Tuesday, August 27, 2013

i dreamed of throwing bridges

love can be a collision
in which two selves realize profoundly they ought to belong to each other
--Karol Wojtyła, The Jeweler's Shop

I ran,
the lush green grass under my feet suddenly giving way to the bright colors of autumn.
Surprised, because the calendar says it's still summer, I stared at the little leaves the maple shed.
I ran on --but time ran faster.
The trees were already preparing themselves for the end of high summer and the advent of the flaming days of October.
October crashed into August with each of those tiny maple leaves, which kicked up a whirling red storm of nature as I dashed through them.

I slowed to a walk, my eyes glued to the ground as I examined each leaf admiringly.
My eyes darted from one leaf to the next--each one was perfectly beautiful, and unlike any other.
My eyes grew exhausted from discovering beauty after beauty.

So I looked up, set my eyes ahead of me, and thought of nothing but of moving forward.
A little leaf popped into my peripheral vision.
I tried to ignore it, but it insisted I pay attention.
It was like a perfect star--five graceful points, its little veins following the gentle swoop of its sides. It was beautifully tinted an ombre spectrum of orange to scarlet. It was less vivid than its more flamboyant brothers, but it wore its colors proudly and with charm.
I stopped completely to wonder at this miniature marvel.

My hand trembled in the void that stood between myself and this leaf.
Every muscle in my hand was tensed, ready to leap out to grasp this leaf. No, no, no, thought I.
I will not keep on collecting leaves.
My same little aqua planner, that once held mountains of leaves in the back of its pages, was now a bit older and had Important Grown-Up Things to do, and really did not have the space or time to carry leaves anymore. Those leaves would perhaps just have to wait for another time, another day.
Sometimes filling up a planner with other things is a wonderful excuse to ignore the leaves that clamor to have a place inside of it.
And yet, I reached down to pick up the leaf.
What else could I do?
I took it up, and held it.
It danced gently in the palm of my hand, blown about by the wind.
I walked home a bit happier for holding the leaf in my hand.
And I stuck it inside the cover of the planner.
Because there are two kinds of people in this world: the ones who are able to appreciate leaves from afar, and the ones who, annoying and inconvenient and impractical as it may be, cannot refuse a little leaf a home in their hand.

Monday, August 26, 2013

do not spit, holy place

"If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze." 
-Catherine of Sienna

One day I went to a Darty.
I know, I know a darty. (a party that happens during the day. because we need a special name for that, you know)
These things happen.
I am in college.

Sidebar: also, being in college, we sometimes frequent those local watering holes called bars.
Here's the deal with that, folks.

There is a magical time when going to a college bar is just that--magical.
That's when you have a certain number of friends--one or two--that you are There With. As in, you go off and wander about, socializing, talking with the Interesting People about interesting things. Meeting new people, re-meeting people, finally meeting that one person you always creepily knew about, but never actually met.
This is all very good.
But, lo, we are pigeon-livered, and we find extended socializing--unless with our nearest and dearest friends or a bevy of friendly squirrels-- exhausting.
Armed with an inconceivably large summer shandy and the excitement that goes with a bunch of pretty young human beings all finding their interesting selves in one room, the exhaustion of being interested and interesting is staved off for a time.
But it will inevitably catch up with you.
And so, [this is the really crucial step] you retreat into the warm security of the two or three friends who you are There With.
You laugh about how you stepped on the cute boy's toe and looked like an absolute goon, you share stories from the Interesting Mutual Friends you have all been talking to--you welcome an Interesting Person who is floating on the outer environs of your happy little inner circle in for a bit of laughter and normalcy. You create a magic little circle of laughter and friendship, a small beacon of light and joy.
It is in this little happy circle that you don't have to deal with interest, interesting, or interested.
Here is where you simply are yourself.
Albeit perhaps a heightened version of yourself, given the strength, width, depth and breadth of that summer shandy, but simply yourself.
If you're like me, that means you end up snort-laughing quite a bit.
Mostly just because you can--it's a highly entertaining bad habit.

But that is the magical sort of night at a bar that everyone loves--with the people who love it when you snort-laugh, with just the right amount of summer shandy to increase the frequency of the snorts.

