Sunday, September 30, 2012

oasis in the oubliette

Friday night, my life was transformed.
Friday night, I was Intro-duced (as it were) to this:


My world has changed.
Chary and fearful of the change at first, I have come to embrace and delight in this brave new world that has such music in it.
My travel companions were surprised that, in view of my insane obsession with Some Nights, I lacked all knowledge of the existence of this horrifying and enchanting, heart-wrenching and haunting song.
Some Nights has reached the level of an anthem in my life--something that transcends just a favorite song-- it's somehow mysteriously become a call to a way of life. Discovering this unknown missing piece has turned my world upside down.

 There are some nights I hold on to every note I ever wrote/
Waiting for catastrophes, imagine when they scare me/
Into changing whatever it is I am changing into...

The first verse of the song sets up the interior battle that is waging war in the soul of the protagonist throughout the Some Nights story. He holds onto his work as an island in a vast sea of unmeasured discontent and gargantuan insecurity. But this no-man's-land of his art is insufficient to calm his mind, slowly being driven insane by the question: who am I?

 And you have every right to be scared.

Choking on his bitterness and agony, he cries out to his beloved, lashing out at her, at the world, and challenging her: why are you still here? He can't even deal with the interior turmoil that leads him to the brink of insanity; why would anyone stick with a human being who is such a hot mess of crippling existential crises? And then during that last verse, piercing through the black murk of painful indecision and hurt comes a ray of grace: a prayer for a sign, a savior. Whether or not he has the eyes to  see the sign is unclear: our protagonist is too scared to look inward, terrified of what's above him. He is trapped within himself, while desperately trying to escape from himself.

The ending line never fails to make tears threaten to leak out of my eyes and twists my soul and heart up in knots. 
He's not ready to engage in the battle for himself. The world of tea parties and Twitter doesn't allow time for crippling existential crises. One must just get on with life, because time is racing into the future at 60 seconds per minute, and there's no way to press the  pause button while trying to work out our identity. 
We just have to try to get some sleep and wake up to fight another day. 
Maybe he can't fight the fight just yet. But he can still wake up, even though he's completely unsure of what he stands for, where he stands, or even how he is still standing.

Friday, September 28, 2012

subtext [it's under the text]

Art must not be a separate and special thing. The intention of art has always been to deepen, extend, elevate, ennoble, strengthen, and refresh the experience of living. True escape for man can be provided only by art, to taste life in its full flavor he has not the experience or equipment or style [outside of art].
--William Saroyan


Last night, I behooved myself to the Grotto. As Denise would say (and as I'm so fond of quoting), there was no other appropriate action.
Words don't often fail me, but sometimes they do. 
Throughout the day yesterday, I couldn't find the words to describe anything I was feeling or thinking or saying. All the words I had had been put on stage, and those were the only words I was thinking of, and they were no longer mine to say. The sound of my heartbeat was the sound of those words. I had to remind myself to breathe and not get lost in the words running through my mind. And then I heard the sound of my own heartbeat being spoken back at me, like looking into a verbal mirror. 
It gave me shivers of somber delight.

After the show finally happened, with showers of words and roses, I wandered to the Grotto, and just basked. Just basked in the radiance of the candles--warm lights shining in the midst of the crisp autumn night. I love the glow of the Grotto's throng of candles: it's warm and cozy, and instantly comforting.
I don't usually like the stark floodlights that shine on the statue of Our Lady. I don't like fluorescent lighting, and usually go out of my way to avoid it. If I had created the world, all lighting would be perpetually stuck at the Golden hour. The magic time of day that heralds sunset is the most beautiful lighting known to man. All good lighting is an attempt to mimic or capture that lighting.

And then, I retreated from the warm haven of the candles to a bench on the outskirts of the Grotto. My gaze shifted from the cozy den of candles to the heavens. I looked up above the surrounding trees at the sky, and was enchanted: the grey shreds of clouds were rolled back in one patch, and the moon shone through. The silver moon, radiating it's cold, stark light in the dark blue atmosphere. The light cast its spell on me, and I was transfixed by its beauty. It was the same light that was shining around Mary. So I looked back at her, and was transfixed by her beauty as well. Caught in this paralysis of beauty, I found I had no words to express anything. 
I could only delight in the light shining around me.

Unlike the poem, essay, story, or novel, a play is not fully created in itself, as a play. It is not an affair, finally, between one man and one man: the writer and the reader. It becomes fully created only through the deliberate and cultivated functioning of a considerable number of people rehearsed to behave harmoniously and on schedule, so that a desired meaning and message will be conveyed to each individual beholding the play, a meaning which more or less should be the same to all the individuals in the audience.
--William Saroyan

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

it's all uncharted


If you have curly hair, you are forced to rely on the providence of God.

Each day when I wake up and look in the mirror at the rat's nest that my hair morphed into during the night, it is the beginning of a daily exercise in surrendering to the phrase: not my will, but yours be done. 

If I curl my hair to perfection, and then walk outside into 89% humidity, all my human handiwork will be rendered bootless; my hair will whither away into flat, Medusa-like strands. These pigeon-livered ringlets cowardly give up the fight to stay curled, and instead just fall limply from my head, surrendering to the atmospheric moisture and heat.

And don't even get me started on blow-drying hair. For some reason, if I move from one room to the next, the infinitesimally tiny barometric differences in air pressure and humidity, and/or the temperature of the blow-dryer will render drastically different results each time.
 My hair either looks like a swarm of angry bees is living in it, or like I just walked out of a Vogue magazine.

