Friday, January 24, 2014

tou logu to charisma

"We" is a powerful word.
It symbolizes belonging and magic and power and unity.
It symbolizes two becoming one.

A little snowstorm of words

 As I watched the gold sun, setting over the purple sky, so molded and beautiful, shine off the wing of the airplane, my mind yearned for the right word to describe that rich, molded sunset. 
I struggled to think of all the words that I know that could express how that sunset transcended beautiful. 
That sunset's uniqueness was beyond the reach of words. 
Sitting on that plane, I realized I missed the words of Hindi and Bengali: pannee, tikache, bol, boss atchke.
The strong sounds, the always puzzling vowels.

They were so different from the Salvic elegance of the Polish I'd heard repeated around me day in and day out. The only phrase that ever stuck in my mind was: dziękuję
But it seems that "thank you" is the most important phrase for any person to know.

We sat in class, and the professor handed out the most beautiful sheet of paper I've ever seen. It was a logophile's catnip.
On it was a list of the most beautiful Greek words I'd ever seen: hesychia, apatheia, apophthegm, metanoia.
Their simple elegance, even apart from their definitions was a wave of verbal beauty washing over the page.

The obvious reason that the song above is so touching is that there's a human being building a castle out of snow. 
First and foremost, it's downright magical and it's hard slash impossible to look away.
But, also, there is so much magic being woven by the words, of all these different languages from all over the world, singing the same song.
And I may never visit Serbia-Croatia, or Thailand, or Malaysia, but hearing their words is like an instant passport into the realms of those kingdoms of men far away.

But often we find that words function more as walls than as gates, more as ways to keep distance than to come close.
--Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

stealing limelight from the caterpillars

 I almost wish we were butterflies and liv'd but three summer days - three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.
 ― John Keats, Love Letter to Fanny Brawne

Imagine that you are a young butterfly, just fresh out of the chrysalis.
The world finally rocks.
Your wings are freshly shaken free of their amniotic dew, you've just tasted the intoxicating freshness of the spring breeze.
Then, by some cruel warp in the universe, you are shoved unceremoniously back into your pre-cocoonal cage of flesh.
You are back to being a caterpillar.
Having tasted a life beyond the ubiquitous, monotonous milkweed, you are dismayed to be enmeshed in a lumpy, saggy body of a little insect.

But here's where your real work begins.
How do you regain the power of your wings once more?
You can't just leap off the milkweed leaf, and hope that the wings will appear once more because you want them to. 
No, poor caterpillar, you must accept your fate with the rarest of all virtues.
It's what we call humility. 
Which means an acceptance of our own smallness, and a ready willingness to embrace whatever 
state of life is thrust upon us without our permission.
Humility, it seems, is the greatest path towards gaining power.
As we accept our wingless state, we find that the interior disposition of detachment, of living our lives with our hearts soaring up in the sky, far from our little padded feet crawling across the fuzzy leaf, creates a freedom our wings could never give us.
When we accept a life devoid of the glamour of colored wings and dizzying heights, we find that in the simple life of milkweed and stalks of green, we have cultivated an interior richness that contains all the beautiful things that those with colored wings have to go to dizzying heights to seek.
But we now hold it inside our little caterpillar heart.
When we embrace the pain that comes with our metamorphosis, we find that, in the midst of the sorrow a joy, derived from compassion, wells up within us, for those who bear pain, alone, unthought-of and unaided.
We have found the ability to regard the other caterpillars with love.
Even the annoying ones who eat away at a leaf which we had totally dib-sed way before they did.
We are still caterpillars, but caterpillars transformed.
Perhaps this acceptance seems radically stupid, passive, useless, and completely un-empowered.
But to anyone who has ever felt instinctively in their bones: when I am weak, then I am strong, then they may begin to realize that power is made perfect in weakness.
When we are brought to our knees, we are given the opportunity to understand what it means to be weak, to empty ourselves on, not grasping onto equality with anything.
Simply thinking: here I am, a butterfly, stuck, profoundly and irrevocably stuck, in the body of a caterpillar.
One day, I will be a butterfly again.
And then, I will soar.

 I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.
 ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince 

Monday, January 20, 2014

difficult and beautiful to behold

The sun was colder as we waited in the square.
I stood with my one euro bottle of prosecco in one hand, my camera in the other, rapidly making notes on a small card that listed Mr. Weigel's US, Polish, and Italian mobile phone numbers. 
I looked around to see flocks of nuns wiping away tears, and journalists darting about.
The sun was shining, but a cloud prevented it from warming the fountains as it had the Trevi just a few moments before.
There was activity, an anxiousness, a desperate desire to soak in the last minutes of seeing Benedict XVI as Pope.

As the helicopter flew overhead, thousands of eyes followed it like hawks.
Like anxious parents watching their children leave for college, the crowds' eyes were glued to the large television screens, tracking the final moments of their pope with rapt devotion.
And then it flew away.
It was over.
And something new was about to begin.


The sunset burst into flames above Piazza Navona, splashing across the blue sky for just an instant.
The clouds matched the carefree peach plaster of the buildings surrounding the piazza.
The timing of the conclave was like the timing of the sunset.
Difficult to capture. Easy to miss entirely. 
But a beautiful sight to those who sought it out to behold.

"...but when I had to come to Rome, I always stayed in Via della Scrofa. From there I often visited the Church of St. Louis of France, and I went there to contemplate the painting of ‘The Calling of St. Matthew,’ by Caravaggio."
--Papa Francesco, commenting on our mutually beloved San Luigi dei Francesi.
I have never been more pleased when I discovered that Papa Francesco has an affinity for my favorite Church in Rome.
San Luigi dei Francesi is like a rainforest of marble, the beautiful square marble columns reach to dizzying heights above you.
It is a crazy church, there is nothing tame about it.
 It is wild, it's colorful marble columns and ceilings are an ecstasy of wild pigment.
But hidden within this majestic, nearly histrionic celebration of marble, there is hidden a real treasure. A much more subtle majesty. It is the beautiful chapel of St. Matthew, which features the twin Caravaggio pieces, depicting the tax collector's calling to follow the Lord on the right and then his subsequent martyrdom on the right.
It is a juxtaposition which is hard to forget.

At 8:00 on Tuesday morning, I ran to the surging line that was already threading its way into Opening Mass.
As I fell into the line that was slowly-but-surely running through the colonnades into the Basilica, the sense of history rippled through the crowd, disturbing the statues above us on the colonnade.
The reporters seemed enchanted, mystified by it, but strangely outside of it.
Observers on the edge of an event they could barely understand.

St. Peter's dome is mammoth---it's like a second sky.
Its magnificence seems large enough to encompass the whole globe, to draw it up into itself.
And the entire globe gathered to pray there, to be with one another, to participate in something more eternal than the sky.
There were only a few of us here.
A handful of us to stand in for the billions represented.
During Mass, I stood next to a man who spoked German. 
I didn't know his language, and he did not know mine. 
But then, somehow, magically, we raised our voices together and recited the Our Father. 
Our voices harmonized together in Latin, in a tongue, ever ancient, never new, that celebrates being part of a communion of humans, connected by the divine.

