Wednesday, November 30, 2016

salvaged egos

Dear Little Old City:

I am always surprised to find you full of peace. It reminds me, in many surprising ways, that I continually forget and remember, of Kolkata, a sweeter gift than I deserve.

 The other day, I was passing one of the janky halal food trucks that line your streets, and the vendor was playing some Bollywoodish music on his little boombox-radio. Suddenly, I was back on AJC Bose Road, being serenaded home by the chanting of the Quran from minarets. That fuzzy, winding sound from the boombox radio became the haunting, droning call to prayer. Living right next door to a mosque had its fair share of faux pas (like the time I almost walked through a crowd of men on prayer mats praying in the street. oops). But the enchanting drone of Arabic floating through the chaos of honking bus horns and clanging tram bells that sounded day and night has left an ache inside my body. I miss that urban mysticism.

You, too, Dear City, make a lot of noise. You hide your pain and vulnerability in the dull roar of the subway, but your bruised welt is clearly throbbing underneath the pounding of train. We can hear it screaming loud and clear between your glib Spanish phrases and sardonic, self-effacing parentheses. Your sirens wail. We all know what that means.

You seem so stiff and formal between your skyscrapers. It seems that you are embarrassed of being imperfect. Stop that. Let down your façade. Embrace the August trash smell that blankets the East Village in the late summer twilight, delight in the peeling paint on old Harlem mansions in the bright morning sunshine. The process of becoming is not neat.

Look, there is a girl reading about death on the subway car, and weeping for the beauty of it. There is a man with a sterling silver wolf-head ring sitting across from her. There are two children--strangers, now friends--watching the lights of passing trains flash by them. There is a man flirting with the woman next to him. She is tired, but not too tired to flex that flirting muscle that has been limp and unused since April. None of them are much together, but on their own, they are each towering monuments of humanity.

Dear City, you are unkind to all the failures. And not to the glossy, resume-ready sort of failure. You are all about the failures who are candyfloss failures, who spin their losses into gold. You are cruel to the failure that is not just a saccharine, sentimental homage to "failure" but a real failure. We pray and yet our words fail. Somehow even this death can become Resurrection.

Rahner describes death as “the infinite fall into the liberty of God,” still shrouded in the mysterious darkness that has accompanied death since the first human breathed her last. But the Resurrection has changed all that. In death, Christ entered into the darkness, and "descended into hell", which Rahner reads as Christ descending into "the deepest level of the world," into the fundamental principle or unity. Christ has descended down into the fundamental unity, and transformed it, transfigured it in some way, so that now Christ is there. Christ is throbbing there, in the deepest reality of the world. Now, when we descend into that dark, deep loneliness of death, through our throbbing wounds to that dark, fundamental unity, now there is only light. Because Christ has brought it there for us.

Our entire lives are preparations for our death, which is really the final act of our entire life: a triumphant act of surrender and obedience in our life which is nothing else but a perpetual attempt to surrender. A woman dies a good death by living a good life, as she attempts to die to herself each day, she actually creates space inside of herself for life--real, true life, life in abundance, John's zoë--to take root. Now that Christ has gone before us, our self-offering is not a separation from God, but an entering in more deeply into his mystery. Perhaps this is not what death looked like before Resurrection. If so, how terrible and dark the world must have been before Christ broke into its fundamental principle.

Dear City: you tug at our hearts, you bamboozle our heads. Those of us more comfortable living in our head you demand our hearts; and those of us who would rather occupy ourselves with feeling you provoke our intellects.

Dear City, your noise drives us to silence. Silence leads to attentiveness. What can we understand about the world if we do not attend to it, listen to the sirens wailing, the toddler crying behind his mother, the pained look of the elderly man by the liquor store. Attentiveness. Listening. Virtues of the contemplatives. The more that we are alone in the heart of the world, the more we find others there. The more we are alone with Christ, the more we realize we can't shut out the rest of the world, that the love that floods our hearts simply has to break out of our small souls into the cosmos, or else the Eucharist is fragmented.

What gapes inside of us is a hungry need-love, seeking for gift. In that Eucharist, the God's first Gift descends into the fundamental unity of our being. He descends into our little hell, then that ravenous, grasping part of ourselves--that gaping hole inside of us that sucks in everything like a black hole--becomes the very font of life through which he sustains us. The journey of the Eucharist is the daily attempt to fill that yawning need with gift, and offer it as gift for the world.

The deepest mystery of our creaturely state is that we creatures, who do not even belong to ourselves,  can give ourselves away as gift. We dependent, needy, grasping hearts can become gift. That is what it means to share in the life of the Trinity: to give and receive, truly.

