z’s woods.  So many ghosts of my friends and myself, running through the trees, playing Manhunt and Soccer and Orphans, telling secrets in the rowboat on the pond, daring each other to eat a tiny bite of the horses’ molasses-sweetened grain.

Although autumn in Pennsylvania is pretty as a picture and twice as interesting- what with the constant fluctuation between delightfully blue sunny days and “let me snuggle under a blanket with a book” dreary gray rain- I have to keep my mind in summer mode for a little while longer.  Costa Rica beckons, a mere month (and 6 days) away.  Jess has been in NEPA from Costa Rica for the past week or so, and we’ve been talking about our plans for me and Channing’s visit, and how I’m going to build sand castles with little Alana and drink mango margaritas all day long.  And do yoga overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Insta-worthy, indeed.

November is shaping up to be a wonderful month.  My little niece Yeardley will be turning 1, and I’ll probably pop down to Erica & Bryan’s for her birthday party during the first week of the month.  Channing and I leave for Costa Rica on the 14th for five days of sun, sand, and fedora.  And by the time I get back, Thanksgiving will only be a week away.  That means pies, cakes, and whatever slightly more technical desserts I decide to bake this year.  Last year, I made every single dessert my family enjoyed on Thanksgiving, and I am rightly still proud of myself, especially for that chocolate torte.  I also still have the burns to prove it.  “Forever Scarred (From Caramel Sauce)” will now be the name of my autobiography.  Sadly, the Michigan family probably won’t be making an appearance in PA for the holiday this year, because I don’t think Jul will be up for 18 hours in the car when she’s three weeks away from giving birth.  She’s having a little boy in the beginning of December, and I’ve already told her she’s not allowed to name him James. (My favorite boy’s name… after Jamie Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, of course.)  Cathy and I have been having virtual Taylor Swift jam sessions on Facebook.  Mainly we just post lyrics on each other’s wall with a bunch of sobbing emojis.  It’s not nearly as fun as real life.  She needs to come back home.  Who even likes Michigan, anyway?  Dang it, Michigan!

If November looks to be fun, well, September and (so far) October definitely were.  I started September off in the best possible way: by spending Labor Day weekend down at the beach in Longport.  Gin & tonics, sunset bicycle rides, and lots of reading books on the beach.  My aunt and uncle spoil me when I’m down there, and I love them for it.  Later in the month I went to the Breaking Benjamin concert at Montage with Mike and some friends. Breaking Ben played a lot of their older songs, so we were all singing along at the top of our lungs.  It was a great show, except for the $15 beers once you were inside.  A few Sundays ago, (yoga) Erica and I went on a bike ride on the Back Mountain Trail.  Or, to more accurately depict our day, I should say we: ate giant burritos at Chipotle, drove through Starbucks for sugary caffeinated beverages, and then decided it might be a nice thing to ride bikes for two hours.  There is a method to our madness, but I am not quite sure what exactly it is.

On one of the more humid September days, Ron and I went to a swimming hole near Laflin. It was a pretty little spot, tucked into the woods after a fifteen minute drive down a rutted and winding dirt road.  Luckily his Jeep is a beast.  The hole is made by a creek that slides down some rocks into a large, almost perfectly circular pool, then spills over another bank of rocks at the end.  When I sat on the rocks at the edge of the water and looked up, all I could see was a round little cup of blue sky, encircled by the tall green pines.  It was deep too; neither Ron nor I could touch the bottom in the center.  I asked him if he thought there’d be any water snakes, and he said, “No, of course not, the water’s too cold for them.”  So we swam around for a while and got out when the sky started turning gray with coming rain.  As we were standing on the rocks, discussing the odd conversational style of his ex-girlfriend, I noticed small ripples on the surface of the water.  “Ron,” I said calmly, “what is that?”  “Probably a…fish?”  He peered at the water.  And then we both saw it.  A water snake, gliding sinuously through the pool, heading in our general direction.  I shrieked like a steam engine (a girly move on my part…the snake was literally nowhere close to us) and ran up on top of a giant boulder where I could see it coming if it decided to eat me.  Ron gave me eighteen heart attacks by going down to the water and saying he was going to try to pick it up.  Apparently he has handled water snakes before.  I told him I considered him a great friend, and I enjoyed his life advice and our long, rambling theological discussions, but if he came near me with that snake, I would murder him, and the 5th Commandment be darned.

He did not pick up the snake.

Near the end of September was the long awaited PAPAL VISIT.  I went down on the bus with Kevin, Rich, Paul, Pete, my mother, and a few dozen other people from our church.  We didn’t even make it through security.  We got stuck in a huge line of people for three hours and then ended up watching the Mass on television at the Comcast building. But it was strangely moving, being in a completely secular place, surrounded by thousands of people who are all saying the same prayers, participating in the same Mass with you.  We went out to the parkway to receive Communion.  So I’ve received Communion that was consecrated by the Pope.  How many people can say that? (Also I got interviewed for the Citizens Voice because of it, and now I’m a local celeb.)