I wasn't at a bar.
I was at a Darty.
And so, at this Darty, I ran into an acquaintance I hadn't seen since sophomore year. This is how senior year sometimes works at Notre Dame. You don't see people for entire junior years, because many of your brethren are gone traveling the world and becoming cultured at some point, so there's a lot of interesting things to hear about.
One of my acquaintances had also spent his summer in India.
And so we had a frank discussion about what it means to have a summer in India. It means waking up each day, and thinking: well, maybe I'll get hit by that bus today, or maybe I will eat something that will tear my stomach into confetti-like shreds.
Survival feels like a daily gambling game sometimes.
But you keep on living anyways, because that's what it's always like to live in a world saturated in death.
It's just that we're very good about forgetting about death.
It's easy to forget that everyday that you wake up and every night you go to bed may in fact be the last one.
In India, both of us had found it less easy to forget that.
But we are human, and it is in our nature to adapt.
Those first three weeks, as you gingerly climb onto a over-crowded bus, barely able to find a foothold, you think: wow. I may die.
But you choose to keep waking up and going outside.
And that's the daily action that we call living.
Eventually you hop out of the bus with the closest imitation of easy nonchalance that a Kolkata bus allows.
Every time you alight from a bus, a miracle has occurred--you have made it out alive.
It was a good summer, quoth this boy, but I wouldn't go back.
Before I even had a chance to think about my words, they leaped from my heart and out of my mouth:
Oh, I'd go back in a heartbeat.
I could hardly believe I'd said those words.
Ah, what a piece of work is man.
How soon he forgets the incessant mosquito bites, and the perpetual layer of dirt. How easily he has reverted back into a world with air-conditioning and showers that actually clean you for longer than five minutes.
How soon he has forgotten what it means to be drenched in sweat and smell like a mating chimpanzee.
How finite in faculty.
How easily man can forget.
And yet, indeed Hamlet, in apprehension how like a god!
For those little quotidian annoyances really do melt before an undeniable and irresistible experience of beauty.

The difficult, distressing and annoying, the dumb, stupid, inefficient, nasty, and putrid would have been too much for my sad little heart without that little core of irresistible and unquenchable beauty lying at the center.
The beauty's radiance bubbled over, overwhelming all the distressing and transformed it into something breath-takingly lovely.
And it calls to you each day, so that the words "Oh I'd go back in a heartbeat" leap off your tongue before you know that they are actually yours.
But the core of beauty is not across the ocean or up in the sky--it is right in front of your eyes.
Sometimes its easier to long to return to the clear view from a mountain-top than learn to see in the fog of the valley.
Not every day can be a honeymoon. And not every night at a bar will be magical.
But you make the choice to wake up every day--this is the daily choice we call living.
Rising from your bed is easier, if there is a little sun of irresistible and unquenchable beauty rising in the east as you rise from sleep.

Love on, sings Beatrice, I will requite thee. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

it is either valjean or javert

I held nothing in my hands, except a banana and a cellphone.
My only worldly possessions.
Not really.
But in that moment, sort of.
They are not things that are dear to me.
"Dear" is the best adjective to describe things that have wound themselves into our heart.
Because you can't become "dear" to someone in an hour.
Dear is the product of an accumulation of memories: of sweet moments of observing the quirkily unique, and irreplaceable nature of the beloved. We smile because they are the most unique radiance in an entire cosmos of constellations.
When we say: you are dear to me, how very much we mean it.
Behind the word "dear" is a whole world of wonder.


Matthew's warm, maple-wooded room, was filled with sunlight.
I sang a few bars, testing out the acoustics. The room rang with fresh echoes, they reverberated with the tinny sound of new corners receiving the waves of sounds they'd never heard before.
Matthew's room was unfamiliar with the sound of music.
Outside, the birdsong joined in my song.
It is hard to feel lonely surrounded by warm maple-wood, the song of birds, and warm sunlight.
The beads smelled like roses.
As they slipped through my fingers, I dreamed of visitations with hearts leaping.


One of the most heart-warming sights in all of creation is two people having a conversation.
It fills the cockles of my heart with sunshine.
 Beyond piquing my curiosity over what they could possibly be talking about, conversation provokes a deeper sort of interest.
Because when I see two people having an argument, it's horribly uncomfortable. The tension and discord radiate away from them through the air in large, pulsing, angry waves.
What sort of horrible could they be having in their lives that leads to all the angry leaking into the atmosphere around them.