If our love were but more simple, Dear City, as the hymn sayeth.

You are a mystery tattooed on my heart. And I wish I could sear away the wound you scratch upon my skin. It is an obvious wound, hanging open in the wind, unsubtle and inelegant. I am quite embarrassed of the pus, so I shroud the lovely lines in gauze, for now. The design is too raw to contemplate without a small sting pricking my stomach. The ink leaks a small spurt of blood. There really was an injury here. The skin is really broken. But--
there is a lovely pattern emerging from the swollen scar and bleeding ink. And, that Dear City, is the gift you didn't know you gave me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

down the rabbithole

It may not be any of my business,
but let us suppose one day
that everyone who placed those vacant chairs

on a veranda or a dock sat down in them
if only for the sake of remembering
what it was they thought deserved

to be viewed from two chairs,
side by side with a table in between.

--Billy Collins, The Chairs That No One Sits In

When we dig back into our memories, there are often novel revelations hidden in the familiar stories of our selves. We neuter our memories, colonize them with the flavor of our own identity. The memories we've tamed--the ones we thought we'd known--the memories we've churned into submission, declawed from their stunning factuality and historicity, and assimilated into our own story--the ones we thought we had understood-- often rear under our scrutiny, shock us with their stunning other-ness, and jolt us into the past, back to that particular moment.

A sharp electric pinch stings my heart, as I am suddenly back in a time in which I was not the same person I am now. The person that I am now remembers this past epoch, and sensing the continuity of who I was and who I currently am, proleptically inserts the anachronism of twenty-five year old me into those memories. But when I return to those memories, recorded without commentary or interpretation, simply raw fact, I collide into my past self sharply, like when you round the corner of the subway staircase too quickly and knock into the woman juggling her Gristedes bags.

When I look back on the story--as it was, not just as I have woven it into my memory--I am amazed to find grace pulsing through this old conversation.

In this re-reading, I have discovered that my younger self is, according to my current standards, an irreversible embarrassment. I cringe, as I read old rants full of self-righteous narrow-mindedness, displaying empathy skills that are less than state-of-the-art. The banter is not subtle nor flip, it is mostly earnest and peppered with dramatic, enthusiastic, bombastic ALL-CAPS and exhausting the "shift + 1" keys. She is inelegant, and blissfully ignorant of being so.

I squirm as I re-encounter this old image of myself. This is not who I remember being. Or perhaps I do remember her, now that she is sticking out from my comfortable synthesis of memory like a sore thumb.

But even in the deep embarrassment of the private past, I feel grace tumble off each page of conversation. I see patterns she was missing. I look back at the dynamics of give and take that had her caught in their tidal pull, which she was unaware of. I watch as her naïveté is advantaged, and as her stubbornness rears its head. Then, in one single sentence, she speaks a word of such grace, with a wisdom I can now see, in retrospect, is far beyond what she possessed on her own.

Reading through the story, I feel my heart quicken and my palms begin to sweat as I approach that climax of grace. Will she say the saving words? Will she let this moment on which it seems so much later in the story will hinge, this small but significant watershed, pass by? As I read and re-read, I am surprised, each time, that she speaks up. Each time I re-read the conversation, I watch with dread as it seems that she will say nothing. The moment almost marches without arresting her attention. But then she does. She speaks. I can hardly believe it. Even though I know the story: I lived it, it is a part of me. But I am overwhelmingly surprised and relieved. I feel a shiver of grace run up and down my spine.

Grace is an interruption. Grace says to us: There is another way this story can go. Grace veers us away from the cliff edge we were careening towards. Grace can be a roadblock, a u-turn, a fork in the road, a new path opening up.

To witness grace breaking into our own stories, to re-discover how grace has interrupted, transformed, and molded our own narratives is a great gift. I should not be surprised that grace remains so fresh, so many years later, that its presence shines brightly, despite--or perhaps because of--the years that have passed. But I am surprised. I did not know that grace stamps herself so clearly into our stories.

The more time that has passed, the more clearly grace and sin seem to be revealed. At the time, in the heat of the moment, the wheats and the tares were all tangled together. But now, after several years of denouement, it is suddenly easy to identify the grace amidst all the dross. Because grace is not only in the story, but the force of the story-telling, grace illuminates the narrative, her light opens up, continually, with each new read. Grace shines genuinely through the fog of memory, her veracity indubitable, by virtue of its own unmistakable radiance.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Park Avenue on a Friday Night

On my way to mass my head throbs with illness
the way it pounds
with the heavy drop of dubstep
and the thud of drink.
Park Avenue on a Friday evening
makes my head
shudder with its glit and grody reality;
the doormen learning on the glass panes,
foggy with their water droplet breath--
I am arrested by the sight of Degas' little dancer,
artfully arabesqued upon an antique end table
in an anonymously chic
foyer of some chiropractor's empty evening offices.

