Thursday, October 30, 2014

love's austere and lonely offices

In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
it is something to be sure of a desire
--G.K. Chesterton

"We are the stuff that movies are made of," my friend said to me, a sentiment reminiscent of Prospero and The Bard. She had just moved to Chicago, and as I was on the verge of moving to New York City, we were both nervous, anxious, and scared of our big new homes.
Really, I've become quite in love with the country, even the suburbs with their manufactured ease are a little more human than the rather inhuman crush of City all around you. But that's a story for another day.
And so Elizabeth psyched me up with the above sentence:
We are the stuff that movies are made of.
Damn straight we are, I thought. We are the heroine of the movie: that loveable, stylish vixen at the beginning of every chick flick, who is working a nondescript and subtly not important job in a Big City. (But don't worry she's very successful, and rich enough to own a Hollywood-standard NYC apartment. HOW, Hollywood Chick Flick? HOW.)
Obviously, our abodes are not nearly up to snuff, when compared with those of our sisters on the silver screen, but I have attacked this city with all the determination and spunk of twenty chick-flick heroines.
I have hit the ground running.
I have made a splash.
I have arrived.
I have run out of cliches.

Then, all of a sudden, in the middle of my happy, liberated woman, Big City Adventure waddles a chubby little toddler in adorable fall gear.

Like this:
 or this:


or this.

 I am happy to be a young, single woman, being all adventures and liberated and shit in the Big City. Don't get me wrong, I am. As much as I look with awe upon my peers who are having babies and tending to husbands, I know that there are certain seasons of our lives whose advent is out of our control. And whatever season one finds oneself in right now, it is imperative to seek happiness there, not in a far-off imagined and utterly hypothetical future.

But here's the unvarnished simple truth, revealed to me with dire honestly by every fluffy-down-parka-wearing baby in the Park:
Gosh, I want to get married.
It is so freeing to admit that. Because for some reason it's taboo to say how much one can desire marriage. It makes you either desperate, unenlightened, old-fashioned, demented, boy-crazy, or a host of other epithets.
Call me a poor excuse for a feminist, a girl with her head in the clouds, a stereotypical and lusty female, but it doesn't change the fact that I really want to get married.
Perhaps I've read too many NFP blogs featuring wives raving about the sex they experience with their husbands, perhaps I've swallowed the Happily-Ever-After fairytale that Disney promotes, or perhaps marriage is such a naturally appealing vocation because it is the one we were surrounded with from infancy, throughout the most formative of our childhood years.And perhaps I'm a twenty-two year old woman with a healthy libido and a body full of eggs going to waste each day. Not to sound like a ticking time-bomb, but it is almost physiologically impossible for me not to want a child.

Vocation, is of course, naturally, our here and now. This is rather obvious, once we cover some key points. Our vocation is self-giving love: the free donation of our very wills and selves and hearts back to the Creator who knit them into being.
Obviously, that call knows the constraints of neither time nor place, but is ready to be enacted in the present. Our vocation is to follow in the footsteps of Christ: to die to ourselves, emboldened by the Spirit, and throw ourselves recklessly into intimate communion with the Father.
Our vocation is to participate in the life of the Trinity.

How do I account for, then, for this desire? The desire for babies, and joint bank accounts, and joint tax returns, and all the joyful and mundane unions that accompany marriage.

How do I account for the longing, as my head hits my pillow late at night, for a man who can be my partner, who can co-found with me this little religious community that will be our family? I desire this so deeply--to find a match.
Not to find a soul-mate, for my soul is already mated.
Not to find my other half, for I am a very broken person whom only Love Himself can complete.
Not to find someone who understands every single part of me, for I was comprehended before I could even understand myself.
I long to find another whole, broken, complete person: who doesn't need me, but has found themselves mysteriously called to be one with me, to requite Love's love, together, with a love that is Love's own.

Perhaps this is all another part of the illusion of the happily-ever-after narrative: that something permanent and stable occurs at marriage. That somehow those who have entered into marriage have attained a higher status of security and permanency, solidity and completeness.
And yes, there is nothing "complete" about marriage, rather it creates new relationships and new lonelinesses for God to fill.
But yet there is a stability: a new, unshakeable foundation is laid.
A new unity of life is formed--and I want that.
I desire so deeply to build that community: that small little religious community that shall be composed of myself; my spouse; several children with runny noses; and maybe a dog or two to guard the chickens, and the babies that try to crawl down staircases.
Our habits would be Osh Kosh B'Gosh, Baby Gap, and Gymboree; our rule of life would be simple, based on Benedict's and Basile Moreau's, adapted for life in the secular iPhone world; and our daily bread would be the Eucharist--if not that presented in the Liturgy, then in the offering of our lives to one another.

I want that. I want that a lot.
And I'm not going to be ashamed to say it.
I feel as though we are often too afraid to name our desires, because we are too attached to them. We identify them too closely with our core.
What if we change our minds? We will look like fools.
Even still, what if we never get what we have professed to want? We will look like even greater fools. And, even worse, failures.
I change my mind 500 times a day about the things that are not needful, which are more plentiful in number than the stars in the sky. Perhaps that makes me changeable, but it is much more freeing to have found one thing needful and stand by that, and let the various storms of desires and longings, wants and needs, wash back and forth and back and forth like the surf on the shore, not displacing a single grain, for all their vaunted movement.
And I have wanted many things that I have never received. I would give you specific examples, but I can't seem to remember any of them, because they are not important, and have long since vanished into the dust of the past that is too inconsequential to be stored in memory. 

(Except the "Magical Mermaids" Barbie set. I really wanted that.)
No, like: I really wanted it.
Furthermore, it seems as though single, yet-unmarried women are sometimes embarrassed to admit that they desire a husband, because it would belittle the life that they are currently leading, because it would make them feel less worthy than their married peers, or because it would make them seem unhappy or discontent, or even worse: frigid and inexperienced. (Experience is the cardinal virtue of 21st Century America.)
But I do want a husband, I want to get married and form that particular community known as Family, and I will not be embarrassed to say so.

But more than that, I will not be content to satisfy the desire with poor substitutes: I will not fill up that deep well of desire with the sludge of cheap thrills or the panacea of instant gratification.
If, perhaps, this is the cross of the particular vocation of being a single-twenty-something, then I will embrace it gladly.
If part of the duty of the present is bearing a desire for the future, the duty of discovering the ways in which this desire, this longing, will push me to grow into a deeper, sweeter, kinder, harder, softer, smarter, truer person, then I will happily suffer it.
Present beatitude, to paraphrase a wise friend, is necessary for future beatitude.
So there is no need to lose our joy over our unfulfilled desires. 
Rather, our unfulfilled desires can become our joy.
Along with the rest of our daily lives-- and perhaps in an even sweeter and deeper way--our desires, fulfilled and unfulfilled, can become our imperfect offering of love.

You are too real, too actual, Therese, 
To live in metaphor. 
The girl behind 
The legend, could the legend fade, would be 
The girl you were, sobbing upon your knees 
In lowliness and love and anguish, blind 
With the beauty of a stark Gethsemane.
--Alfred Barrett, S.J., "Saint Therese of Lisieux"

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