The solemn tones of Latin mixed with the words from all the different countries, all the different nations were gathered under one roof--the Dome of the Sky.

The evening was less solemn and more dazzling, the air charged with the electric anticipation as we awaited the first vote and the first smoke.
The pilgrims, sight-seers, onlookers, curiosity-seekers, wanderers all poured into the square, unsure of what they would find, but longing to be a part of it.
Like any piece of well-written theatre, the conclave abided by the rule of threes.
The first time smoke pillowed out of the chimney, all the onlookers were struck by the realization that without a doubt that we were here, witnessing this event.
It was a beautiful pinch, reminding us this was no dream.
We were there to witness a Caravaggio painting come to life.
For the next night, against of the dark chiaroscuro shadows of the dark Roman sky, breaking through the night with piercing and inescapable clarity, a cloud of white smoke poured out of the small, innocuous little chimney.

 Francis and Clare are examples of peace: with God, with oneself, with all men and women in this world. May this holy man and this holy woman inspire all people today to have the same strength of character and love of God and neighbor to continue on the path we must walk together.
--John Paul II, Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi, 1986

Sunday, January 19, 2014

seeing light with the heart

The train station, after all, is the spot where, on the one hand, worlds meet, where proximity and distance mesh; it is the place of encounter, the transition point between here and there. But of course at the same time it is also the place of unfamiliarity, anonymity, mobility.
---Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, on the beauty found at the crossroads

Here is the thing about the Second Vatican Council.
I know all of you woke up today thinking: "the second vatican council. How 'bout that thing. What was that thing's deal, ya know?"
You may breathe easy, because I wrote this blogpost specifically for you.

To begin: one of the legendary stories of Vatican II is the story of the document "Gaudium et Spes," which was a big deal. ("A big deal" is what all the rad theologians call it, a technical theological term, you know).
Besides being a big deal, Gaudium et Spes was also the Council's sort of, well, diagnostic of the modern world (their diagnostic being that it was going to shit) and what sort of attitude one ought to have towards it (like, hope, I guess?).
One can hardly blame them. As our elevated colleges in the ivory tower, the historians, will tell you, the world is in a constant state of going to shit. ("Going to shit," a technical historian term, dontcha know.)
But, one can imagine how, after a few dozen wars, two of which encompassed the entire NorthWestern world, a persistent and annoying Iron Curtain (as opposed to an Ironed Curtain, which isn't annoying at all. An ironed curtain is quite cheerful and domestic. It does wonders for a room. This is not quite the case with the Iron Curtain), and a lot of depression, recessions, bombs, and other sundry putrid happenstances, the Cardinals must have looked at each other and said: Eia! Hoc est pessimum. [They spoke in Latin, because it was pre-Vatican II. The rough translation is: Wow! This sucks. ]
But instead of sitting comfortably in their churches behind their pulpits, telling their congregations: the world out there? You know the one; the one that you just walked out of, that you're going to have to back into after you leave your blessed hour of rest? Yeah, that one. It's going to shit. Good luck to you trying to have to deal with it. 

Instead, they wrote this constitution.
Originally, the opening words of this constitution were: 'The grief and the anxieties of the men of this age...' which is a much nicer way of talking about the pains of the modern world than saying "going to shit." 
The Cardinals have a more refined vocabulary than I, apparently.
 But, before the final draft of this document was released, in front of those sad words they inserted the phrase: "the joys and the hopes." 
And so their defining document on the role of the Church in the modern world, which Vatican II sought to address, began with Joy. It began with hope.
The Church acknowledged the grief and the anguish, because they are inescapable.
But these Cardinals were primarily men with hope to bring.
'The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age.'   
The world, it seems, no matter how full of anguish, and pain and horrors and seemingly unending sadnesses, still leaves room for joy in the human heart and for hope of the sun rising in the East in the morning.

Hence this Second Vatican Council [...] now addresses itself without hesitation, not only to the sons of the Church and to all who invoke the name of Christ, but to the whole of humanity.
We are not going to keep our churches warm and safe, while winter reigns in the rest of the world.
There is something here, in the warmth of the churches, which those left out in the cold crave, desire, yearn for. 
It is summer.
We will not keep the summer to ourselves, we will share it with the world.
There will be no catacomb church hidden safe in the ground, while those outside brave the elements alone.
We will not hide in the darkness.
For, in fact, there is no darkness.
There is already light. 
It lives inside each human heart, they have only to uncover it.
The darkness of winter will melt into the sweet light of a new springtime.
The world has lived in winter long enough.
It is time for spring.

 There are saints who are ready to effect something new and living.
--John Paul II

Friday, January 17, 2014

secundum verbum tuum

If you love the good thing vitally, enough to give up for it all that one must give up, then you must hate the cheap thing just as hard. There is such a thing as creative hate; a contempt that drives you through fire, makes you risk everything and lose everything, makes you a long sight better than you ever knew you could be. 
--Willa Cather 

We are strange creatures.
Our vision is essentially marred, neither glasses, contacts, nor any number of visits to the optometrist will correct it.
We are actors in a drama of which we only know a fraction of the story.
We set out each day to make choices: when will I wake up? Will I hit the snooze button? Will I hit the snooze button for the fifth time in a row?
What will I eat for breakfast?
How will I say good morning to my little sister?
What will I say when my roommate asks where the spatula is?
Will I call my sister today?
What will I do when I see an accident on the side of the road?
When I am frustrated with my brother, what will I say to him?
When I have to wake up for an unseemly early class, with how many salty and unladylike words will I pepper my sleep-deprived diatribe?

We make choices as frequently as we breathe.
But we don't often think of the effects that our choices have, because often we do not see them.
The product of our choices is really ourselves, and our character.
Our character is not some psychological concept that is set in stone.
But rather, a puzzle fitted together of all the choices we have made.
We are not taught to think that way.
Each day, we know not what we do.
When it comes to ourselves, we have rather aggressive hyperopia.
It is surprising to grasp the rather shocking reality that all of our choices--even the smallest, most insignificant, bring with them results.
Every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, quoth the laws of physics, which we stubbornly believe applies to every piece of matter in the universe except to ourselves. 
There is no choice we make that takes place in a vacuum.
There is no thought that we ever dream which remains private, unseen, affecting no one.
The workings of our imagination inside of our heads are some of the most powerful influences we encounter. Our thoughts, little synapses in our brain connecting, alter the physical chemistry of our brain, they somehow transform the make up of who we are.
Sometimes, our hyperopia is corrected, the blurred confusion recedes, and we see the effect of the choices we have wrought breaking through the cloudy sky, a piercing, hopeful patch of blue.
We feel the brunt of our choices.
We finally begin to grasp that, just like the flutter of a butterfly's wings, each minuscule action of ours will merit a reaction.
Each small choice you make is a shard of colored glass in the kaleidoscope.