So usually, I just brush it, take a card from our pal Willow and whip it back and forth, and then step out into the Great Outdoors. I take nothing with me on my day's journey : no hairspray, nor straightener, nor gel, nor headband, nor mousse--not even an extra ponytail. I send my hair out into the villages and simply trust that in the end all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Throughout the day, the mirrors I encounter are a constant reminder that events are going on inside and about and above and below and all around me that are beyond my control. One of these reminders consists of 100,000 hairs attached to the top of my head. Some nights, after a long day of adventure, I look in the mirror and marvel at the fact that each hair is perfectly in place, and the waves of chestnut silk are falling just so, creating something miraculous. Something beautiful has been formed out of my obstinate, unruly curls.
But some nights, as I check back in with the mirror, I think that I could use some straight hair for a change. 


Each day, as I exit the door, I embrace the possibility that my hair may end up looking monstrous or divine. And ultimately, I'm not in control of that. I can only do my best to prepare my hair for the ravages of weather that the day will bring.

"And as far as faiths go, Christianity is decidedly Tookish. When Christ summoned those early disciples, urging them to exchange their fishing nets for greater, bolder tasks, the disciples responded with a mix of curiosity and courage."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Heloise is working just fine now

I like roller coasters. 
I like being tossed around, being pulled up and down and round about, barreling down tracks at break-neck speed. I love that adrenaline rush of being completely out-of-control.
And I love knowing that inside of me is a core of stillness that simply moving up and down in a metal car is never going to shake.

I like summer storms--oh gosh, I love summer storms. I love tempests and tornadoes and wind knocking over trees.
I love storms. 
And I love being inside when a storm hits, safe and snug as the wind and rain rage outside. The weather beats upon the roof of your shelter.
But you are safe and warm.
One summer, I watched from inside a park shelter as a river of water flooded over the steps next to the window. I remember the sheer volume and power of the water running over those stairs. I watched it with wide eyes, just a few feet away, perfectly safe and dry.

I like storms, as long as I know they won't harm me.

I do not like internal storms.
I do not like interior turmoil and strife. When I am not at peace, when I am not living in the normal idyllic state of Joy, I am unsettled.
And I don't like that.
When the roller coaster is inside me rather than around me, when the storm is interior as well as exterior--that frightens me.
I don't like to think of myself as a roller coaster--it's terrifying to feel unstable, on the edge and jolting up and down.
Last week, about this time, I found myself riding a roller coaster of ups and downs, and it was unpleasant. Very. Not knowing which way your emotions will tend, seeing the exhaustion and stress rising to a breaking point and fearing that critical mass will occur at any moment makes for an exhausting existence.

This week, as I dove into yet another week of busy gadding about and checking off tasks, I was afraid that the storm which had subsided would arise again. I dreaded it.
Then I found the grace to laugh at my worries.

Heart be still!, as the poet says, have faith in the One whom even the wind and the sea obey. If He is capable of calming the storm that engulfs us on all sides is He not also more than capable of calming the storm of our hearts and minds?
What storm then, interior or exterior, can prevail?

Monday, September 24, 2012

productive, cozy, and a happy sort of blah.

The world is sorrowful. The world needs laughter. Harry is funny. The world needs Harry. Harry will make the world laugh. 
--William Sharyoan, The Time of Our Lives

 Goodness me.
So I had a test this morning.
And I made it there and back again, through no merit of my own.
Literally.
My glorious roommate woke me up at ten til eight, since both my alarms failed to go off. One of the best sensations is waking up and feeling a laugh overtake your beings right away. One of the least pleasant feelings to wake up to is the cold hand of dread squeezing the warmth out of your heart.
Rommie whisked me off the ground where I'd fallen asleep (the concept of sleeping in beds has become a foreign idea to me. Ah, the small indignities of college.), and prayed to St. Joseph of Cupertino with me.
I ran to the test. And by ran I just mean power walked while reviewing my Bible passages manically. Who was Zebulun's mother??? Bilhah?? Zilpah?? Who??
And then I got to the test and sat down.

The two questions (there were only two questions. Oh God, beyond all praising, thank you.) were questions that had intrigued me and that were close to my heart, that I'd prayed over and thought over.
I was not going to be called upon to recite all the twelve sons of Israel and their respective mothers or the describe the Temple.
Blessing the name of St. Joseph, and thanking the Lord for the salvific act of my rommie, I began the test with a much more joyful heart. Cold hands of dread, begone.

~

Like my rommie, there are people who just burst like rays of grace and light into our lives.
There is one dynamic slip of a boy who always makes me smile. He is possesses the unique, enthralling charm of the openly, utterly genuine person. He is glorious in his simple himself-ness.

We had rehearsal yesterday, which was a good rehearsal and all, but it's tech week.
Tech week means five things: stress, stress, tension, stress, and stress. It's just pressure on top of pressure on top of pressure. Inevitably, at the beginning of tech week, one wants to scream or throw things, or cry out imprecations at everyone in the room, or burst into tears at the overwhelming incompetence of humanity.
Caught in the web of tech-induced stress, I was passive-aggressively typing on my computer in a corner of the theatre. then this boy comes up to me, and shares a story with me. A story that asks a question this play answers.
So I told him the answer the play gives. And he smiles and says: thank you, gives me many compliments I do not deserve in his endearing Venezuelan accent, and a warm hug.
As my heart melts as rapidly as butter in a microwave, I realize that even if there is never a latch on that one door, or if that one light cue is off, or if the sound levels are never adjusted perfectly, the story is still being told.
Theatre at it's heart is not about smoke and mirrors, it's the story.