But conversation.
Conversation is soul-lightening.
It is beautiful to watch two humans interact so civilly.
They listen and share stories, and exchange ideas.
As I biked by one little group, a man talked calmly and concisely to a woman who listened attentively and responded with articulate sentences and expressive hand gestures.
They exchanged thoughts and they listened to another's thoughts and were changed a bit because they listened to something they'd never heard before.
The world cannot be all bad if one human being can express something to another who will listen.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

graced audacity of cookie-dough toothpaste

Don't even, I laughed.
Don't even try this one.
I know how this one goes.
It goes like: wait, wait, wait: deluge.
I don't want a deluge. 
I want a steady little trickle of manageable.
I don't want Beseiged by Love, I want Practical, Sensibly Scheduled Calendars, and Time Management Skills.
I want a full night's sleep in my new little bed in my new little house.
I want to remember to buy groceries once a week.
I want Neat and Tidy.
I want to Have Everything Under Control.
Honestly, let me just be candid here,
I don't want too much You. 
Just a comfortable amount, an amount I can handle.
I don't want to have to stretch to reach my full capacity.

really, what I'm living for is the next time I can get on the plane.
I'm counting down the seconds until I can board another flying machine that will take me who knows where. 
As long as it takes me somewhere new.
As long as it takes me somewhere with endless beauties I haven't discovered yet, new words in new languages to hear, and new homes to find.
I'm living for the next time I find myself in an airport with a rush of people flowing by me all going somewhere I'm not, but some of them going places I've already been.
I'm living for the next time you feel the wheels of a plane lift off the ground, a bumpy feeling which signals: you have left the ground. You are no longer attached to the safe assurance of earth--you are dangerously free--up in the sky.

really, what I'm living for is the next time I curl up on the couch with my younger brother and watch Lord of the Rings-- 
and yell at Pippin to light the beacon already,
because he's done it each time I've watched the movie:
so just hurry up and light it already--we all know how the story goes--so go.
And then shriek with joy while each little hill of fire lights across the entire world, signaling the advent of salvation.
Because it is the familiar stories that win us over and wring our hearts the most.
Each time I repeat the story, it becomes more harrowing, more suspenseful, more beloved.
Unspeakable joy and immeasurable sorrow are blended together, and pull at your heart to go deeper and deeper and deeper.
I don't want to leave anything familiar, because I want to love it.

really, what I'm living for is the purple sunset outside my window, re-learning how to flirt, laughing with friends under the twinkly lights of the bar patio, missing Shakina's laugh, dancing through the grocery store, singing Some Nights too loudly as I unpack all my earthly possessions, and telling a story about being on the verge of another grand adventure just around the bend that leads you know not where.

"I am on a pilgrimage to identity"
--Karol Wojtyła

Don't even, I laughed.
Don't even try this one.
I know how this one goes.
It goes: I want too much You. 
More than I can handle.
In this whole wide sweet world,
You have given me nothing sweeter than the pain of a heart being stretched.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

you are the story i should write

"My lucky thing!" Cecil said delighted, clutching the Angus Dei. "Where was it?"
"Father Robert gave it to me for you," said Rickie.
"That's not a lucky thing, Cecil," said Teresa, "it's a sacred thing."
"What's the difference?" Cecil asked.
Teresa smiled. 
"Roughly this," she said. "A thing is magic if you get what you want through it: but if it is blessed you get what God wants through it."
- Sun Slower, Sun Faster, Meriol Trevor

I ran out into the violescent twilight, and leaped up as if I could almost hug the little half-moon shining up there between the last clouds of daytime and the first stars of night.
My Writer's Block was washed away like the dust and dirt of the day meeting an evening shower.
The air was still holding onto little remnants of sunlight, the night was young and fresh, and the wind was ever-so-slightly chill, my mind was clean and clear, and it was the perfect night to be alive under an oak tree with bats flying overhead, catching mosquitos.

The most magical three words in the entire world are those that compose the tantalizingly intoxicating phrase: 
"You are right."
Their heady magic makes my mind spin, leaping into hypothetical atmospheres with gravity-defying somersaults.
I. Am. Right. I think to myself, barely believing my good fortune.
Could it be? Yes. It is. I have become right. I am essentially an embodiment of all right-ness that ever was.
I have just become an unstoppable, unparalleled channel of Right.
There has never been anyone more right than I. I AM IN THE RIGHT, my brain practically shrieks with happiness.
My soul does cartwheels of joy, my heart leaps and prances like a young satyr in the throes of spring romance, my ego throws myself a mini-parade in my head, complete with floats sponsored by insurance companies, brass bands from local high schools, and lots and lots of confetti being thrown into merry-makers' hair. 
After the ego-parade is done, my self-esteem plays the benevolent fat-capitalist benefactor to my soul and sits the young thing down in a nice leather office chair, pops open a bottle of bubbly, hands it to the impressionable, overjoyed young soul, saying: "here, son. you've earned this--you done good. You were right."