Even my favorite mansion between
84th and 85th,
generally so fashionably devoid of life,
is lit with glamor:
the hint of high stair cases and adrenaline buzz of weekend evening
pour out her windows,
the lobby of 1060 Park
is lousy with wealthy waifs,
women who are fashionably
on the brink of starvation,
swaddled in fur.
Starlight from gold windows
and blue light from evening air
plunge me one or two drinks deep.
The soporific spell of a head cold corroborates,
compounding the celebratory throbbing,
until I am inebriated on New York's
blue blood.
New York plays my heart strings to the tune of his own name,
a selfish and efficient lover
whose rhythm thrills through my bloodstream.
I have lost the cadence of my own name.
I know now how he can
intoxicate, enchanting
with his gilt interiors,
fine woodwork,
and overpriced art from
a Chelsea gallery
peeping through the
Baroquely corniced windows.

January 26, 2016

Sunday, November 20, 2016

final holy door

Save yourselves, and us.
That's what I'm doing here.

Fr. David's homilies usually contain a line or two like that. A wry joke, some saucy spin on a pious sentiment that refreshes the taste of something tawdry and hackneyed with a little spice. Today Fr. David focuses on the political aspect of this feast: a feast that was established in 1925 as Europe began to roil in political movements that would break into violent chaos.

To all of this, the Church, who for so many centuries had been another political player on the chessboard of Europe, said: no. No, we have no king but Christ, you can keep your Caesars. We are not afraid of them one bit.

How does one man, in 36ish AD, hang on a cross (a weapon whose ubiquitousness usually negates its horror, until sometimes, in certain lights and particular moods it sweeps over you, chilling you with its cruelty,) with a sarcastic sign above his head declaring him "Rex Iudaeorum," become in 1925, crowned "Christ the Lord, King of the Universe"? How does his kingdom reach from a small hill outside Jerusalem to Alpha Centauri and beyond?

It is completely mind-boggling that the meaning of the life, the world, and everything, was contained in one man, in one location, in one generation of history. How can the key to the sun and stars be this one story? It's frighteningly particular. How does the king of the Jews become the king of us all? How can it be that this one particular tribe of people, that this one particular race's story has become the story of all of creation?

It is in these moments that the crucifix is no longer a tame wall decoration. It is the picture of the torture victim, of the one we forget, of the poorest who suffer, those who bear the bruises of humanity's ugliness. And somehow, this one particular torture victim, who is God, has all of the answers to the questions that have driven humanity from its conception.

I do not know what to make of this. Except that perhaps nature's focus is not the laws of physics, that keeping gravity at play is not the sole focus of the cosmos. Perhaps human beings, with their stories: their falls, their tumbles, their pains, their victories, and their rebirths are more central to the task of the natural world than we imagine. It is not the secrets of the atom that are clamoring to be parsed, but the secrets of our neighbor and our selves.

Story is not tangential to the task of the world. It is its only task.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

you are part of my listening

The boy is silhouetted perfectly by street light in the glass bubble of the car. Although his metal SUV could crush my small Toyota, it seems like a fragile cage to carry precious cargo. Not much seems to be separating us right now. The light shines on us both. As his mother hits the accelerator, his body lurches forward as the car is set in motion. His face never changes, his eyes still locked ahead on the road running out into the snowy dark.

---

It was jarring, as I took the young girl's hand, to find that I sounded different. My voice sounded like my own, but felt like it was coming from a different place. My insides felt older. I helped her with the steps of the dance, and I felt a space inside of me that is used to cold-calling students in the back of the classroom, decipher note-taking from note-passing, and teach four year-olds dance moves open up. I hadn't even realized it had been closed. I was exercising muscles that hadn't been used in a long time, muscles I had forgotten that I wasn't using. Like flirting, after having not-flirting for a long time. You forgot that there was this whole skill set you hadn't drawn on in months. And you flex your flirting muscles, delighted to notice that they still work, their soreness only a testament to the exercise you've given them.