How blessed I am to have gems such as these friends in my own story.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

who needs entropy anyway?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word entropy as a lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.
~

The hot chocolate spilled out of the styrofoam cup. It trickled like a dark brown river from the broken black plastic lid. The harsh fluorescent lights and the white-washed cement floor looked so mournfully clean. But cutting through the sterile blah-ness was a chocolate stream, winding it's way towards the drainage vent in the floor. 

~
I was in adoration the other day, and I saw myself enter the room. 

As she entered, she brought gusts of wind with her. When people enter a room, you can tell if they've been running or walking or tip-toeing. She entered the room at a normal, adagio pace, but con molto moto. She hadn't been engaging in intense activity, but she had been moving. She sat down in a chair, let her backpack slip off her shoulder and fall to the floor with a silent thud. She looked up at the monstrance, was silent for a moment, collecting herself. After that silent greeting, she unzipped her backpack and, Mary Poppins-like, pulled out one book and journal after another. Spreading these accoutrements of prayer around her, she then eased herself off the chair onto her knees. And then she was still.
Not that she had been making any disruptive physical sound, but you could see the noisiness in her spirit. And then she fell to her knees and was silent.

I watched her and wondered if that's what I look like sometimes.
I also wondered if she's that person who spreads her stuff all over a desk when she goes into class.
Sometimes you just have to spread out and fill the space you're in with all the little articles of your world. It's a little messy, but life is loosely structured chaos, not organization.
The state of my room accurately reflects that belief.

~
The other day, I organized my Gmail (my life is ridiculously exciting. Somedays I get REALLY crazy and clean the desktop of my MacBook. I know, I know, I'm a wild child).
Organizing email is one of those bizarre things humans (humans in developed countries with internet access) do in an attempt to feel like we have a grasp on our lives--that we have it all under control. Nothing makes you feel more on-top of things than having sorted the 25 new messages neatly away into color-coded folders. It makes one feel like we have a grip on what's going on in the godless wasteland of our gmail account. And if we have a grasp on the ever-burgeoning chaos of our inboxes, then by extension, we have a grasp on the chaotic mess we call living.

How silly we are to think we can grasp a life when we can't even grasp the mystery of ourselves. I always feel so foolishly accomplished when everything (especially my gmail) is organized.
But I don't think he who folds his clothes the neatest has hit upon the true purpose and ultimate meaning of life. (If that's the case, I'm in trouble, because my poor clothes haven't been folded since third grade). Rather, life is something undefinable and unpredictable. Something a little more mysterious and a little more magnificent. Trying to hold onto our lives is like trying to describe why O God, Beyond all Praising makes you weep for joy. Somethings have no name--they simply are what they are.

Friday, September 21, 2012

look up

Today is a very Thought Catalog sort of day.
And I like that.
 It's been a day full of grey clouds, crisp fall air, the smell of coffee and apples, great friends and good conversations. And then I happily found a Thought Catalog article that made my heart do little jumping jacks of joy.
This article asks the central question that lies at the heart of each human being: 
what is beautiful?

Each human so desperately needs to know that their own beauty adds something to the splendor of the world. We are an integral part of the created universe, and we cannot look up at a star-filled night sky, or see swans swimming on a glassy lake without yearning for that brilliant beauty to be a part of our own loveliness.
How could a human being possibly be ugly? We are the crowning glory of a creation that is made up of the smell of lilacs, snow capping the tops of tall green mountains, and sunsets over the Pacific ocean. There's a reason poets use nature to try to describe the beauty of their beloved. Language is a limit, reaching out into the infinite, but never quite approaching it. Poetry is the limit of beauty: always trying to capture just what makes love so beautiful, trying to see the answer to the question: why do my beloved's eyes sparkle so? searching for the answer to: why does my heart skip a beat when a touch the lily-white of her hand? And so poets turn to nature: a beauty much less dangerous and less awe-filled than the beauty of another human.

But I have seen what beautiful is.
For the past month, I have been privileged to watch three beautiful women enter a room and share so incredibly generously of themselves.
I have watched them tell a story that requires themselves to give and give and give. And they keep giving. And that is absolutely beautiful.
I have seen them laugh together, joke together, sometimes shed tears together, and hug one another.
We have sassed each other, we have challenged each other. We have had mental breakdowns, we have dissolved into laughter.

What's so beautiful about all that?
Art, my friends. We're making art. 
What's art?
Art is beauty. And beauty is truth. It's about that simple. 
Watching a room of six women strip away all the exterior armor that we hide ourselves in and let the truth about ourselves shine through? 
That's wondrously beautiful.
Telling a story that's telling the truth is powerfully beautiful.
That's the lesson that art teaches us: 
Seek truth and find beauty. 
Or seek beauty and find truth.
They never depart from one anther.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

a life worthy of being storied

The girl who reads has spun out the account of her life and it is bursting with meaning. She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. 
-Charles Warnke "You Should Date An Illiterate Girl"


Sometimes you find little snippets of literature that describe your life philosophies.
I.e., these few:

"An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. An adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered."
"You are to be a light-bearer. You are to choose the light."
"Love never fails."