And then it all ingloriously comes crashing down, once I find out that I inevitably got something wrong.
I was wrong
I realize, barely able to register this information through waves of shock pulsing through my brain.
Those three words are definite rain on my pride parade, which has mutated into something more akin to a pity party.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, ring the lonely echoes in my brain. 
Will I ever be able to live down the ignominious, abject horror of being wrong?
Candidly, no. I will not.
I was wrong. 
I was not right. 
I am not the source of all wisdom and knowledge in the universe.
This realization is a sad blow to my heart.
I am a worm and no man.
I have become a laughingstock to all my people, the object of their taunts throughout the day.*
It's like getting a B on a paper, or unimaginably awful--a C.
It's a haunting reminder that you are not perfect.
It's an inescapable obvious indication that we all are, as a four year old thespian reminded me the other day: "Born to make mistakes."
C'est vrai, mon petit chouchou.
What God has hidden from the wise and the learned, he has revealed to four-year-old thespians.

*Lamentations 3:14

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

leap the topmost skies

 I thought Iʼd be heroic and inspiring.
I wanted to offer you the greatest sacrifice.
Like all the saints whoʼd gone before me,
I tried to prove my love for you, and so gain the prize.
--Danielle Rose

Tonight our family was treated to A Brief History of Modern European Royalty, courtesy of our pastor, Fr. Joseph.
Fr. Joseph regaled us with the brief genealogies of the lineage of the smaller European monarchies and duchies: focusing mostly on the small nations of Belgium, Luxembourg, and Lichtenstein.
He regaled us with the royal tale of Fabiola and Badouin.

This couple pictured below is Queen Fabiola and King Badouin of Belgium, on their wedding day.
Pope John Paul XXIII agreed to be the godfather to their first child, who was never born.

She advocated for women's rights in developing countries. And she loved Mama T. Best Royal Role Model Ever. Ever.

Look at them.
They are in love. 
We know this because Queen Fabiola was unable to produce an heir. All her pregnancies ended in miscarriage. The Belgian Parliament advised King Badouin to divorce her. He needed to produce an heir for the throne.
His answer: absolutely not.
If the line passed to his brother and his brother's children, so be it.
(See. They're in love. Proved it.)
Badouin and Fabiola were married for over thirty years, until the king's death in 1993.


Do small things with great love.
--Mother Teresa

Our acts of goodness and love so often seem so inadequate.
There is so much malice in the world, how can our little, minuscule, miniature acts of love or forgiveness really make any sort of a difference?
The magnitude of evil seems to be so great, there would need to be acts of love of a similar magnitude to counter them.
But I don't know that that's exactly the case.
No one has ever told anyone, so far as I know, that it is their sacred duty to end world hunger.
It's our calling to never let one of our brothers or sisters leave our presence hungry, but that's a different thing entirely. 
That's not ending world hunger. 
World Hunger is a global evil, a disease that affects many people. No one asked us to end it. I don't know how to go about doing so, and the problem of food distribution baffles me.
But someone, one day, will inevitably ask us for food, and we know how that gig works--"Lord, when did we see you hungry and thirsty?"
I don't know if loving some one can solve any of those problems, but it seems to me that solving those problems is simply another way of loving someone, and that really, loving a someone is the main point.

you are a blessing to love

Sometimes, you feel very palpably that someone needs you.
I don't know that any of us will ever solve the problem of why human beings go to war with one another. And, to be perfectly honest, I'm not going to lose sleep over it.
(Although I've lost a lot of sleep this week after I discovered the chocolate-covered espresso beans in our cabinet. Ooops. [Over it.])
What I will lose sleep over is that one time I snapped at my friend, or when I lost my patience with my sister, or the when I frowned instead of smiled at my brother, or when I avoided someone who wanted to talk, or when I stormed out of the house after a squabble with my mother. (When I was a teenager, I used to be very confrontational and dramatic. Of course, I'm not like that anymore.)
Because those are the moments when perhaps I failed to let another human being know--not a human being in abstract, but a human being as in: an annoying, bemusing, confusing, demanding, exhausting person who I don't really fully understand, who doesn't really fully understand me, who happens to be the pinnacle of all creation, and the chiefest of all created beauties--that they are not alone.
One of the deepest sadnesses of a human life is to be alone.
No man is an island, they say, so when you start to feel more insular and less continental, then a sad doubt can creep into your heart that whispers that maybe you are not a glorious being that is the chiefest of created beauties.
I don't know how much I am capable of--world hunger, illiteracy, and war boggle my minds with their imposing un-solvability.
But I do know I have the capability of letting another human being know they are not alone.