God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.
--Papa Francesco

Thursday, January 16, 2014

fumies can't stop us

Falling all around my face, sticking to my eyelashes and dancing intrusively against my irises were thousands of giant flakes of snow.
Flakes is the wrong word, because there were dozens of flakes all clumped together.
Clumped is the wrong word, because the delicate flake flotillas drifted apart at the touch of a finger,
a small breath of air would send them scattering.
Scattering is the wrong word.
Scattering is the scratchy sound of fall leaves being blown about by gusty, lusty winds.
Scattering is the frantic noise of squirrels searching for their buried treasures in the frozen autumn earth.
I have never seen a snowflake scatter.
They move at the pace of Her Majesty and they float, with a confident, clandestine feline grace on their journey to kiss the ground.
Rain is noisy. 
Rain announces its presence from the moment you wake up.
As the raindrops clatter noisily across your roof and splatter unceremoniously to the ground, you can hear their racket from deep within the cosy confines of your bed.
But snow.
Snow arrives unannounced, and as you step outside your front door you are greeted by a world of white.
The silent snowflakes smile at the surprise they have wrought.
You step out, and the only noise is the sound of your breath leaving your mouth, and the soft, cashmere crunch of snow underneath your boot.
I opened my mouth up to the sky, and let the little bouquets of hexagonally symmetrical icicles fall into my mouth.
At the first taste of snow, the lush, outdoors-y taste of winter doesn't just surround your face and bit your nose, but it enters into your body.
You feel winter slip down into your belly.
Your insides open up like Muhammed's heart and are washed clean with snow.
The flakes dance on your tongue, fresh as a North wind and sweet.
But not a cloying sweetness--a sweetness like a mountain stream.
A sweetness like fresh air rolling through a cloud, off of Himalayan slopes.
The aftertaste is warm. A bit nutty.
The taste is just a hint, just the barest little bit of evidence that this water molecule's life started deep inside the earth.
This water molecule was not born in a cloud.
Once upon a time, it could be found in a subterranean pool of groundwater, mixed in with the rich loam of the globe's crust.
This snow, which seems to blanket all the blemishes of the earth in a gorgeous frosting of ice, is not so foreign in nature from the unceremonious mud and limp dead grass it covers.
The beauty that dusts the frozen world is intimately linked to it.
It is a beauty that originated in its core.
It is a beauty, planted in the core, that eventually blossoms into something extravagant.
A beauty that is ravishing, that will not allow anything on earth to not be embraced, consumed, and somehow transfigured by it.
Transfixed, we open our mouths to receive this refreshment,
this manna from heaven which falls onto our tongues.

What we are promised is that He loves us, and that, if we will only bring ourselves to ask, He will bless us with a ravenous hunger for intimacy with Himself. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

horizon is all we had

I was so preoccupied with helping him make it to the top, I didn't think about myself
--A Father's Words About His Son


One of the fixtures of my childhood was the legendary albino squirrel.
In our collective imaginations, there was only one of these rare creatures in the neighborhood, and a spotting of THE albino squirrel was something to write home about (or to shout triumphantly about on your arrival home, rubbing in the face of all who were absent that they missed something magical).

Coming home to a house that is vibrantly full of life, which you are not a part of for about 40 weeks of the year is a strange sensation.
You come back into old routines with a jolt, re-adjusting to The Way Things Were, while realizing that there have been subtle changes from the Way Things Were to the Way Things Are Now.

When I returned home from India this past summer,  I was 100% positive that my little siblings had missed me when one day, I woke them up for morning mass by playing a fun. song very loudly on my little sister's ipod-alarm-speaker-thing (technology. It's all so unclear), and starting an impromptu dance party in the middle of their room at 7:15am in the morning. I'm pretty positive their reaction to that performance was: Praise all that is good that our dear sister has returned safely, with dancing legs and singing tongue intact!, from India. What did we ever do without her?!
I'm certain that's what they were thinking, as they groggily threw pillows at me, trying to get me to stop.
I'm really good at reading people, you see.

Here is the strange, sad, beautiful, bizarre, [insert really any adjective you'd like here] truth about growing up, which is also a wonderful truth: the more time you spend away from home, the more you miss it.
And the family you leave behind isn't the same family which you left.
They're human beings, not ponds, so they don't sit there and stagnate, they change, they grow. They've had dinner conversations and negotiations and victories and sadnesses for which you weren't present.
And you realize that the three small children you have lived with all your life have grown up now into acutely interesting and beautiful human beings.
They are far enough off the ground that it hurts when they fall.
It is strange, and strangely humbling, to approach your ten-year-old brother as an outsider to his life.
You rely on him to make the choice to let you into his world, into the heart of his life.
Love impels us to take all sorts of risks.


When I was six, an hour is an eternity.
If you have an hour to yourself, you are richly blessed indeed.
You could sneak in an hour of clandestine playing, before your game would be discovered and forced to be put on pause for lunchtime or schooltime or bedtime or many of the various sundry commitments forced upon your six-year-old schedule.
It is hard to be a young child living in a world that is not fashioned for you, even time is measured differently by our small selves.
Just as anything on top of the refrigerator is tantalizingly above your head, so is the logic by which the adults who run your world are operating.

In six-year-old terms, where the big kids are the 10-year-olds and fourth graders, if you've somehow reached the mysterious age of seventeen (that's almost twenty!), you've reached unchartered territory of unimaginable greatness and grown-upness. 
But, looking back on seventeen from any age past seventeen, seventeen is pretty lackluster, as far as ages go.
When I look back on being seventeen, I remember a strange young girl who put off her trigonometry lesson until the end of the day each day for an entire school year, and who smiled more than she talked, and had hair that waffled between black and auburn for an entire year, thanks to the magic of Clairol's Natural Instincts Semi-Permanent Hair Color.
And although she slept in the same bed as I still do, and had many of the same aspirations, dreams, and even some of the same chronic nightmares, she seems like a world and a half away.

But, from a six-year-old's vantage point, anyone--even a strange seventeen-year-old--who can reach the top shelf of the cabinet is vested with undeniable glamor and power beyond comprehension.
I often wonder how much of adult society would make sense to a six-year-old, if anyone bothered to sit down and explain things like the electoral college, and gang violence, and cocktail parties.

But here's the advantage a six year old has over all of us:
they are closer to the ground, so it never hurts them as much to fall.
As we were ice skating, we were surrounded by little children, bundled up like marshmallows.
They fell on the ice with regularity, but would get back up again like nothing had happened.
They are so close to the ground, so that their tumbles are taken in stride.
If all of us remained like little children, close to the ground, all the falls we take would perhaps not be as painful.
But if we always hugged our mother earth, we would never reach the sky.
And I guess that's the trade-off.


I was running through the snow, because a run in the snow is one of the more refreshing things known to man.
And--there it was!
I saw, darting across my path, a little furry ball of clean, creamy-white fur.
I watched the legendary albino squirrel clamber across the icy street, and dash delicately over the firm snow.
And I texted my sister a victorious albino squirrel sighting text.
Some things, I thought satisfactorily, remain the same.