But then sometimes you find a piece that describes who you are. Who you want to be.

 a girl who reads possesses a vocabulary that can describe that amorphous discontent as a life unfulfilled—a vocabulary that parses the innate beauty of the world and makes it an accessible necessity instead of an alien wonder.

Imagine: writing words, crafting phrases that expose the world for the miracle that it is, that paint the world in colors irresistible, uncover the magic that hides in everyday moments.  

a girl who reads understands syntax. Literature has taught her that moments of tenderness come in sporadic but knowable intervals. A girl who reads knows that life is not planar; she knows, and rightly demands, that the ebb comes.


I fell in love with You Should Date an Illiterate Girl so long ago. The piece is a striking juxtaposition between a drab, run-of-the-mill life and a life full of passion, love, beauty and simply 
life. (And the satire slices through the piece like a stiletto.)

She will make her life like her favorite book
 The life the author describes at the beginning is so safe: so nauseatingly safe. Your heart will never be broken, your limits will never be pushed. You will float, and drift and everything will be easy. So stiflingly easy. But it lacks the poetry and the passion that makes life worth the living.
Girls who read are the storytellers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

cast fire upon the world

Song of the week:
 Throwback Edition.



~

Nothing is more beautiful than the loveliness of the woods before sunrise.
George Washington Carver

Another throwback: sunrise. When we got home from Rome, I remember seeing the sunrise every day for about a week solid (thank you, messed up sleep cycle). I hadn't seen sunrise from that side of sleep for a while. It was glorious, and kept that surreal magic quality of Rome alive. It was a process of getting reacquainted with a long-lost friend. 

And then this summer, due to the fact that I actually got sleep, I kept waking up early. The first week, I remember waking up one day before my alarm. My window faced the sunrise, and the sun woke up at 5:00 AM, so I did too. This summer cemented my love-affair with the dawn. 

Thanks to an 8am class this semester, I've been able to see the sunrise most days. Starting the morning with a burst of gold bathing the world is a reminder that each day is something new--a sight unseen, baptized by fire. Today, there was no sunrise, just a bank of clouds and grey rain. But as my brother said: even on a dreary morning, this campus looks absolutely beautiful. The rainiest days only make the Dome shine even brighter.


Though we cannot make our sun// Stand still, yet we will make him run.
--To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvell

Monday, September 17, 2012

venzimün


My best friend is in Spain this semester. Not that I had forgotten this fact, but I was able to conveniently ignore it as best as possible until this weekend, when everything started reminding me of her.

We were having a lazy dinner at McAlister's, sitting outside, watching the cars drive by, and watching the summer afternoon slip into evening. Ingrid Michaelson's Far Away came over the loudspeakers. I realized how much I missed her right in that moment. I can't hear the lines: "another shoreline, in another life" without thinking of all of us climbing rocks by the sea, feeling the ocean spray against our legs, and breathing in the salty air with relish. And then everything reminded me of her: rapping Super Bass while baking; jamming on guitar and singing more Ingrid on a Saturday night; and this morning walking into Starbucks hearing Bon Iver's soft voice floating through the loudspeakers as I stirred milk into the smooth, aromatic caffeinated nectar.

It's rather incredible how we can attach songs, images, locations to a loved one. It's sort of remarkable how simple moments become something greater, because of the person they remind us of. And it's kind of miraculous how, even when seemingly separated from us, someone can continue to dwell with us through the strange little sacramentals we encounter each day: a little girl doing math homework, a friend bringing tea-and-honey, a song, or a sign saying: Please do not place burned out candles on top of new candles. It's hard to feel separated from someone when reminders of their presence await you around every corner. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

in the time of your life, live

 In the time of your life, live -- so that in that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.
--William Sharyoan
~
If you love something, you fight for it.
I've never fought for anything, he suddenly realized. Concurrent with that revelation, he realized he had always known that, but never realized it.
An epiphany. He just experienced an epiphany.
But Epiphanies, as a sensible person could tell you, are simply ourselves fooling ourselves into believing ourselves.

If the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret.
Now that just seems barbaric, he was shocked. Kill, and have no regret?

Kill those parts of ourselves that must die in order to let new life grow. Kill that which chokes us and that which stifles us. Kill what prevents our new light from shining. Kill the festering old loves twisted in on themselves. Let the new loves pierce through the writhing mass of throbbing wounded pride.

~

Place in matter and in flesh the least of values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption.
--W.S.

The music played and the young boy cried. The sky of stars was large and dark above him. Some nights, summer air has a piercing, chilly crispness to it. This was one of those nights. The music said:

You draw me gently to my knees.

"Being broken down, crumbling to your knees doesn't feel very gentle," the child protested.
"There's nothing gentle about genuflecting," responded the man of the cloth.

The smaller you are the easier it is to bow down. And the larger you are, the more it pains you to kneel. A difficult truth. The boy still didn't understand. But resistance seemed more painful than wholly surrendering. He didn't understand that as much as he felt it.

~
Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.


"The more you try to convey reality through language, the more it becomes clear that there is a reality that language cannot express."
--Annie Baker

When you consider the breadth and depth of the human experience, it's a wonder that we can use words at all. Language is highly daunting: one word can capture in it an entire world. Language, like limits on cartesian graphs, endlessly brush against infinity. Because of the life they've lived together, the laughs they've shared, the tears they've cried, two girls can give simple words like Lucky Charms, or shaving cream a weight that no one else will know. Two lovers endow the word adventure with endless meaning; a whole romance and heartbreak captured in one word. Two parents names their child, immediately giving that one simple word all the colors that paint a life.
Words just scratch the surface of these realities. They are the fragile, thin crust that circumferences them. They break down mystery into grasp-able, understandable, speak-able pieces. Words alone can uncover the beautiful hidden reality, but they cannot even begin to describe it.