But this was a different set of muscles, one completely foreign to a university campus. It felt sort of like I was a teacher. But what it really felt like is that I was an adult. In a non-university world, the sharp division in the world is not classifications of strata of students, in the real world the simple question is: are you a child? Or are you an adult? And it's very difficult to always know that you're an adult--fully and truly an adult--without children around. But, in responding to a child, it becomes very clear that you are no longer one. Something inside of you shifts, to orient your posture differently into a stance of service towards this sweet Other who is still so acutely becoming. In helping that young girl learn the contradance I felt the supreme responsibility of adulthood, and I liked it. I felt more human.

The contradance was held in a wing of the church building that had slick wooden floors and a beautiful dome of glass, that I swear was something right out of James Cameron's Titanic. There was a balcony with arched alcoves which only lacked spectators to be something out of a posh 19th-century opera. Filling the dance floor was a collection of people who are my neighbors. Together, we gracefully (some more than others) bumbled our way through steps of the dance, learning new patterns and steps.

We were all learners here: the graduate students, the families, the couples on a Saturday night date, the elderly folks, the regal woman with the elegant taffeta skirt and script name tag, the sisters in bright dresses, the young woman in swinging skirts, the woman still in her grocery store shift shirt, the boys in jeans and hoodies, and the boy in the tartan kilt. The dance was the great equalizer: we were all novices and partners--partners in creating something beautiful.

This was a moment when the physical world seems to peel away, and although the scene hasn't changed, it is slightly brighter and more solemn. Some simple and stunning reality hits you square in the face, and it's a vision of a world exactly the way it is which is lovelier than the way you usually see it. As I danced alongside my neighbors, I felt that this was the heavenly banquet. That these are the saints who I will share heaven with--not some vague, fancy strangers out in the distant night--these are the people who are my reality, and they are the ones who are shining like the sun. Heaven is not populated with glamorous hypothetical humans: it is made up of the people we pass by each day. How much more fitting it is to dance with them than simply pass them by.

----

South Bend bled the sun out of the sky, in a terrible, testosterone-fueled nectarine burst of color. The vicious sunset colored the historic old mansions in nostalgic hues of mauve and rose. The stars were hidden behind the banks of clouds leaking bits of snow in to the fierce winds whipping up our scarves. The lights of St. Paul's shone grandly in the dark of the deserted intersection of Colfax and La Porte. The church was warm and elegant on the inside, an eloquent testament to human grandeur in the dreary bleakness of this November town.

Friday, November 18, 2016

jack-sparrow-self

This morning when I woke up there was a pink sky hanging behind the trees outside my bedroom. The light has caught me all off-guard. I'm trying to write responsibly, but I am distracted.

Just like my puppy, who is always chasing after Christmas lights and the dancing rays of sunbeam, I am distracted by this apocalyptic light. I am distracted by the light that catches me off guard, the sparkle of the seventy-degrees November sun on the brick and sandstone. The eschaton could not be more beautiful than this.

Sparrows hop on the ledge outside the french doors, wondering why winter has not yet banished them to warmer cities. They are distracted by the spots of sunlight filtering through the trees, and I am distracted from my writing to watch their impish scampering. Behind them, two small trees are still (somehow) a vibrant crimson amidst all the dun skeleton branches of their neighbors, the silvery linings of their flamboyant foliage flapping in the wind.

I am distracted by the scene outside the classroom: the light that catches me off guard, the beautiful oak tree outside of the classroom window that is right now, a brilliant scarlet flame against the uncannily radiant blue sky. There is a sense of fittingness to that juxtaposition. As if red and blue reveal here their true colors, it was for this moment they were made, so that their beauties can play off each other like the tree and the sky.

I am so distracted  by these banks of clouds that roll across the blue horizon. I wonder how fast the wind has pushed them from Lake Michigan.

I look up from my reading to star into the subdued and dignified light that is pouring into the library from the dying sky, a small bit of golden eked out from the sunset that catches the yellow tree by the patio flagstones. In the bright afternoon, the spinster sun is shining, bitter and still cold,
jealously emanating pale gold into the atmosphere.

God has also tasted wine, and was not distracted by it. He has tasted all of the goodness of warm bread, and felt the October sun and August breeze on his face. He has seen, felt, and heard all this, and still they came up insignificant in comparison with the heavenly banquet of his Father. I wonder what it could be that is so beautiful that even the God-man is does not fall in love with all this beauty at the expense of the beauty of that banquet. How beautiful can such a vision be if even sweet wine and sweater weather cannot distract him?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Polish Independence Day

Until I tasted basil vodka, I'd never tasted
grassy morning dew bite my throat.
Potato smoke, lingering from crispy latkes
stings our eyes, potato liquor stings our tonsils.
Warm wood floors swoop beneath us,
our madly spinning
tilt-a-whirl made from glowing walls
and glowing faces:
two blurry smiles, flushed with
music and with wonder
at the enchanted ease with which
our bodies understand another's.