Friday, January 10, 2014

labyrinthine tangle of assents

true beauty, in which every century recognizes itself, is found in upright stones, ship's hulls, the blade of an ax, the wing of a plane.
--Primo Levi, The Periodic Table

When I was fifteen, there were three things I didn't understand.
They were the following:
Taking blame for a fault for which you were not actually guilty; the Angelus; and Schubert's Impromptu, Opus 90 No. 4.

 If I achieve nothing else in my life, I think I'm okay, for I have achieved one thing: I have finally finished George Weigel's massive (or as one reviewer dubbed it: "encyclopedic") biography of John Paul II.
It weighs more than I did when I made my first appearance into the world of daylight.
I think I'm joking.
But I'm not entirely sure.
Not only was it a relief to prove to myself I was still able to read, (which I seriously doubted after a rushed semester that left a hurricane of skimmed pages in its wake), it was a meditative crash course in the history of Europe in the 20th century.
The books has found a unique vantage point: history through the eyes of Karol Wojtyła, a young Polish philosopher/thespian (philospian?), who one day woke up to find himself the 264th Bishop of Rome.
It was a much-needed eye-opening walk through European history from a Euro-centric view.
My fifteen-year-old mind never really grasped what a diplomatic nightmare Europe (and much of the rest of the world) necessarily was following two world wars and the fall of the Soviet Union. And somehow this man was supposed to shepherd 1 billion souls, scattered all over the world, through that turbulence.
It was easy to feel overwhelmed simply by reading about what seemed to be just one crisis on top of another.
If it wasn't some frustrating diplomatic kink with the Patriarch of Moscow, it was a disagreement with the US Secretary of State. If it wasn't a German bishop verbally shredding one of Karol's encyclicals to bits, it was a stay at the papal hospital suite in the Gemelli.

But, at the eye of the storm, in the midst of all these events, these manic doings, was the being himself, who was mesmerizing and charismatic, even from the distance that a book forces between its reader and its subject.
If you flipped back several (hundred) pages before, you would remind yourself that this man who was juggling difficult conversations with Fidel Castro, and preaching religious freedom to dictators was the simple parish priest, with a vibrant life of prayer and an insatiable penchant for the outdoors, that we met earlier in the story.
The most impressive aspect of this priest seemed to be this radiant interior peace.
It was beyond all understanding, and far beyond the touch of any disturbances of this world.
As the horrors of the Holocaust swept over his country, faith-breaking horrors of which Primo Levi wrote: "if for no other reason than that Auschwitz existed, no one in our age should speak of Providence," this man escaped unscathed.
He lived in the peaceful acceptance of a person who knows that his life is no accident, and the events that swirl around him, the exterior drama in which a human is acting is coinciding with a deeper, interior drama playing in all our hearts.
He is an Angelus man.


I sat down at the piano and felt for the first time how stiff my fingers had grown.
The notes no longer floated off my fingers like words from my keyboard, I felt as though my brain was poorly translating the notes on the page into a language my fingers could barely grasp, as they stumbled over the notes like a lush over his feet.
After a few practice bars, I revisited the once-familiar runs of notes, which welcomed me back like a forgotten mother-tongue.
As I listened to the wistful melody appearing in the dense jungle of notes, I realized that this music was painting a sound that I couldn't recognize at the age of fifteen.
At the age of fifteen, my heart hadn't made that sound yet.
But now, as I heard it again, now soaring, now whispering, darting between the chords, I recognized, tone-for-tone, a sound that my own heart had made.
Someone had lifted it out of my breast and gave the tune there color, shape, and life.


As I read John Paul's biography of words, I heard the notes of Franz Biebl's Ave Maria, which could probably serve as an appropriate musical biography.
Biebl's Ave Maria has a strength in it like iron, its beauty is stern and solemn.
It is a piece whose beauty is structured and grounded, as Levi describes.
It is a prayer for a century that is chronically tragic; for a century who has a certain duty to mourn the events that took place during its reign.
I don't know if there was much reason for optimism in the twentieth century.
In the face of a fact such as Auschwitz, optimism must stagger, if not fail completely.
But as optimism dies, something much stronger must rise out of its ashes, as certain and sure as the sweet bass tones of Biebl's chorus.
For there is nothing weak about this Ave Maria.
The sound that fills out the harmonies is the sound of Hope.
It is the sound of a song that, when faced with a terrifying, dumbfounding prospect, embraces the mystery with trust.
In spite of the vast meaninglessness of the world, there is such a thing as the fullness of time.
Despite the persistence of slavery, Biebl's song staunchly proclaims the freedom for which humans were born, which rolls of the tongue of the soloist in a delicate phrase: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.
That phrase transcends optimism; that phrase is the reason for hope.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

let me learn from where I have been

You were cold as the blood through your bones /And the light which led us from our chosen homes 
--Mumford and Sons, Below My Feet

Nostalgia is the sweetest of all sadnesses.
We are incessantly creating homes for ourselves all over the globe.
Because none of these are actually really our home.

But they're beautiful little resting-places, these pieces of the world.
And they lodge themselves into your heart in beautiful ways.

This is Lincoln's Inn's Fields. For an afternoon of bliss, add clotted cream scones, strawberries and prosecco.]

Little moments like:
 dodging pigeons that guard the entrance to the bridge like dragons,
the way the grass smells in Hyde Park,
the color of the Thames at night,
the view of the Shard from Waterloo bridge,
the warmth of the apartment building when you step inside from the cold,
the surge of victory inside of you when Sainsbury's has a sale on Fruit and Nut bars,
the joy that a pint of cider and a cozy pub bench crowded with people you can laugh with can bring.

our own secret garden
The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilized, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane.
― Stephen Fry

The wide world is full of lions to climb
and rivers to tame, and mountains to crest and cities to explore.
 And lots of people to fall in love with. Lots of those.

 And if you ever become too old to climb a tree, then I'm afraid you've become too old.
You should take a u-turn instantly, and head back along the road towards youth.
Because that's how aging works, right?

I read through my little blue book the color of the sea, and looked at all the adventures hastily written and haphazardly scribbled onto those pages.
The world is one of those dangerous places that seems so conquerable and so mundane.
But in a world of traffic jams and nail clippers; crosswalks and washing dishes there exists wonders like the alps or the Indian Ocean or the Andromeda galaxy or the giant squid.
It's almost impossible to believe that you share the same universe as such a foreign, mysterious creature as the giant squid.
But you do.
A molecule of water vapor that is floating through your house may have been a drop of water that touched the back of a humpback whale.
The atoms that surround us have had long journeys themselves, and we can hardly know where their adventures have previously brought them.

a universe, squeezed onto a small disc of bronze
One day we waited in line for five hours.
Five. Hours. To go into a small, dark room for twenty-five minutes.
But, inside that room, it was raining. 
And we walked in the rain without it touching us.
Five hours is a small price to pay for a little bit of magic.

a little bit of enchantment

just know you're not alone/ I'm gonna make this place your home --Phillip Phillips

 On Waterloo Bridge where we said our goodbyes, 
the weather conditions bring tears to my eyes. 
I wipe them away with a black woolly glove 
And try not to notice I've fallen in love 