In the time of your life, live -- so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches.
 Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed.
--W.S.



Thursday, September 13, 2012

posture of the sweetly broken


Miracle of the day: I just made a new friend.

~

Rewinding a bit: today, at lunch, my friend told the story of his Thursday, which started with a burst of panic, then settled into the typical daily chaos. 
I think that about accurately described the entire semester thus far.
 Diving right in? More like being pushed off the high dive and bellyflopping right in.

Last week, at the height of my own chaos, I revisited some advice I received freshman year. 
I always say how blessed I am to have so many incredible women in my life. From directors, fellow actresses, mentors, my mother, I have been given access to an overflowing wealth of feminine wisdom. The following advice on how-to-make-it-through-college was given to me by one of the most wonderful, talented woman I know. 

*Never be afraid to ask for help. I don't care what it is, school work, laundry, time management, ASK! Growing into adulthood doesn't mean never asking for help, please, please don't demand learning this the hard way. You are not invincible... and that's actually a good, beautiful thing 
*No matter what is happening, good or bad, run TO God, not away from Him. Even if you're angry or confused about something, better to yell at HIM then turn your back and walk away. Again, please don't learn this one the hard way, believe me. 
*Worry, ABOUT ANYTHING, is pointless! Chuck EVERYTHING on God, get good advice from people you trust, take steps to fix the things you have some control over, and laugh at the rest. Easier said than done, but vital for sanity AND for enjoying this life God gave us.

It was exactly what I needed to hear two years ago, and it was exactly what I needed to hear last week.
Worrying is unnatural to me, so when I start whirling around in a spin-cycle of anxiety it throws my world off-kilter.

But throughout the week, little moments of peace popped up in the midst of the chaos:


A professor going on an inspired tangent about trust in the middle of a lecture.
A text offering prayers precisely when they were needed.
A hug and a chat that stopped me from running right through my day.
A friend's sunshiney smile breaking through the little clouds of worry circling my head, just like the sunbeams are cutting through the cloud bank above South quad right now.
And of course, my mother. Last week, multiple people who have never met her, but only heard of her accomplishments called her a heroine. Accurate.

And (of course) I stumbled upon was led to this:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—oh you of little faith? 
(To which I can only respond: I get it, I get it. Okay, okayyyyy)

~


Fast-forward to now:

 I find myself in the lobby of the performing arts center, deep in conversation with a precocious fourth-grader with sparkly high-top sneakers doing her math homework. 
She tells me about playing volleyball, about the number of gold behavior stars she has at school, what she thinks college will be like, and how she and her little brother get along. She asks for help with her math homework. She tells me about the boy she has a crush on: he has spiky hair and a really bright smile. I ask her if he's nice, she says the other kids bug him, but he's always nice to her. I say: that's good, then. 
I show her the blog post I'm writing. She asks what else is in my backpack, and I show her my journal. She tells me she doesn't think she has a journal, but there's a notebook at home she can write in. She asks to read my journal. After she has let me so easily into her own life, how can I not let her into mine? She finds a page with a on it poem, and reads:

each valley will end; and the Sun shine clear in the East.


 We make a math problem using our favorite numbers. She shows me her Lisa Frank unicorn folder. Then I say good-bye. I have to go to choir rehearsal. But she's done with math homework, and gets to play on the playground. She says good luck and good to meet you. I say good luck and I'll see you later.


And it was sort of magic.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

unapologetic apology

(Warning: There are a few things in life I am violently passionate about. One of these is Pride & Prejudice. Another is Tangled. Another is hipster-spotting at Quincy's Café. Just so you know what you're working with.)

Recently, I read an article (on a blog I love), entitled: "Why I Hate Mr. Darcy."
The authoress' main point is along the vein of: don't date losers. A message I highly support; but as I read the article, I grew even more confused and dismayed, because it was as though she was describing a different character or story.
It reminded me of the one time a girl in class called Lizzie a gold-digger (My chagrin and dismay were unfathomable).

So let me explain what makes Pride & Prejudice a sublime masterpiece of the English language, and the greatest love story of all time.

Keep your Romeo & Juliet and Wüthering Heights; Lizzie and Darcy's story out-shines Rhett and Scarlett's or Abelard and Heloise's. This is a tale of two lovers that has no equal. There may be better novels, I'll grant you that. But the greatest love story in the English language is indisputably Pride & Prejudice. (Although, if I'm being honest, I will admit Midsummer and Persuasion give it a run for it's money. See? I'm a rational human being.)
Pride & Prejudice is the tale of two incredibly ordinary people who find themselves in an extraordinary love story.

What makes a love extraordinary?
Sacrifice.
Love is an offering up on the behalf of the beloved. You give up your own good for the good of the other. In a love story, lovers are always required to sacrifice something to be together: family, their respectability, their comfort, their lives (c.f., Romeo & Juliet). What makes Pride & Prejudice so beautiful is the sacrifice these beautiful characters must make: their flaws.
In order to be together, they have to burn away their false self.
They must lay their prejudices on the altar of love. Until both of them relinquish their stony pride, they will not find happiness.

