Ambition

September 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

This is the story of a compliment.

About a month ago I had a rare Tuesday night off from work at the Cafe, and I had gone over to my boyfriend’s house for the evening.  We decided to go for ice cream after dinner, which is a really easy decision to make when you live in NEPA, since there is an ice cream place within 5 minutes of everyone’s house.  As a matter of fact, there are at least four ice cream places within a 5 minute drive of Matt’s house.  But that’s not really the point.

We were sitting in his Volkswagen bus, licking our cones and trying to invent ways you could get more sprinkles onto soft ice cream.  Matt made some offhand comparison and I said, “That’s a good metaphor.”  I paused and then (because I’m the kind of person who also thinks it’s fun to diagram sentences in my head), I said in a goofy, fake-smart voice: “Do you know the difference between a metaphor and a simile?  A metaphor is a direct statement of comparison and a simile uses the words ‘like’ or ‘as’.”

Predictably, Matt snorted at me and asked, “Am I in English class right now?”

(Like you, dear reader, I assumed his question was rhetorical.)

But then he continued in a more serious tone.  “Why aren’t you an English teacher, actually?  You’re so  smart.  You could probably get ridiculous scholarships and get through college so easily.  Why didn’t you ever do that?”

I thought about it for a few seconds and shrugged.  “I never wanted to be a teacher.  And I never had the money to go to college.”  But that seemed like an excuse once I said it so I kept going.  “Honestly, when I was 18, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  So I figured I’d work for a little while, save up some money, and then go to school.”

I paused to lick my cone, because chocolate ice cream was about to cascade off, slither down my hand, and drip onto my light-blue summer shorts, presumably leaving a trail of rainbow sprinkle destruction behind.  I caught the drip in time, though.

“I never had a burning ambition, or a career I dreamed about doing, except maybe writing.  I never cared if people thought how smart I was.  I never wanted people to think of me and say ‘Rose is so smart!’.  I guess if I have an ambition for my life, it’s that I want to be a genuinely good person.  I want people to think of me and say, ‘Rose is a kind person.’  That sounds cheesy but it’s true.”

I gave Matt a self-conscious smile, because it did sound cheesy to say it out loud, but he didn’t tease me or make fun of me.

He just looked silently at me for a few seconds, and then said, “Well, you’re doing a really good job at it so far.”

I said thank you, very quietly, but my eyes were shining.

………

It does sound cheesy though, doesn’t it?  But why?  Does it have too much of a do-gooder sound to it?  Or Barney the Big Purple Dinosaur, with his “sharing is caring!” goop?  So I’ve been trying to think of examples, to make my ambition into something I can take seriously.  What is kindness?

Kindness is my mother washing at least 10 dirty dishes of cat food every day because she’s too kind not to feed the strays on our back porch.  It’s Sam playing soccer with Reagan in the restaurant parking lot even though she just worked a long shift, because he’s so excited to play with her.  Kindness is Matt coming over my family’s house for dinner on a weeknight, even though he’s exhausted from work, because he knows it means a lot to me.  It’s Jeff, my boss and owner of the Cafe, giving the dishwasher rides home after work because he doesn’t drive.  Being kind is what Angela did when she worked at Salvation Army and spoke Spanish to the customers when they needed it, even if it made her job a little harder.  It’s my aunts always being there to help my family out.  It’s my brother-in-law helping to pay for Cathy’s car repairs.  So many more examples come to my mind as I write.  So many people I know, doing great and small acts of kindness.

And then it hits me: all these examples I’ve thought of are really just people being unselfish.  It’s all examples of people giving themselves up for others, putting others first.  Generous, unselfish love.  So maybe I should fix my words.  Maybe instead of saying “I want to be kind”, what I’m trying to say is “I want to be unselfish.”  And that’s a worthwhile enough ambition for anyone.  That’s the work of a lifetime.

 

The Taste of Spring

April 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

Spring has arrived in NEPA.  I can tell because at the hockey games, the sunset light is still glowing through the arena doors midway through the first period.  Playoff hockey is here too, with its inevitable tastes of hunger (I can’t eat because I’m too nervous because we’re about to hit double overtime in a Game 7), and sweet, cold ice cream (the only time of year I’m warm enough to eat ice cream at the hockey games is during playoffs), and soft pretzels with mustard.  I wonder what playoff hockey tastes like to the guys on the ice.  Blood in the mouth, sweat on the upper lip, fresh adrenaline maybe?  This is why I could never be a sports reporter, because those are the things I want to know.