The things you do for love are gonna come back to you one by one
--The Mountain Goats

Faith maybe means believing that if you life your life seeking to help other humans and not to harm them, if you devote yourself to letting each person who enters your life know that they are the pinnacle of creation and a treasure beyond comprehension, and that they are not alone; then maybe, somehow your small little drops make a difference in the vast ocean of the world.
Because they tell us that love never fails. They don't tell us that only the greatest or the purest love never fails. Just the simple, little everyday love. That's the stuff that victories are made of.

 I suppose, at the time, the majority of the world had no idea that on one very sad, very good Friday, a man died on a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem.
And that was quite the victory.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

consubstantially yours

The gifts I give to the child are skin as smooth as silk,
Lips as red as a rose,
and a heart as soft as a plush Disney Princess blanket.
--Sleeping Beauty, Brothers Grimm [Kind of]

The little sparrow darted back and forth, back and forth on her perch.
cholo, cholo, cholo she chirped, beating in time with the thumping of her little heart.
She scrambled out of the nest, stepping on her brother's head, as her sleepy sibling squawked in protest, still too heavy-eyed to face the dewey morning.
The little sparrow darted from the trees and soared over the small little park, diving right towards the bread crumbs she so greatly desired.

One of my friends loves to say:
"It's unclear"
about literally everything.

Per esempio:
What was the class reading assignment?
It's unclear.
Are X and Y still dating?
It's unclear.
If the carrots expired a week ago, does that mean we can still eat them?
It's unclear.
What does Kant think of synthetic a priori knowledge?
It's highly unclear.

It's a catchy phrase, due to the fact that it is applicable to most every situation in life.
Life is pretty much just that--it's all very unclear.
What really is certain? [c.f. Descartes]
Or, as theology professors prefer to say, with a wise shrug:
it's a mystery.

Which is what I starting thinking about during the Nicene Creed, as I was dancing in the sunbeam streaming in through the stained glass window. The stained glass windows in our church are beautiful, especially when the sun hits them just right, and they cast colored sunbeam into your pew in which you can dance. But this particular window has a rather overly-angular depiction of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. 
It's just rife with pointy angles. 
They make me uncomfortable. 
And I'm sure poor Isaac, bound and prepped for being sacrificed in all his angular glory, would similarly express his discomfort.

Consubstantial with the Father. Consubstantial, I thought. 
What does that mean exactly?
And as much as you can try to explain what it means, it always remains somewhat unclear.
Which you probably knew in the first place. 
A word like: "consubstantial" lets you know, right off the bat, that it is not to be trifled with.
You are not allowed to walk up to a word such as "consubstantial" and say: This word? Piffle. Easy. I understand you.
Consubstantial is not a word which you can piffle at.
Consubstantial is a word that invites you into the mystery rather than offering you a crass definition.
There are some words like that. 
They are the best words, because they explain themselves without reducing themselves, without giving themselves away.
Even while illuminating truth, they manage to retain their impenetrable mystery.

It's sort of what it's like when you find yourself onstage bringing a story to life.
You are using your very soul to illuminate a truth, but the mechanics of how exactly that occurs are an impenetrable mystery, even to you.
How exactly one person takes up and puts on the story of another is a fascinatingly mysterious project.
Actors have a lot of words that they use to try to explain exactly how this mysterious phenomenon takes place.
They'll talk for days about things like: sense memory and emotional recall, intention and motive, Meisner exercises and finding the beats and playing overarching objectives.

All of these are words maybe sort of kind of in the vein of consubstantial
They are simply multisyllabic markers, denoting: Attention, Mortals: A Mystery Lies Here.
It's all very unclear.