The authoress of The Article focuses on the flaws of Darcy (although she's rather harsh on him: "tremendous vices" is quite an accusation.) And yes, Darcy has many flaws. But so has Lizzie (more flaws, I would argue, than does Darcy).
The reason Miss Lizzie Bennett is not more often faulted for her egregious shortcomings is that she is indeed, as Jane Austen describes her, "the most delightful creature ever to appear in print." Everyone is charmed by Lizzie, as they ought to be. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was endowed by her creatoress with graces aplenty.
If you don't like Lizzie Bennett, well bless me, who do you like?  But if you think Lizzie Bennet is perfect, I'm afraid you're living in some frou-frou cotton candy version of reality.
Lizzie Bennet is a prejudiced, stubborn, and proud young woman. She sorely misjudges Darcy, who, is not in fact a cold, calculating, evil person. Darcy's just the victim of a lack of social grace, ego, and poor timing.

The beauty of this story is that Darcy and Lizzie serve as catalysts in each other's growth in virtue. But it's only once they seek to grow in virtue on their own that they can deserve one another's love. To wit: Darcy, in encountering Lizzie, finds his flaws laid bare. He is attracted to her, but his pride cannot allow himself to admit that such a woman is capable of attracting him, for his prejudice has written off her entire family as ill-mannered fools. Essentially, ditto for Lizzie. Darcy basically said: "her looks are okay: bright and charming, but heavy on the mehhh." (ouch. c.f., First Impressions.)

What's incredible about these two characters is that, during the fateful encounter/proposal-gone-awry at Rosings Park, they are allowed to see, through each other, their own flaws laid bare, but also they finally see how flawed their perceptions of each other were. Afterwards, they both take it upon themselves to reform. Which is remarkable. Darcy doesn't just write off Elizabeth's criticisms, despite the fact that she has candidly been quite rude towards him, and falsely accused him of actions in a sensitive and confidential matter she knew absolutely nothing about (that's what I would have done). He takes her words to heart. Same with Lizzie. In a moment of grace and self-awareness, she realizes how utterly foolish and wrong she has been. She repents of her behavior, and embarks on a true attempt to be better.


Maybe my sweeping love of Pride & Prejudice is cliché. Every twenty-year-old woman is supposed to want to be Lizzie Bennet. It's a Thing.
But, unlike wanting to be Cinderella or Jane Eyre or Juliet, every girl can be Lizzie Bennett. If a young lady is willing to suffer the humiliation of sometimes being proven wrong, and having to amend her wayward ways, any aspiring Lizzie can find her Darcy. 
That is the moral of the story: Lizzie must confront her own flaws, amend them, and allow that maybe she--yes, even brilliant, witty, charming she--is fallible. Then, she can find her prince and have her happily ever after, complete with castle (c.f., Pemberley).


The primary argument the authoress of The Article makes is that women use the story of Darcy as an excuse to date bad boyfriends. But that is simply not a lesson that Pride & Prejudice teaches. There is nothing in this story that claims that if you love the monster enough, the prince within will emerge (that story is called Beauty & the Beast. c.f., French fairytale/Walt Disney). Pride & Prejudice is not Beauty & the Beast transplanted to Regency England. Pride & Prejudice is no more a fairytale than our everyday lives: there are no enchantments, spells, magic mirrors, or evil step-sisters. There are no monsters. And there are no princes. 
There is just one spunky, independent, out-spoken, intuitive, intelligent young woman who is a bit pig-headed, proud. and quick to judge. And there is a one rather shy, intelligent, generous, good-hearted, and virtuous man who is a bit reticent, proud, and quick to judge.



 Pride & Prejudice is the story of two people whose flaws blind them, and prevent them from seeing the other person as they ought. But two people who are honorable enough and virtuous enough to realize: wait. I have acted badly, and begin to change. And in that process, truly fall in love with each other.

If that's not a most excellent love story, I don't know what is.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

dive into the grey

 "Never be afraid of giving. There is deep joy in giving, since what we receive is much more than what we give."--Mother Teresa

Long ago, a wise priest once told me that we cannot think of our lives as a movie, starring ourselves.
 Rather, we are all in the same story: a grand large epic, starring no one. A tale in which all our stories bear equal weight, and are bound up in each other in mysterious ways.

 Recently, another wise priest reiterated to me that we are all subjects. None of us is an object or a tool in another's transformation or growth.
This is a challenge. It's hard not to view one's life through the lens of me, myself, and I. It takes much more effort to step back and read the tale are being written with our lives. Mother Teresa describes herself as a pen. God's hand guides the pen, and writes her life. She is nothing more than a channel for that story to be told.

Mama T would add that: "We must become holy not because we want to feel holy, but because Christ must be able to live his live fully in us." In the end, it's not about us. We do not become holy for holiness' sake. Or for our sake. But for the sake of others, for the sake of the world.

It's so easy to get that backwards. We begin to think of how our lives can transform the world around us once we're actually someone--once we're someone holy. We like people, we find them attractive, so then we can begin to love them. We understand a concept--the Pythagorean theorem, Newton's laws, the Eucharist--and then we believe it.
That's the worldly order of things. But that's not the natural order. The natural order is the supernatural order:
We serve; we find ourselves on the path to holiness.
We love all; we find ourselves maybe beginning to like some.
We believe; we slowly approach the threshold of understanding.