LatteEver since Matt and I started dating, I find myself paying a lot more attention to the flavor of whatever coffee I happen to be drinking.  I’m getting coffee-spoiled by him and his personally roasted coffee beans.  For instance, I’ve never really noticed the taste of the foam on a cappuccino before.  Normally my coffees come in to-go cups with lids and tiny slit openings.  Most of the foam is lost, squished against the lid’s surface, a sad waste for an unappreciative plastic container.  But Matt makes me cappuccinos in warm ceramic mugs with the foam layered richly on top and I taste it in every sip.  It floats like meringue on my tongue, that complex and wonderful combination of airy thickness, a light weight, the flavor of contradictions.  The milk foam is bland by itself, but then he taps a dash of cinnamon across the top, a spice that has always tasted of childhood delight to me.  When I take a sip and it mixes with the rich darkness of the espresso hidden below, I can’t help but smile to myself, because it’s a grown-up drink now.

Chan and IChanning asked me to be one of her bridesmaids for her wedding next year.  She gave me and Jess and Missy cute little cards with a wonderfully adorable handwritten message inside for each of us.  Friendship tastes sweet in the soul: a warm and uplifting flavor of joy.  I couldn’t be more proud to be in her wedding, to help her and Mike make a commitment to each other in front of all of our friends and family.  If true friendship means looking out at the world ahead together and wanting only the good things for each other, then Chan and I have it nailed.  We hauled each other to our feet so many times after falling down and we kept on going.  (Literally.  This one time, at Franklin’s, we were singing along to the jukebox at the top of our lungs: Friends In Low Places by Garth Brooks, and when we tried to get “low” we fell down on top of each other.)

The poet T.S. Eliot famously wrote: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land”, but I have never been able to reconcile that cold- albeit beautiful- imagery with spring here in the valley.  I once wrote a poem about October- how the autumn month reminds me of a graceful old woman.  And if so, then Spring in Pennsylvania is a beautiful girl.  She dances around the corners of April, a blithe maid wearing a new dress. She tastes of cold lemonade and fresh rain, a soft kiss in sun-dappled shade.  She is strong in a way most young girls are not: she brings with her only the necessary storms.  She weaves early flowers into her hair as a crown and counts “he loves me, not” on petals as they swirl through her fingers.  She is full of earnest hope and the ancient promise that joy will always enter in with the dawn.  Spring is a girl with knowledge of beginnings, of nurturing.  Her feet are planted firmly in the newly tilled earth and she has only begun to know the true strength of roots. The stars in her eyes are not blinding; they strike a spark of grace and wonder and an age-old longing for the truth of things. Above all, like all the beautiful girls throughout time, Spring yearns.

 

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.

 

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

 

Gyroscope

October 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

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“I wish I could explain being here to you. These woods and the paths winding through them, the pond and the wetlands.  It’s like- do you know what a gyroscope is?”

“I know it helps keep a plane upright!”

“I think we all have our own gyroscope places. Places in our lives that keep us balanced, bring us back to an upright and secure position. Our axis points true north here, holding us firmly as the world spins around us, reminding us of the steadying truth found in simple joys. Grace, peace, fellowship, rest.  In the midst of our swiftly tilting days, these are our lodestones.  They draw us back ever and again.  Their beautiful gravity is not temporal; it is an inward reality, unchanging in the seasons and years that may pass between our visits.  While our wandering lives dance like the moon across the sky, all changing shape and face, these polestar places never waver.  When we do return for a visit, we are more ourselves here than anywhere else.  We find a firm foundation beneath our feet.  We can hear our hearts, each shushing beat.  Reoriented with our guiding lines, we squint and smile in the fading light, and it does not hurt to say goodbye, goodbye and goodnight.”

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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.

Strength

September 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

On my bad days, I think about all the strong things I’ve done in my life lately, all the things I thought I would never, ever be strong enough to do.  I think of them and remember how much I dreaded them, how the thought of doing them made me sick with fear, but they’re done now.  They’re in my past.  I survived.  I am okay with where I am in my life right now.  I got myself to this place, no one else but me.  Obviously I had help but the decisions and the carrying out of them were mine. So I think to myself: I am strong.  And that is a wondrous thing.

I had an old poster from when The Fellowship of the Ring was first released as a movie, and Frodo was on the front, holding the ring in his palm and staring down at it. It said “Power can be held in the smallest of things.”  I think of that poster, and I look down at my skinny little chicken arms, no biceps to speak of, and I laugh out loud in delight at the odd turnings of the world and the keenness of minds who find wonder in paradox.

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.

 

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