To start October off right, Channing, Jess, Missy, and I had dinner at Thai Thai.  The red curry was as delicious as ever.  We’ve done brunch at River Grille a couple Sundays in a row as well.  Sunday afternoon football on the television at the bars is always the best part of September.  I don’t follow it as much as hockey, but every time it starts back up, I’m reminded of how much I really do enjoy it.  Football around here is a BIG deal.  And if I still feel a little stab of pain every time I hear someone mention Eli Manning and the Giants, well, that too shall pass.  Fly, Eagles, fly.  Another nice thing about September was spending more time with my older brother.  Dan is recently single, and we’ve been hanging out a lot more than we used to when he was visiting Christina every other weekend.  Although I miss her, I have to admit it’s been hilarious good times to go out again with Dan and see old friends, be goofy in the Babetski way, talk about life and love and being grown-ups in this wide, wide world.

I guess if there’s a point to this rambling post, it’s this: my family and friends are an incredible gift to me.  I have felt such spiritual silence in the past few months, such a weight on my soul.  I just keep going back to the basics of my life, saying to myself in the words of St. Pio: Pray, hope, and don’t worry.  Use this time to stay close with your family, to build your friendships and shine your nerdy little light out into the world.  I am happy here in Wilkes-Barre; I want to spread a little of that happiness and peace to the people I love.  And if that sounds cheesy, well, I’ve always been a romantic at heart.

Here’s to fall in the Northeast.  Let’s go run around in the woods and find some wild grapes.

Journal 9.3.15

September 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

September 3rd, 2015:

My prayer right now is for contrition, to understand more deeply how my sin wounds the heart of Jesus and to take strength from that, in order to not commit certain sins again. It seems to me that I get stuck in a loop, very easy to do when you’ve been born and raised with your faith like I have, and there’s really not a lot of major stuff going on in my life.  Loop: get frustrated, distracted, angry, sorrowful, commit sins, feel remorse, manage to make it to Confession on a Saturday morning, remember for a few days how good forgiveness feels, get distracted, frustrated, repeat.  But it shouldn’t be like that. I shouldn’t take it so lightly.  I think I’m struggling with futility right now as well. Just that horrible feeling that no matter how hard I try, I’m going to be stuck in this spot in my life forever.  Which is, in itself, a turning away from trust in God, from relinquishing control of my future to His care.  So, contrition and trust.

A few things I’m especially grateful for today: my good friend Matt, who opened his own insurance agency and got me a better deal on car insurance!  What a grown-up thing to be grateful for.  Also, it’s my turn for a weekend at the beach!  I’m going to Longport to spend Labor Day weekend with my relatives there. Counting down the hours!

Today, I am not going to worry about tomorrow.

Mother Mary, comfort me.

Heart of Jesus, help me.

Journal 8.27.15

August 27, 2015 § 1 Comment

August 27th, 2015

My prayer right now is to come to a better understanding of my day-to-day vocation from God.  To find my balance between being in society, being a part of this crazy mixed-up world, and keeping my interior thoughts and heart focused on Jesus and the things not of this world.  Balance has been on my mind so much lately, as such a necessary part of life.  I know I feel better in every way when I spend time in solitude and quiet prayer with God,, but I also know I’m an extrovert and it energizes me to be around people, laughing and talking and staying up late.  The struggle to find the balance between these two ways of life is what I’ve been working on for a while now.

A few things I’m especially grateful for today: a few days of quiet at the house for me and my dad… while the rest of the family is on vacation down in Longport!  I’m so grateful for my relatives who share their blessings with us, like the beach house.  My mom texted me that she’s saying her morning prayers on the porch of the beach house, with the early morning breeze and the sound of crashing waves for company.

Today, I am not going to worry about: money.  Ha.

Mother Mary, comfort me.

Heart of Jesus, help me.

Journal 8.26.15

August 26, 2015 § 1 Comment

August 26th, 2015:

My prayer right now is to take things one day at a time, to remember that Jesus’ love is stronger and greater than any human love, to be quieter, to focus more on my daily prayers.  To reach out to a sister more and be a better friend to her. To be more patient with people.  If I truly feel that God’s vocation for me right now is to be out among so many people, to be “all things to all men” (as Elisabeth Leseur said so many times in her wonderful book!), then I need to live up to that with everyone, not just the company it is easy to enjoy.  To not let my emotions sway my spiritual life so much. This has been one of the hardest lessons of heartbreak: realizing how focused on a human being’s love I have been. I always used to quote that one book (Not A Sparrow Falls) “the arms of flesh will fail you” and be so sure I wouldn’t ever be so focused on a person’s love that it would shake my faith in Jesus, but as usual pride goes before the fall, and that’s exactly what happened.  I know Jesus’ love is better. I know all the right things, I just need to figure out how to put them into practice.  Reading 2nd Corinthians right now, a chapter every other night, to give me time to think on the words.  (So grateful for the wonders of modern technology sometimes: the USCCB’s online Bible is handy to have around, because if I forget what I read the night before, I can pop on it and refresh my memory.)  Stab of pain in my heart when I read 2 Corinthians Chapter 3, because it has the verse about us being Paul’s “living epistles”… that we are the letter from God to be read by the world, and that verse has always reminded me of children, of raising children to love God and the Church, all the saints and angels and the beauty of Catholicism.  So I decided to offer up the pain at not having children yet for all the mothers considering abortion.  It made me feel a little bit better but I’m no saint yet.

A few things I’m especially grateful for today: Getting to see friends from out of town… Veronica, when she came in for the wedding…. Callie visited for a few days and we all went to Knoebels… I hung out at Ron’s apartment last night and had a great heart-to-heart with him and Erica.  (It’s so funny to think that a year ago today, I didn’t know either of them, or Harry or any of his friends.  They have brought so much joy into my life.)  Ang is at the PNA Convention right now and was named assistant secretary of the convention!!  Hahaha I shouldn’t even be surprised.  Henry Rat appears to be the healthiest old man rat in the world.

Today, I am not going to worry about meeting up with Danny.  I am not going to look back at all the mistakes I’ve made in the past year and a half and wish that I hadn’t. I’m going to pray and focus on the daily good things.

Mother Mary, comfort me.

Heart of Jesus, help me.

 

Ghosts, Gold, and Yoga

August 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

No one ever told me living with a ghost would be so easy.  I used to be terrified of ghosts, until I realized the true source of their power lies not in their unearthliness, but in the way they drag the past with them like rattling chains.  Ghost on my shoulder, ghost in my ear.  There is nothing scary in the whisper-thin memories that elude my desperate attempts to grab them midair and squeeze the life out of them.  They are simply my past.  I want to tell the ghost boy: give me my memories back.  Make it so I can stop hoping you return to life, full formed, like Athena springing from the forehead of Zeus. Let me rest, let me sleep in peace and not wake up with a ghost in my head and a fist around my heart.

There should be a statute of limitations on heartbreak.  After a certain amount of time, you are no longer able to be pierced by sorrow at a moment’s notice.  You wait it out and then your time has expired, you can go free, there is no hold on you now.  “Yes, the defense rests.”

I rest.  No longer on defense against memories, I rest, and I get up, and I walk away. I am free. My statute of limitations has come into play and these feelings are gone. You have no claim on me now, prosecutor.

Life has no statute of limitations on memories though. You just have to work through them, every single day.

Even when it’s hard, I keep being strong. I feel like heart-strength is a habit, just like doing yoga each week has given me the muscles I never had for push-ups. Yoga has taught me so much about myself.  Like: you have to keep trying, even when everything inside is crying for a break. When your core is hurting, you have to push through it.  Or, when you want to cry over what was, pick your head up instead. Hold that High Plank pose a little longer. Don’t send that heartsore email.

Feel the burn? It means you’re getting stronger. High push-up to low push-up, inhale to upward facing dog, exhale to downward facing dog. Move through it, just go. Don’t pause for a drink, just keep going. Don’t cry over a boy, don’t be jealous when you see wedding pictures, don’t hate yourself for being so small and petty and weak, just go, just move through it. Breathe. Pray. One pose to the next. One more day. Move. Breathe.

I think one of the reasons I have fallen so deeply in love with yoga is because it is relatively new to my life.  I started this class with my friend back in January, and so it holds no memories, no ghostly reminders.  In the hard work (and it is hard, it leaves me sweating and spent every week), there is only a sense of getting stronger.  Of becoming better, pushing myself forward.  And so it reflects into my day-to-day life.  I try to do all the right things: going on a date instead of sitting at home watching Netflix, reading my book about Elisabeth Leseur and her love for Christ and her husband, being the World’s Best Aunt to my adorable niece and nephew, going to morning Mass at least twice a week.  Through all of it, I’ve learned healing from a relationship is best done through other relationships, because we are human and are made for each other.  Healing is found in loving all the other people in my life with all that extra love I have now because he walked away from it.  It’s in the road trips to far-away friends that I have time to take now. It’s in the late night coffee-and-dessert talks with my mother and the bright sailboat afternoons in Toronto and the goofy dance parties with my sisters in Michigan.  Healing is in my yawning efforts to wake up early for 7AM Mass, because even though all my private prayers are tears and anger, at least being at Mass is saying “I’m here, Jesus, and I know you are too.”