As Dr. O'Malley told the highschoolers at the end of each week of Vision, as he told us at the end of the summer: This wasn't about you. It never was about you and it never will be about you. It's about how God will transform the world through you. We are called to something so much larger, so we must make of ourselves something so much smaller. We are called to a story greater than any we could conceive of; we must not grasp for ourselves the equality of authorship, but rather humbly take on the role of pens.

I do not yet understand. But I believe.
I do not often like. But I love.
I am not yet holy. But I will serve.

Monday, September 10, 2012

ephphatha

“There's a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Sometimes, I get lost in the amount of words swirling through my head. I drown in the myriad thoughts filling my mind. Language is an incredible instrument. Words can mean nothing, but we use them to mean everything. We use phrases to avoid communicating as well as to communicate. We hide behind words, and we expose ourselves with words. We use words to open wounds and we use words to mend them. Words words words: the spoken and the unspoken. They make up every single thought in every single day.
I always have a lot of words and lots of things to say. I never lack opinions. I am rarely rendered speechless. I have a word for every occasion, and an applicable quote for every silence that must be filled. But although I have a thousand things to say, I find myself strangely dry, empty, barren of ideas. 
In the midst of the luxurious surfeit, there is an inexplicable deficiency.

That's when I hear the command: be opened

In order for the mute tongue to shout for joy, his ears must be opened first. In order to speak plainly, I must hear clearly. I cannot be opened up to the Word I crave when I am sated on the words of my own device. Enamored absolutely with the complexity and subtlety, I often forget the power of language is in its masterful simplicity. A simplicity that transcends all complexity, that begs to be listened to. 
So I open myself and remember that only one Word is needful.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

cause of our joy

One of the most wonderful blessings of life are the stories woven together, which we only catch glimpses of: we are allowed to see little exchanges and moments, and left to wonder what the rest of the story is. 
We never get to see it, but we are allowed in for that brief moment when our life intersects with theirs--the thread of our narrative gets tangled up with theirs for a split second.

There are stories everywhere and in everything. But sometimes we only get to see freeze frames, little brief moments:

The girl who slaps both cheeks to keep from laughing. Shaking the laughter out of her face.

~

"What does the flashing red hand mean?"
"It means stop whenever the red hand lights up, and then start when it disappears."

~

She asked for my phone number. And then paid me twenty dollars.

~

The four young women who made cookies, and then give them all away.

~

 I said hello. And he just laughed at me.

~

"I followed her up into the office and I told her I couldn't live without her."

~

You know that literary trope where one human being encounters another who teaches them a lesson or helps them, etc., etc., and it actually is an angel in disguise? I have made the executive decision that I dislike that particular thematic device, because it diminishes in a way the astounding miraculousness of humanity.
Each human being you encounter is a human being. Every mortal you encounter is an immortal in disguise.
And just let that sink in for a while. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

they with hope to bring

Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off.
--Mere Christianity 


This woman.

It's Mama T's feast day today. So, obviously I wanted to base a blog post off a quote of hers. There were two roadblocks that cropped up and foiled my seemingly fool-proof plan:

1.
I was attempting to write sans coffee. (I know. Sometimes I do foolish things.) I couldn't think straight, let alone try to write something thoughtful, until I got some rich, warm, caffeinated café pumping through my bloodstream. (Yes okay fine I might be addicted. But we'll save that conversation for another post.)

2.
Who is more quotable than Mother Teresa? Each quote of hers is worthy of several dozen blog posts. I was caught in that rare gluttonous luxury of having too many options to choose from.

And so, I turned to the words of Cardinal Newman, a prayer of his that Mama T appropriated:
Lord, penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of yours.

Things people sometimes say but shouldn't ever say: you'll never amount to much, or he'll never amount to much, or they'll never amount to much. All of which are utterly non-hopeful statements. The entire point of life is that we are constantly transcending the limits of what we thought we could accomplish. Life is the art of becoming more than we ever dreamed we could be. In my theology class today our professor made an analogy to the Cave (Cue flashbacks to reading The Republic in PLS Seminar II. I can't escape it.). His point was that humanity is living in the dark of the cave--we see the shadows on the wall, and are often content to accept that as reality.

But reality is actually out there in the sunlight.

And there exist in this world brave souls who have dared to leave the cave, to venture outside of the comfortable realm of shadows, and walk in the sunlight. When they return to us, they are on fire with reality. They carry with them a radiance, they shimmer with the glow of the sunlight from beyond the cave. More substantial than the shadows of the Cave, these sunlit souls give us a preview of reality. In them, we catch a glimpse of the sunlight that thirsts to flood us in his warmth.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

you are my sweetest downfall

I'm really good--maybe too good?-- at crushes.

There are several things I believe:

1) A well-prepared lady never leaves the house/her dorm room without at least one bobby-pin, a tube of Chapstick, and a brain stocked with a C.S. Lewis quote or two (the difference between being a good cocktail/dinner party guest and a brilliant cocktail/dinner party guest is a pulling out C.S. Lewis quote that merges seamlessly into the conversation. I cannot stress this enough).
2) There are few things that a good hug, a long talk, and a Youtube video or two will not cure.
3) There's something beautiful about everyone. Inside each and every person, although sometimes hidden under layers of ugly, there is a well of transcendence.

I'm good at finding the beauty in a person. (To take a phrase from my friend Brigid: it's not bragging because it's true.)  It's so easy to fall in love with someone. If you are allowed to see a person in an intimate moment, being vulnerable, just relaxing and being themselves when no one else is watching, each human is revealed to be a being inescapably and tantalizingly attractive.