[or with a tan mitten. That you will lose on the overnight Megabus to Edinburgh. A small tragedy]
 On Waterloo Bridge I am trying to think: This is nothing. 
you're high on the charm and the drink.
But the juke-box inside me is playing a song
That says something different.
And when was it wrong?
 ― Wendy Cope, After the Lunch


Yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. 
--John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

the metamorphosis of Don Quixote

We must be ready dare to accept with joyful heart and without diminution, the foolishness of truth.
--Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Take a swath of velvet; keep the richness, depth, and mystery, but remove the softness.
Discard the docile nature of the malleable fabric.
Find a way to establish within the velvet the rigid strength of iron.
Retain the faint distant glimmer that appears when the fabric moves.
Now instead of a length of velvet in your hand, you are holding a corner of the night sky.
A December sky, terrifyingly pure.
Not a cloud dares to adulterate its stern cerulean glory during the day, and not even a hazy trace of nebulosity is visible between the crisp pin-points of light from infinitely distant suns.
The starlight is so sharp, if you could reach it, it would prick your fingertip.
A moon hangs in the sky, lazily, somehow untouched by the raw energy that flies through the air.
The cold electrifies each atom in the atmosphere, bringing it into more vivid life.
A life that hangs there, in the middle of the dark night air, frozen.
It's vivid life suspended in the cold as it awaits a thaw.

Two wanderers wander through the thick snowbanks.
The demure, fluffy snow of Christmas and cocoa and lovely gelid crystals is hidden under an formidable crust of ice.
Those who step lightly can walk over this carpet of ice, leaving only the tiniest impression where their foot has fallen.
The two wanderers step gingerly, tenderly; the vital motion of their step also suspended in the cold as they seek a stable spot to set their foot.
Laughter breaks the inertia of the hibernating wind.
A small gust rustles the pine needles on the trees, shaking the leafless branches of her deciduous neighbors.

Step-by-step, the two travelers wander through the world under the enchantment of the icy air and sparkling frozen ground.
It is on these silent nights, when there is no other sound than your heart pumping warm blood through your veins, your lungs turning the arctic oxygen into air of a breathable temperature, and your eyelids blinking, the gaze of any explorer turns inward.
Turns in on the turbulent landscape inside, away from the frozen desert of the tundra outside.
On these sorts of nights the inner world rises to the surface, a world that is usually covered by an impenetrable barrier, like the ice under your boots.
And there, the bracing cold strips the layers off your soul, exposing it, bare, to the elements.
In the radiant starlight, in the safety of the dark, you can examine your heart under a microscope, like a butterfly's wing.
From the light of the wintery sickle moon, you can see very plainly the hidden mysteries inside of yourself.
We are hardly experts at understanding ourselves; trekking through a frozen forest is simpler than navigating the confusing and mystifying labyrinth inside of us.

But, on clear nights like this velvet night, the haze of wine in our head evaporates into the dry air, and with it goes the flimsy bursts of passion.
Our tireless heart is warmed by our blood, and the colder corners of that organ are thawed into a quality resembling tenderness.
The velvet sky absorbs all the darkness, and what's left behind, if we will wake ourselves up a bit and brave the cold to see it is just one word.
One is enough.
Left behind, distilled and shining in the silver moonlight is our one simple word.
As it falls off of our lips, it harmonizes with the melody sung by the the wanderers above us in the vibrant, inky firmament.

Not only was darkness unable to defeat light; darkness never even understood the light. 
Here we are, twenty centuries later, and the darkness is as clueless as ever. All the great literature of the world, all the stories of self-surrender or self-risking which lift our heart and make us glad—darkness cannot understand them. 
--Rev. Victor Lee Austin, PhD

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

so people do belong people

There is nothing in our Faith that places some people "out there" while I am "in here."

One fine fall day, I was frantically running around before the show began: getting my family comfortably situated; greeting people; making sure everyone had tickets; talking to the stage manager; visiting the dressing room.

I went outside to my own happy little corner of the terrace where I knew I could breathe, look at the endless sky, feel the breeze, and clear out my head and my heart.
As I pushed open the heavy door, and stepped out onto the sandy stone, I headed towards my bit of wall and found someone was already there--my father. He had beat me to my spot. 
After a hug, I stood next to him, watching the sun leave the sky, and enjoying silence as you can only enjoy it in the company of others.

Parents are unexplainable creatures. 
The command to honor your father and mother, I have come to believe, is primarily addressed to children who have grown up.
The sassy tongues of adolescents and the petty railing of small children is hardly a dishonor compared to the many dishonors that can be exchanged between adults.
As a small child or as a teenager, you have comparatively very little choice over how you will honor your parents. 
Then, when you finally grow up, how are you going to honor this adult who you may have nothing in common with besides a nose and a mouth and strands of DNA?
There is a mysterious connection between a parent and a child, which you can hardly feel when you are a child and you need your parent to parent you.
But then, comes a strange moment where you reach something we call "independence" and you don't always need your parent to parent you.
You are capable (to varying degrees) of doing your own laundry, you've discovered how to make your own choices and deal (at least somewhat) with the consequences, and you can function as a human being without needing the constant supervision, advice, and care of another human.
That's when you realize that your bond with your parent is different than You, Caregiver, Me, Care Recipient.
You begin to maybe have an inkling of understanding of the mystery of two human beings bringing another human being into the world and civilizing him into a human being, who will then go off on his own and repeat the cycle.

As I stood on the terrace with my father, I found myself comforted by the fact that I have at least one thing in common with this man, who never grows weary of playing "football tag", of telling story after story, singing "I Love to Laugh" until he's blue in the face, doggedly pursues his passions, and is a model of ferocious generosity: we both found the same happy place.
And it's a little corner of sandy terrace under the blue-grey Indiana sky.

Monday, January 6, 2014

blizzard on my breath

 Then came, at a predetermined moment, a moment in time and of time, 
A moment not out of time, but in time, in what we call history: bisecting the world of time, a moment in time but not like a moment of time
--T.S. Eliot

Inside, I was inside a world of endless red seats, as soft as velvet, and walls lit mysteriously red. Everything was red, as in loving him was.
Outside, just beyond the world of me and my book and the slick black table and chair was the mighty Mississippi, not yet entirely frozen, the surges of water fighting against the inevitable frost.
The bridges that spanned the formidable river were lit up with the speeding laser-lights of cars.
The world glowed, as I watched it through the slick blue windows.
Outside was a snow-globe world, of bright lights and snow crunching under leather boots.
Inside was a world of light and mystery and people-watching.
There were couples to my right and to my left.
One was holding plastic cups of alcohol and taking selfies.
The others were commenting on books they'd read and movies their friends had seen.

I watched the bride walk, with a joyful, springy, childlike confidence down the aisle.
She held her head, decorated with a slick brown bob and a sparkling bandeau, high.
She was the queen here, and everyone was dazzled by her.
Underneath her gown--fit for a princess--of creamy, flowing chiffon trimmed with delicately shining pink ribbons around the waist and hem, her bare feet would poke out from time to time.
She was bursting with a most contagious joy, that spilled out of her with the abandon of a child. 
As she laughed, she enchanted the world, but mostly the long-haired man who stood next to her, grinning at her with all his heart.