Sam: Why do you always use binoculars?
Suzy: It helps me see things closer. Even if they're not very far away. I pretend it's my magic power.
Sam: That sounds like poetry. Poems don't always have to rhyme, you know. They're just supposed to be creative.
--Moonrise Kingdom

Thursday, August 8, 2013

and life makes love look hard

I sat in the dentists office, signing fifteen different HIPAA forms (which win the award for the most snooze-inducing forms ever and yet the most-entertaining acronym ever. HIPAA. [hip-ahhh] It's fun to say.) and I thought the lobby muzak sounded suspiciously like the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. 
And, a few measures of music later, I discovered it definitely was.
Whoever was in charge of the muzak decided that today was going to be Movie Soundtrack Pandora Station Day. I respect their choice. 
I don't mind getting tartar scraped off my teeth, as long as it's to the lyrical melody of Alan Silvestri's Forrest Gump score.
But, in general, nothing makes me feel like more of a failure of a human being than going to the dentist.
As I feel the layers of plaque removed (let's just say it was a good solid month in India before I remembered I'd packed dental floss. Me: Oh, look, I did pack floss. Huh, I guess I should use it. My poor teeth: Let us rejoice and be glad.) I felt the layers of disapproval being layered on, thicker than buttercream icing on a birthday cake.
A giant pit of guilt built up in the core of my stomach as the sympathetic-yet-concerned hygienist asked leading questions: "So, how often do you floss?" "What kind of toothbrush are you using?" "Did you know you have a cavity?"
My poor, neglected teeth's trump card was a cavity discovered on what was only referred to as Number 3. I don't know which tooth exactly is Number 3, but I felt like I owed the poor dear an apology.
I could feel the little enamel darling positively exuding injury, as the tsk-tsking hygienist came to its rescue.
The dentist is where teeth go to get a human on their side. 
In the dentist's office, your teeth are always right. 
You can't win. 
I had been entrusted with just twenty-eight little teeth, and I couldn't even take care of them properly. 
What kind of person was I?
A failure, that's what. 
As I heard the awful thud of failure ringing in my ears, the sweet cellos of Dario Marianelli's Pride & Prejudice soundtrack drowned out the voices whispering in hushed tones about "high risk" and fluoride treatments.

So, how was India? asked the dentist.

My mind instantly pulled up pictures of angelus bells ringing in the courtyard of Motherhouse; postulants giggling as they clean Mother's tomb; the cracking noise of Bus 166 squeezing by another bus in a narrow alley; the men shaving on neighboring rooftops at sunrise; the kids playing cricket in the alley; the taste of kulfi; Shakina bouncing up and down, screeching her joyful, toothless "EH BABA EH BABA"; running down the sidewalk in the middle of a monsoon rain, as people huddled under tarps and umbrellas, I ran home in the rain that drenched you to the skin with one drop; I thought of the smell of the pig family in the garbage heap; the feel of the bus going over a speed bump; sunrise over the Himalayas.

And then I thought of what it was like to drink clean water from a tap, what it's like to intentionally watch yourself turn on a faucet and stare at the clear, cold stream of water running out of the tap into your glass (not water bottle. glass).
I thought of what it's like to roll around on the carpet of my family room and wonder at how the clean white berber stretches for what seems like miles across the floor.
I bit into a bagel, and I almost cried, because I still haven't found anything that can rival a beautiful, fresh bagel with cream cheese.

I'm not sure what my tongue said, because the only words my mind said were:
 Death is so obvious there.
In this life, death surrounds us on either side.
There is something too comfortable about suburban USA. 
There is something strangely un-real about it.
Maybe because we have so many material comforts, which is a huge blessing. 
But as I sit at the dining room table with my mother, and look out onto the lush green of the neighboring yards, and the kids playing in the cul-de-sac, it is easy to be lulled to sleep.
There is a strange sense of peace which seems so fragile--all too easily shaken by any sort of crude invasion by anything unsavory or morbid.
It's easy to forget that death waits for us on either side.
In Kolkata, you couldn't escape that truth. 
You are surrounded by so many people who have no bubble of comfort between themselves and the daily task of staying alive.

In that urban arena, where Life and Death battle daily, you have two choices:
paranoia or peace.
Paranoia, living in the blue shadow of Motherhouse, is simply an unsustainable option.
Thus, you find peace. 
A peace that is unshakeable, because flesh and blood have not revealed it to you.
It is there. Somehow, it's there.
There, amidst the goats that shit on sidewalks, is a peace that surpasses all understanding.