Voices. People's voices melt my soul. I could listen to a raspy young woman's voice, or a young man's confident drawl for ages. A chirpy, annoying voice makes me giggle. A Southern accent makes me smile. A voice is each person's individual music--the tones, the language they use, the rhythm of their speech, their laugh are all part of the symphony of their voice.


And here is the most humbling thing about having a crush on someone: you stop thinking you’re the pièce de resistance of God’s creation. Because when you’re dying to discover whether or not a Certain Someone likes you, all of your own virtues dull in comparison with the magnificence of the other person. As you bask in the glory of their incredible beauty, you find yourself thinking: How could person as beautiful as this ever find anything in myself worthy of them?

If they happen to discover they too are enamored with you, it's for the same mysterious reason you've discovered them: not for any merits or demerits on your part or their own; 
because you’re just you—just another person, a person worth loving.
Simply because you are a human being--radiant and astounding in your humanity. Trying not to fall in love with a human being is like trying to fight gravity; you're working against nature. Humans are beings made to be fallen in love with. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

hidden in the most unlikely places

"You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him discover it in himself," writes Galileo. 
An inspiring thought. But if you're a parent: how terrifying.

On a roadtrip with a friend this weekend, we discussed many matters of the heart. But one of the discussions/realizations we approached together was a renewed appreciation for the difficulty of parenting. As a child, you expect that your parents know how to do their job--as if they've gone through parent-training boot camp and have learned all the right answers for every question you throw at them, rehearsed all the right responses for every tantrum you throw, and memorized all the right words to say whenever something shatters your little world. A child can't imagine their mother being anything other than a mother, or picture what their dad was like before he became a father.

And then, you realize that your parents were learning the job on the fly. No one gave them a how-to manual on how to raise children. And even if someone had, it wouldn't have really mattered, because all their tips and handy hints would have been foiled by the uniqueness of you. What a daunting task.  

It gave me a renewed appreciation and awe for when my parents say not just the right thing, but the best thing.


One day I got a text from my dad with this quote:
"All things are delightful when you are present."--Imitation of the Christ 
That has continued to cheer me up for months afterwards.


And my mother is the only person in the world who could possibly send me an inspirational email with just the right quotes from Mama T, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and North and South woven together seamlessly. 
It's like the woman understands me or something. And that's quite the miracle.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

when I see stars

Do you think it's possible to die of Joy?

I was looking up at the ceiling of the basilica. The ceiling right above the choir loft is a star-speckled field of blue. Painted onto this canvas of night sky are angels, some of them holding stars, some holding wreaths, some in the middle of flight. Some are cherubs, some are portrayed as more statuesque beings, but what they all have in common is motion. All of them are in the middle of flight, in the middle of a rush of movement, propelled by ecstatic exuberance.

Motion is one of the most common symptoms of effusive joy or enthusiasm. Joy causes us to jump and leap and run, or bounce up and down in our seat, or sprint and prance around the quad, or do cartwheels, or splash in water, or crank the volume and start dancing. Anger causes rigidity, sadness causes weight, but joy leads to motion. 
When enthused, what human can keep that spirit contained within ourselves? Joy naturally spills over and out of us. It manifests itself with smiles and laughs and spurts of motion and great big bear hugs and spinning and rolling around on the ground, and leaping like gazelles. When in motion, the focus becomes less on ourselves, and more on the action we are performing. We are, in a way, being pulled out of ourselves.
Joy does that--joy pulls us out of ourselves.

Thus, joy leads to bursts of physical energy, and a desire to lose ourselves. 
Joy, I imagine, is capable of pulling us completely out of ourselves.
Joy's true purpose is to call us home. Because hidden underneath the outward signs of joy, the real movement of joy takes place within our hearts.
Joy pulls our souls towards their desire; our souls respond to joy by leaping into motion. Stirred by Joy's impetus, they climb towards that for which they have always longed.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

hearts made for nothing else

"We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship." --C.S. Lewis

The two things Notre Dame has going for it (topographically speaking) are the copious amounts of trees and the lakes.

Meditation and water are wedded, according to Herman Melville, but I would also argue that if you're seeking a contemplative moment, there is nothing more conducive to getting lost in peaceful silence in the woods. When you have trees and water together, it's actually magical (or mystical). You can go there and be a human being and not a human doing.

 "I say nothing to him. I love him."--Thérèse of Lisieux.

I think the most real thing I did recently was yesterday, when I walked along the soft, squishy tar on the road.
It's August, thus summer is now officially my worst enemy. I'm pretty over walking outside and feeling like I walked into a sauna. I'm itching for autumn. Summer, in my mind, hath overstayed his welcome.
But one thing I love about dog days of summer is how the tar squishes between your toes. When I was little, my favorite thing to do was walk in the tar. I would be out for hours at a time walking around and poking at the tar on the road. My mother, of course, told me to stop (as I'm sure I would tell my child--tar is filthy stuff), but the great thing about being an (semi-)adult is that you get to walk on the tar and no one tells you to stop. Most people look at you funny as you walk down the road following the winding trails of tar.
But in order to love the world, you have to pay attention to the world. And no one does that better than a child--everything is worthy of exploration. No one understands as instinctively as a child how much there is to discover.

The real in us is silent, the acquired is talkative--Kahlil Gibran