I grinned, too, as I caught sight of the small light out of the corner of my eye.
Forever seems like such a small amount of time.
You'd need twice as long as eternity to adequately tell someone you loved them.
Love seems to take time, which we all claim to understand, control, and measure in perfectly manageable 60-seconds per minute increments, and twist it, break it, un-tame it and let it run wild.
Stumped, I ask:
Who are you?
The answer was no answer, but an invitation, playing on the strings of a desire: 
come and see.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Addressed to all who are passionately dedicated to the search for new 'epiphanies' of beauty
--John Paul II, Letter to Artists

On the outskirts of every University event here lurks a man.
He is a silent, observant man.
He never participates in the event, he only watches and records what he sees.
He will find little perches to rest himself, to capture from his daring vantage point a point of view no one else would have been able to have seen.
He then displays his captured moments for anyone to see.
He knows that you can only capture such a fleeting thing as a moment if you are patient, silent, and have keen vision.

I looked out over the dark woods by the dark lake, knowing that those woods were filled with a very chilly, biting autumn air; but here we were, our noses red, our cheeks flushed by cold and wine, and our bodies toasty and cozy from tip to toe.
As the conversation continued without my assistance, I looked around the large room, grown hazy with the warmth of its occupants, and saw many dinners ending and conversations dwindling at the dark, solid wooden tables all around us.
Next to us, a slight boy with hair like flax talked to his mother across the table from him.
They had left the table where they had been dining with his companions and classmates.
They sat across from one another: he with a pint of beer, she with a cup of coffee.
And they talked.
First, as mother and son.
He shifted the pint glass from hand to hand, she circled the lip of the cup with her finger.
They laughed.
His mother wrinkled her brow in concern.
They talked more.
Then, at the end of the conversation, the mother reached across the table to touch the hand of her son.
And the boy with the hair like flax looked like a man.
They got up and walked back to the table of his companions, smiling at each other the way one does after a satisfying and illuminating conversation.
An aura of a rite of passage hung about them .

I looked around one evening as we sat in the boisterously joyful Stare Miasto in Kraków, taking in the sights of young couples walking by with toddlers holding their hands, the couples laughing, the young groups of children chattering in Polish.
I realized that none of them—none of us—could remember what this square had been like before. I looked at the fathers of the young children, the mothers walking with their teenaged daughters.
I wondered what their memories of this square had been.
The mothers may have remembered when it was perhaps not so lively.
They had memories of a colder time, when Poland was behind a wall of Iron Curtain.
But just a few years later, those realities had disappeared into the fuzzy realm of memory.
I looked at the grandparents, sitting, listening to the sound of the accordion and bass playing a folk song in tandem.
I watched them as they watched the young men dancing in the streets.
I wondered what their memories of this square had been.
Could they remember the day, I wondered, when the Nazis marched into the heart of Kraków.
When a joyful gathering like a few boys break dancing would have been an occasion of danger.

Today’s youth are also so different from those who came before. In the past, the younger generations were shaped by the painful experience of the war, of concentration camps, of constant danger. This experience allowed young people—I imagine all over the world, although I have Polish youth in mind—to develop great traits of heroism.
--John Paul II

I looked at the community of people crowded into that square. What heroic feats of love, great feats or small, everyday feats had those elderly women walking by performed?
I wondered how they had managed to survive, to thrive in an environment of constant danger. And I marveled that anyone who had lived through such times could sit in a square, watching young men break-dance, and laugh for the sheer joy of living.

He awakens energies of mind and heart which enable it to conceive an idea and give it form in a work of art. It is right then to speak, even if only analogically, of “moments of grace”, because the human being is able to experience in some way the Absolute who is utterly beyond.
--John Paul II

We stood in the Basilica on the feast of Christ the King, Lord of the Universe-- Let us pause and acknowledge the almost ridiculously majestic title of that feast.
Who can claim such a title?
It is rather uncharacteristically Romantic of us to create such a title, but as we sang a hymn whose broad beauty shook the choir loft, I felt in my heart what an accurate title it was.
The universe, broad, deep, and filled with stars and empty pockets between galaxies had a voice, and with its voice it was singing some aerial and ephemeral harmony.
It was the harmony we were singing.

I put the Carole King record on the turntable, and took up my broom and swept the entire floor.
I opened up our front door to shake out the dusty runner, and a burst of sunlight air flooded the front entry-way, swirling through the air and between the floating dust spots with the moody notes of Ms. King.
I think the greatest gift my parents gave me was an open front door.
I grew up my entire life with the front door open.
In the summer, the screen door was left to smash into the door frame twenty plus times a day, as we ran from the outdoors to the indoors hastily and with muddy abandon.
Children ran in and out with frequency, the summer air (and several dozen mosquitoes) filled the front hallway of our home every day.

When I thought of the padlocked iron gate in Kolkata, I realized what a luxury the open door of my childhood summers was.
Because in cities, I realized you can't keep the door open and let people stream in and out of your house with abandon.

The outdoors and the indoors were united in my front hallway as I swept out the runner.
I caught a whiff of my roommate's vanilla candle and the hearty smell of fallen leaves combining. It was a rich and rejuvenating air.

the Absolute Beauty, beyond all the beauty of the children of this earth.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

in which i put my nerdiness on full display

I am racking my brain for a single emotionally resonant scene in The Desolation of Smaug
[...]In place of all they omit, what do the filmmakers give us? 
Lots of orcs, to begin with. Orcs lurking around Beorn’s house, orcs on the Running River, orcs in Laketown. Orcs by night, orcs by day —can I say I’m heartily sick of orcs? 

When I was very small--about six-ish, I suppose-- I knew for a fact that my family was not as cool as our cousins' family, because my cousins had a TV in their car.
A televsion in their car
To my small, childish heart, this was a miraculous phenomenon as exotic and paradisiacal as the Garden of Eden on wheels.
Instead, to keep us from killing one another on long road trips to ye olde ancestral home deep in the heart of Carolina, my mother had us listen to audiobooks of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, narrated by the actor Rob Inglis. The sounds that defined my childhood are the sounds of a redolent, smooth British voice booming: "You're a foofy, Bert" and gleefully chanting "Attercop, attercop." 
And that probably explains a lot of my character tics.