But I didn't say all that to the dentist.
Maybe next time, when Number 3 gets the cavity filled.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Martyr is you and I

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.
― Goethe

Familiar songs strung together into something new, courtesy of Katie.

Being back in the United States has definite perks.
Per Esempio:
[which, loosely translated from the Italian, is: "Lemme break that down for you"]
A Dairy Queen Blizzard. [Dairy. Queen. Blizzard. Oh, there is nothing on all seven of the continents that could possibly compare. Dairy Queen Blizzards taste like senior year and prom dresses and night skies filled with stars and night clouds and lakes during summer time.]

Summer Sunset [oh how I missed you, sunset, while you hid behind the Kolkata smog. Every rare sunset I found in Kolkata was met with the relief and hope that greeted the first postdiluvian rainbow].

And The Car Radio.
The Car Radio, friends.
The. Car. Radio.
Go to your car.
Turn on the radio.
And then just dwell in the beautiful fact of its inescapable existence.
There it is:
A little magic music-making device in your car.
It plays music in your car.
Plays music. In Car. What is this sorcery?
Whatever it is, it's pretty darn cool, that's what.

I know radio waves are a universal phenomenon, and of course, there is radio in India, but it is Indian Radio. Not the Car Radio.
Indian Radio is lovely and is filled with Bollywood hits, which are also equally lovely.
Most particularly, this one:

 This song was playing on the radio 90% of all times I listened to the radio.

But I'm talking about the Car Radio.
There are sometimes you curse the name of the stupid Car Radio, because it plays is the same repetitive, abrasive, or just-garden-variety-inane song on station after station, so you retreat to the blessed near-quiet of the classical music station, which is playing anything from Beethoven to Gershwin in essentially whisper-tones, but it's a very welcome escape from the new Kanye song [no offense, truly, Mr. Kanye, but you're no Chopin].
But then--then--sometimes the Car Radio will play the two songs you wanted to hear --right in a row--that's when you bless the name of Car Radio. Inevitably, there's a lull in the goodness, so you switch to the country station on a whim, but lo-and-behold, there's Barefoot Bluejean Nights playing.
And just as you switch back to the original station, you catch the jackpot of any round of radio roulette- Some Nights.
And then there's only one appropriate response, which is to turn up the volume to an unsustainably loud decibel, roll the window completely down, and start tossing your hair around to the music like you're Willow Smith.
It's really the only correct way to listen to Some Nights.

And then there are the new songs that are all over the radio, and are too new to have yet worn out their welcome.
Per esempio:

 Summer sunset+car radio+Dairy Queen Blizzard=pumpkin pie moment.

And as you coast down the road (practicing safe driving habits in the midst of the hair-tossing, of course), you are wrapped in a cozy cocoon of familiar sound.
There is nothing like a song on repeat.
Like any piece of truly masterful art, the more you love a song, the more you revisit, the more you will find in it to love with each revisiting.
Because with each new visit to the song, you carry with it all the memories of the last time you heard it.
Then, the music starts to hold in it all the memories you left with it; and each time you re-encounter the melodies and harmonies, you unlock floods of memories with each note, each rest holds a volume of your story, and each key change ushers you through the journeys a favorite song has seen you through.
The familiar only grows more familiar with time, and never old, but continually new.
Music gives voice to what what silence fails to express and words could never communicate.

And who hears music, feels his solitude
Peopled at once.
― Robert Browning, Balaustion's Adventure

Monday, August 5, 2013

the ontological transfigurations of socks

[Overheard In Theatre Camp This Week]

The Girls: Excuse me, we have a question.
Me: Yes?
(giggles and whispers) 
The Girls: You ask her! No, you ask her!
Me: Girls. What is it?
The Girls: Are you married? You look married.
Me: I'm not married.
Boy: Of course she's not married! She's a teenager.
The Girls: You're not a teenager! Aren't you a grown-up? 
Me: Well. I'm not a teenager either.
Boy: ...?
Me: I'm in my twenties.
Boy: Oh. So you're like a teenager.
Me: Sure.
Boy: Have you past age seventeen?
Me: Yes.
Boy: WOW.

Upon hearing the story, my mom laughed: He doesn't understand the world of Twenty.
I don't understand the world of Twenty, I responded.

I went to wake up my Mom one morning, because I needed to ask her a question.
She was sleeping, as most human beings do at the ungodly early-ish hours I find myself waking up at this week. I thought I was stronger than jet-lag, but every time nine o'clock pm rolls around, and I find myself falling asleep in the middle of a dinner with friends, I realize jet lag's a bastard that's hard to beat.