I am slowly (oh, so slowly) coming to the understanding that I can glean wisdom and strength from my struggle -indeed, that it may even be my duty to do so- and that to be refined into gold means passing through fire.  This understanding, I think, is what will banish the ghost in the end.

August Already

August 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

“You have made us for Yourself, oh Lord
And our hearts are restless until they rest in You”
– Saint Augustine

-I’ve been a little morose lately, and despite my best efforts, I can’t find the right words to write a deep, insightful blog post, so I will just say this quick summary: John and I broke up, not because of anything wrong or terrible, but just because we are, in our faith and beliefs, very different people.  It was not easy, even though we’d only been together for one month. It was hard and sad, and I’m really getting sick of the ‘right thing to do’ always being the hardest thing to do, but it was right.  He is a wonderful guy and honestly I have so much respect for him, even more so since he called me a few days ago to make sure I knew he didn’t hate me for ending things, and to tell me he wanted us to still be friendly and on good terms.  I was so sad and guilt-stricken for breaking up with him, and I cried a lot, even though I knew it had to happen.  So when he called me, it was such a sweet moment of grace and forgiveness, it made up for the whole past week of feeling like utter garbage for hurting someone’s heart. He’s a good man.  I feel like I can go out to Michigan this weekend with a lighter heart now.

-Yes, that’s right, I’m visiting my favorite flatland this week!  Friday through Tuesday, I’ll be in the Mitten.  They’re having a memorial Mass and ceremony for baby Cecilia on Sunday, so I wanted to get out there for that, of course.  Also, Catherine and Matthew have made it clear we are going to make a day trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes State Park, and it’s going to be epic.  Those crazy kids.

-Yesterday night was Wednesday- okay, all day was Wednesday- which means hot yoga!! It really astonishes me sometimes, to see how much I enjoy this crazy killer workout every week.  Just once a week, though.  I’m still lazy as heck.  People don’t think of yoga as a workout, but the hot yoga class I take is intense.  You move from pose to pose within a few seconds, which means you’re constantly stretching your muscles to their limit.  I can do almost ten push-ups now.  (Generally I collapse after 7 or 8.)  If I ever need evidence that God puts things in our life just when we realllly need them, all I have to do is look at hot yoga, and my friend Erica, who introduced it to me.

-I splurged a little bit on myself a few weeks ago and bought a Kindle Fire 6.  My laptop was old and decrepit, but I didn’t feel like I needed to invest in another laptop.  I stare at a computer all day at the office, so the last thing I want to do when I leave work is stare at another screen.  But I wanted something, just for those times when I watch Netflix in my bed (hi, Firefly!) and write blog posts.  After a little research, I got the Kindle Fire 6 and I really like it!  It’s a perfect size for watching shows, and my brother has a wireless keyboard I can sync to it for writing.  You can also set up multiple profiles, which means I’m going to set one up for my mother so she can listen to the Toronto Maple Leafs games online no matter where she is in the house!  (Although one wonders why she willingly subjects herself to the agony and angst of being a Leafs fan….one truly wonders.)  It’s at odd moments like this when I’ll suddenly miss Danny: when I opened the Kindle Fire and started playing around with it, when I was browsing Amazon’s site to see which tablet would fit what I needed… he was so into stuff like that and it was always fun to hear him discourse on the pros and cons of a dozen different electronic items.  (I was just thinking… is it wrong of me to say I miss Danny still?  I’ve healed, I know that.  But I *did* miss him; I couldn’t help it.  It wasn’t a heartbreaking feeling, just a “man I wish I could ask Danny his opinion on this”.  A holdover remnant of 6 years of reluctant Best Buy visits and technology talk.  I think it isn’t wrong, because I didn’t miss him in a romantic way.  I missed him in a best friend way, which is totally understandable because he *was* my best friend, for many years.  All right, I feel better now.)

-Speaking of splurging on myself, have I mentioned me and Channing are going to Costa Rica in November!?!?  Yes, that sentence deserves all that punctuation.  Our friend Jess lives in a little town on the west coast of Costa Rica, and we’re visiting her for 5 days.  I found us a great deal out of Newark airport- non-stop both ways!- and into San Jose.  I think we’ll probably spend our last night in the city.  You can see the ocean from Jess’ apartment.  I cannot wait to just be lazy in the sun and sand all week long.  Okay, maybe I’ll do a little snorkeling or some ocean activity, too.  Please keep an eye out for all our pictures, which will be flooding Instagram and Facebook under the hashtags #tammytanlines and #sallysunburn.  (You all know which one I am.)

Well, I’m not really in the mood to wax all philosophical, but I wanted to post something.  I felt like I needed to write.  So this post is a bit more diary-like than I usually want my blog to be, but *shrug*.  They can’t all be Pulitzer winners.

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