Anyhow, the result of this childhood indoctrination is that my imaginative landscape is molded permanently into the form of a map of Middle Earth.
The flavor of those books is as comforting and familiar as wine or hot cocoa.
They are not cold, action-adventure tales, they are not testosterone-laden shoot-em-ups, they are simple stories of people caught up in undertakings much larger than they are.
The quests undertaken by hobbits are kind metaphors for any of us who has ever found ourself in the middle of a project worth doing, and asked themselves: how on earth did I get myself into this?
These are stories of people whose weapons are not bottomless quivers of arrows or fancy swords, but the weapons all of us possess: loyalty, honor, clear-headedness, and courage.
These are not characters who solely speak in quick, clipped speech, in raspy tones that signal These Words Are Important; but rather, in the face of great danger, say charming and civilized things like: "Would you like some tea?" and "May the hair on your toes never fall out!" and “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”

In a burst of familial bonhomie, Dad took the family out to the movies.
This never happens.
The Cinema is our family's collective allergy.
Because, you see, The Cinema is primarily made of loud, obnoxious, repetitive advertisements and previews.
Previews are generally loud, boorish, and you can feel your brain cells being annihilated along with every single car on screen. 
The Twenty Minutes of Previews at the Cinema is the seventh circle of the Inferno.
In the spirit of extreme candor, I'd just like to point out: you never have to sit through twenty minutes of Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise look-a-likes blowing up some starship or battleship or small island when you attend some good ol' live theatre.
I'm just saying.
Previews are bearable when you're rewarded with a film as delightful and enchanting as, say, Frozen or Moonrise Kingdom, but when what's waiting for you on the other side is a glorified video game, then the evening is looking rather grim indeed.

Dad took his brood of Tolkein enthusiasts to see The Desolation of Smaug, and that was his first mistake. (His second was offering me a class of very sweet sherry when I was writing this post.)
What is missing from The Desolation of Smaug isn't all my favorite bits of the novel.
What's afflicting The Desolation of Smaug is the same affliction that ails the Tin Woodman: it lacks a heart.
The movie is filmed with brilliant actors who aren't given a chance to act at all, just run through the very exhausting obstacle course of constantly running away from orc bandits. Adding a bit of dramatic tension to a rather cozy little book is all well and good. A constant drive to evade Death By Orc is not necessarily dramatic tension.
Watching computer-ized looking characters run about in a computer-generated little fantasy landscape is hardly dramatic action.

Magic is created by human beings.
Some of the most skillful magic I've ever witnessed was a team of several skillful puppeteers bring a horse puppet, composed of sticks and strings, to radiant life.
The audience didn't sit back and admire their handiwork, the wide-eyed audience was sucked into the life that had been created in front of us.
We were drawn out of ourselves, into the story of this creature that human imagination had brought into being.
We may be dazzled by the glamor of slick, clean, pretty digital special effects, but whatever magic we find enchanting in the story we've come to watch will be lost when the humanity of that story is lost.
These airbrushed, digitized scenes are hardly a reflection of the real world.
In a slick, digital world, we still remain an un-slick, very lumpy, sometimes rough, always unpredictable, and endlessly quirky human race.
And I'll lift my sherry glass to that.

'Where did you go to, if I may ask?' said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along.
'To look ahead,' said he.
'And what brought you back in the nick of time?'
'Looking behind,' said he.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Friday, January 3, 2014

besieged by wind and light

When churches fall completely out of use 
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep 
A few cathedrals chronically on show
--Phillip Larkin

I sat in the middle of the dark chapel.
The only lights were the red lamp glowing several meters in front of me and the stray bits of streetlight filtering through the stained glass window.
Everything else was dark.
Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik movement 4 floated through the darkness, lighting it the velvet void up like a strand of the Milky Way.
The music filled the darkness, rendering it more like the darkness of a nurturing womb, less like a void.

Patience. Patience. Patience. Patience.
I can't even find the words to write.
I can't find a vision for the show.
I can't find anything.
All I have are these desires.
These desires.
Everything has become desire.
And how do I fix that.

This is a hungry country.
--Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

I took a walk outside in the middle of a windstorm.
It was a murky night, the leaves that were still clinging to the trees were being torn off.
I sat under a very sad little lamp post, who seemed to be shining solely because duty demanded that light of it.
I sat there, without a sigh, because my voice was lost in the wind.
I sat on the stormiest of benches, a large pile of dead leaves underneath it.
Instead of crunching under my feet they squelched in a sad and pathetic manner.
I was tossed about, I felt, by a maelstrom of emotions, of forces, of swirling winds, of strange forces that worked their way up from my feet to my wrists, twisting my stomach muscles into knots.
I itched my wrist.
And watched the wind swirl.
The sound was the sound of a wind you had never heard before.
It was as if it was wind leftover from the week-old typhoon.
It was a wind that had unburied the dead.
That had buried the living.
This was a wind that had crumbled old churches.
Half a globe away, it had eaten up thick, old walls of brick, adobe.
It had eaten alive these red coral churches built in the Philippines by the Spaniards.
The Friday morning before, on my side of the world, it had been sunny and warm.
It had been a little breezy.
A gentle breeze.
A tease of a breeze.
But on the other side of the globe, that flirtatious breeze had been a deadly storm.
It is strange that one day can be two different days.
One day was filled with light and leaves dancing in the sunbeams,
another was storm-tossed, was dark, was thunderclouds that would not stop raining.

I put on my shoes.
I ran.
I twisted my ankle in the snow.
I ran faster.
Breathe in the cold air.
Feel the icicles crystalize in your lungs.
Your lungs are now caverns of ice.
Breathe out.
A bit of warmth in the frost-bitten air.
Feel your nose.
Now you can't.
Stand, out of breath, in the best spot in all of Indiana.
See the water in the lake still, silent. Stopped.
It is peaceful.
There is no music in the air but the light trilling of a pack of sparrows.
I am in love with this ground, this frozen water over and over again.
Your cheeks are red your ears are ice.
The wind bites your face, and reminds you that you are alive.
So you smile.

And led men from light to light, to knowledge of Good and Evil. 
But their light was ever surrounded and shot with darkness 
As the air of temperate seas is pierced by the still dead breath of the Arctic Current.
--T.S. Eliot, Choruses from 'The Rock'

Thursday, January 2, 2014

every gregory needs his basil

One can give nothing like oneself. 
--Gregory of Nazianzus

One of the strangest and most delightful facets of deep friendship is that your friends need other friends to be your friend.
They have yet to develop a word that describes the warm and happy relationship you possess with your dearest friends' other dear friends.
It is a beautiful and delightful acquaintance--to know that the major link between you and this other person is one particular person whom you both mutually love and adore.
It is a relationship warmer than acquaintance, but not a stand-alone friendship on its own. 
They have not found a word for it yet.

There are many people who bemoan the fact that the word "friend" has become an orphan word, separated from a solid definition and has become a placeholder word, an empty, boring "Space Reserved" sign to refer to "any person I know."
Many people wiser than I continue to bemoan this sad fact. 
It feels hard to really work oneself up to care all that much about a word being used too liberally, because language is not a precise art at all. As much as I love good grammar and I attempt to not abuse the word literally, sometimes sentences sound stiff and awkward when trying not to end them with a preposition and sometimes playing with words is more fun than following the rules.  As long as we do actually understand what the word truly means, words are meant to be explored, played with, uncovered.
They are made of elastic, not steel.