I stood by my mom's bedside, and whispered urgently, sotto voce:
I started.
I felt that the voice that came out of my mouth was no longer my own. In my ears, I swore I heard the squeaky little voice of my three-year-old self, calling out the perpetual antiphon of Mahhm, Mahhhhhm.
I looked at my mom sleeping peacefully, and wondered.
I wondered at how many times I had wandered to her bedside at an ungodly early hour, and woken her up to comfort me after a nightmare, or to answer a question about the nature of eternity "But Mahhhm, it's scary!", or to announce I'd gotten sick in the hallway on the way to the bathroom.

Never had I thought about what it's like to be on the receiving ends of those plaintive cries of "Mahhhm...Mahhhhhhm"
And I blushed with shame for being twenty-something and about to wake my Mom out of several minutes of precious slumber for any reason that wasn't a tier-one medical emergency.
And so I tip-toed out of her room, while she slept as peacefully as a baby.

If we are all truly on a journey, and none of us is ever actually home, then the duty or goal or call of a parent is truly a very strange and difficult call--to make a home on the way.
In a world that is filled with danger, to convince a child that they are safe.
To somehow, with some of their homely parental magic, create a commune that smacks of home-i-ness in the face of the foreign-ness of the world.
To teach their young offspring perhaps the most important lesson a human being could ever learn: what home is.
Parents are quite mysterious creatures.


A sock, albeit ontologically transfigured, is still a sock.
And like all socks, is prone to emitting a putrid smell.
And losing its match, and bearing the shameful label: "mis-matched sock."
But no matter how putrid an unwashed sock smells, it retains the function of a sock.
We risk wearing these socks, because if we wore our tennis shoes without them, our feet would turn fungal.
A sock, albeit ontologically transfigured, is still a sock.

Friday, August 2, 2013

plus potuit, quia plus amavit

How many times did we all hear "it's okay, it's all going to be okay" when we were kids? Scraped knees and hurt feelings were all soothed with this phrase.
I'm not sure when we decided that "okay" was what we were shooting for, but somehow the reassurance still works.
--My Very Wise Roommate

For through your 
goodness we have received
the wine we offer--
the absent-minded priest paused as he tentatively held the chalice aloft.
He stopped abruptly.
Wait. Have I already said this part?
As he paused, he suspended the moment in the air along with the chalice.
It felt as though there was a crinkle in the atmosphere.
The air was held back by the atmospheric fold the way water is trapped by a kink in a garden hose.
The elderly suburban ladies in pink tracksuits and pleated chinos chuckled and tittered and nodded yes.
The priest thank them and continued on, then.
Then he stopped.
Shook his head. He went back and re-lifted up the chalice.
I haven't said this part, he laughed at himself.
The ladies chuckled with good humor.
He laughed:
We offer and we offer and we offer...


There will come a moment when your love will fail.
Mostly simply because you are human, I am human, she and he are human, they are human, and we all are human.
And a love that's not perfect (that's "bent," as both C.S. Lewis and P!nk might say) sort of comes with the territory of being human.
Our love will always fall short of what it's supposed to be and what it could be and what it ought to be.
Looked at in purely human terms, "Love one another as I have loved you" is a taunt more than an instruction.
To love others like that is an impossible task for you and I, working on our own.
The love we bring to offer up to our brothers and sisters is really a love that's far short of what they deserve. If only we could do another human being the justice of giving them the love they ought to have.
And the love we bring to Christ to quench His eternal thirst for our love is like offering a thirsty man a dewdrop to drink.
And yet we offer it.
We offer it, in the faith that the love we bring to each table of offering, we may receive back one hundred fold, so that we may then turn to our brothers and sisters, and strengthen them.
So that the love we bring to them is no longer simply our own, imperfect love, but is a channel for a love far greater.

To love we must have faith. For faith in action is love, and love in action is service.
--Mother Teresa

Forget your perfect offering--whatever first fruits you bring may be rotten or cracked or broken or bent.
But it is through the cracks in the lamp that the light shines through.
The important point is to bring whatever little lamp you have received, cracked and broken though it may be. Or else there will be no light.
We offer and we offer and we offer.

The more we come to know that we are loved, the more we will live to return that love to God and to others. 
For what we lack, the good Lord will provide.
--John Conley, C.S.C.