For example, I never really mind if someone says "I love mac and cheese," because I'm guessing they do not mean "I am willing to put mac and cheese's needs and desires before my own, to learn how to bend my iron will to the will of mac and cheese, to make myself a servant of mac and cheese, to bring mac and cheese tea in bed and read a story to them when I'd rather go on my morning run, to hold mac and cheese's hair back when they are throwing up into the toilet, to bite my tongue when I want to deliver unto mac and cheese a bitingly acerbic commentary on all of mac and cheese's annoying daily habits, and instead smile and tell mac and cheese that they look lovely this morning, and no, I do not know where their ipod is, but I will help them look, if they say please"

For these are all the things that love is, and it is clear that love, like friendship, is a large enough beauty to escape the undignified taxonomy of a graspable definition. 
If you try to define love and then set it aside on the shelf, you have missed the point entirely, and will end up not understanding what love is at all. But if you attempt to live out love each day, to act as if you fully understand the definition, then it is very clear what love is: it is the act of doing good to another human because they are another human, worthy of good to be done to them.

I do assume that is what someone means when they say: "I love my mother," or "I love Janet" or "I love myself" but I do not think that is what someone means when they say: "I love mac and cheese."
Mac and cheese was a food that I never understood the unique appeal of--and then I became a college senior, too poor and busy to buy proper groceries, and I realized that cheese is less expensive than meat; but no one has relayed that memo to whatever those tastebuds are that determine the richness of food. 
Thus, those foolish tastebuds think they have been satisfied by some full, rich cuisine, when really all we fed them was just cheese, milk, and butter melted into a pot of boxed pasta, and mixed in some vegetables, in a half-hearted attempt to avoid scurvy or diphtheria or whatever diseases afflict the vegetable-deprived.
Thus, I began to love mac and cheese.
And, of course, when I saw "I began to love mac and cheese" I mean "love" as we use love colloquially meaning: A fond, warmish feeling towards the object.
I began to feel a fond, warmish feeling towards mac and cheese, which was only strengthened by the fond, warmish feeling that mac and cheese gave my tummy.
It gives one pause when one thinks of the catastrophic consequences that occur when we confuse the fond warmish feeling, colloquial definition of love with the actual, real definition of love.

Because when we wake up one day and find that we do not have fond, warmish feelings towards our mother, or Janet, or the random people we see passing us on the street, or that annoying kid in class, or the drunk frat house bros walking in front of us, or ourselves how do we know that we still love them? 

And perhaps something like that has happened with friendship.
It is much easier to live friendship than to define it, but I think we all know that not just any person we know and smile at, and greet is what Aristotle would describe as a friendship of the good.
A friendship--a true, not colloquially speaking, friendship-- is a relationship of mutual vulnerabilities.
In friendship, one soul encounters another soul, and reveals itself to the other, and by revealing itself, discovers itself.
When one is in a deep, long talk with a friend, we aptly describe it as "baring one's soul."
We cannot understand ourselves without a friend, for once we have bared our soul to a friend, the friend, through a strange and mysterious leap of knowledge, somehow begins to knows our own soul in a way we cannot.
And in those moments when we doubt ourselves, or act like morons, or lose all sorts of warm, fond feelings for ourselves, a friend is the one who can save us by reminding us of who we truly are.
Through friendship, we learn to understand another person.

Friendship is an art of learning a different way to see the world.
The man who has true friends can never be narrow-minded, for he has learned through them to see the world with many different sets of eyes, he has learned to step into the shoes of different people, to learn their story, to think with their hearts.
We learn what it is to look at the world through different eyes, because no matter how joyously similar to us this beautiful human being is, they will always be infinitely different.
Friendship is really the art of discovery; and human beings do love exploration:
Marie Curie discovered radium, and Cook discovered Hawaii, and Newton discovered an apple that fell on his head.
But the human being who has made a friend has discovered reality.
For reality is not a singular person, but a friendship.

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.
--C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

and in love takes delight in him

Ulysses and eulogies Gainsborough, Gainsbourg, Socrates 
All mean no light, everything 
Oh, the joy of nothing is a sweeter something 
And I will hold it in my heart 
I will hold it in my heart. 
--Foy Vance

One of my perpetual fears is repeating stories, since everyone knows that there's no person more boorish than the man who tells the same tale over and over again.
Tell me once, shame on me. Tell me twice, shame on you. 
(Or something like that.)
We've turned "Stop me if you've heard this one," into a pompous cliché, but I often use it, in complete and utter earnestness, in pleading voice with overtones of desperation: Stop me, please please please, I am begging you, stop me by any means deemed necessary at once--instantly, pronto, statim--if this story begins to sound even remotely familiar.
For I must honor my private vow never to become that boor who is constantly regaling the other person with the exact same, obviously endlessly amusing story because it stars yours truly.
So, stop me if you've heard this one.

But I usually don't mind listening to other people repeat stories, because usually a human being will never repeat a story in the exact same way.
They will always leave out a detail, that something in your current conversation will reawaken in their memory. They'll remember an undertone in a storyline, something inside of them will jostle loose and spill out of their mouth, revealing a new pattern inside the heart of a human being,
revealing a new surprise inside of a friend, revealing a new piece of the eternal mystery that is another human being. 
Just like a song, repetition is often what reveals the something deeper inside a human being.
You could just listen to their melody and lyrics; or you could let the repetition begin to faintly underscore the core of their being.
Even though the stories are always repeated, they are never quite the same.
Although, like the ocean, nothing seems to have changed, they move, like tides, many times a day, the changing currents stirring up interesting and previously unseen things hidden in the depths.

Part of my lesson in learning to love repetition was taught to me by all the professors who taught in class. 
They were all repeat offenders of the repeating stories misdemeanor.
But, then I thought of all those ancients Athenians gathered around Sophocles, and I thought: 
Wait. Isn't this what learning is?
Isn't learning the joy and privilege of listening to the stories of men and women who have lived a sight longer than you and have one or two things to say about everything, and a thousand things to say about one thing?
Maybe we learn what fighting truly means, when we hear the story (for the umpteenth time) of the documentary our mentor made, that toppled a corrupt government.
Maybe we can only learn what Mozart was trying to say in his Requiem Mass on not our first or tenth or twentieth listen, but on our fiftieth.
Maybe we learn what romance is by hearing the story of how our parents met, repeated throughout the years, with various details being revealed at the age appropriate-times. 
(It turns out that at that fateful party when boy-met-girl, the drinks--that had remained mysteriously and ambiguous appellated 'drinks'--that Dad was serving weren't apple juice, Hawaiian Punch, or ginger beer, but schnapps. Parents get more interesting the older you get.)
Maybe we learn what "fresh starts" mean after many years of falling down and getting up again.

There is something so cyclical about a year, which I, in my my overweening love of déjà vu and anniversaries can never stop myself from going into raptures about (even if my audience has heard this one before). 
I catch myself comparing and commemorating the present year to years past, and oohing and ahhing over the incredibly similar rhythm of events that always comes to pass; and laughing as I realize: why, I've done all this before
Yet each story, of love and loss, of frustration and patience, of desire and impatience, of friendship and delight that fills each month of the year is a new story, a new variation on the ancient and beloved repetition.

Love is one of those stories that is always being repeated, but never gets old.