Basil liquid loosening hips,
(you too can salsa like Rob Gordon!)
feet finding their own knowledge--
intuition fed by rhythmic freedom--
you watch them but
can't capture
their elusive magic-making,
the explosive orbital velocities
of two bodies, moving at the speed of love.


Monday, November 7, 2016

children of this world

Wheat and tares together sown
Are to joy or sorrow grown
--a harvest hymn

We are all suckers for a meet-cute. So many adolescent slumber parties come to mind, of a group of girls gathered on sleeping bags, swapping their parents' love stories, because isn't it just precious to think of Mr. & Mrs. So-and-So as swinging, young things running into each other by chance in a car dealer's parking lot.

Rewind a decade and change, and you are now the same age, feeling less-than-swinging most days, an abhorrent mixture of old and young, and now those happy mythologies of youth become horrendous nightmares.

Every choice you make is haunted by your parents' stories. You are confronted with the reality of each choice having the potential to open up a radically different path of life. Even the small choices seem like big life decisions. For example: If I don't go to this party, will I miss out on meeting the love of my life? If I go to this lecture, and not that one, will I miss out on making that connection with a mentor? If I go to dinner with these friends, and not those friends, will I never give a potentially life-changing friendship a chance? Do I stay in my comfort zone? Do I push myself? Do I move onto another relationship? Do I stick with what I have?

Which choice is right? And which is wrong? And how do I know I'm not making horrible mistakes with my life each day?

There is no answer, of course, to these anxieties. There is only trust.

And the necessary acknowledgement that good and ill are so intrinsically woven together in this broken world of ours that it is often impossible for us to discern them in the moment. The wheat and the tares are often only distinguishable in retrospect.

Selfishness, generosity, self-development, kindness, pride, love, jealousy, hope, sloth, and goodness are all mixed together inside of us. Our actions are touched by, informed by, all of these.

There is only trust. That in pursuing beauty, we will not be led astray. That in seeking joy, our hope will be fulfilled. That we are promised peace, and it will be ours.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

patch, matchwood, immortal diamond

so that our great tumor might be healed by an even greater medicine
--Augustine, De Catechizandis Rudibus

There is no place like theology graduate school for losing your faith. There is only so much the human mind can handle, before it collapses under the weight of its own prowess for skepticism. Questioning is a dangerous pastime.

But if I were to one day decide that this whole business of faith is a nonsense endeavor, a foolhardy undertaking for people too afraid to face the disenchanted reality that a human being is nothing more than a sack of water (and some trace elements), inspired by electricity, there is one moment that would give me pause:

Father Daley's tears.

Fr. Daley is the sweetest elderly priest, his boxing pastime apparent in his gesticulations as he lectures, his energetic stance, and slight but agile frame. His writing is lucid, wise and utterly astounding, yet he lectures to us gently, describing the rich meat of the early church writers in milky language that we toothless infants can digest. He has the careless toughness of a former generation, raised in wars, and the casually warm manners of the East Coast gentleman.

As he read Augustine's brief passage on the mission of Christ, Fr. Daley's voice caught in his throat. Something glistened underneath his eye. That the human race might know how much God loves us and might know this in order to glow with love for him by whom we have first been loved
These words seem simple and obvious to me, no deep poetry or elegantly romantic insight.

But I am now struck with a sober curiosity: what is this love that can provoke such a wise man to tears? This love can move the sun, other stars, and this priest to tears. I understand now the restless desires of princes in fairy tales to run after beautiful mystery maidens glimpsed in the woods. The love that moves Fr. Daley to tears is that mysterious princess glimpsed in the woods. What is that beauty? I want it desperately. It enchants me.

I may read all the books ever written about God, listen to all the lecturers, sift through all the theological treatises penned from now 'til kingdom come (aka this upcoming Tuesday), but I will never find a more eloquent testament to God than that elderly academic father's voice trembling with tears as he gently recited the syncopated rhythms and breath-tearing rhyme of Hopkins:
I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and 
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond, 
                            Is immortal diamond. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

heaven-roysterers

Driving up Ironwood as the late afternoon sun hits the autumn trees, lining the small avenue like Corinthian columns, transforming it into a regal boulevard, living columns hung with jewel-tone leaves, their gilt dandruff flaking from their branches with comic rapidity, carpeting the earth in a new crunchy, golden crust, I think to myself: this place is beautiful.

A man is mowing his lawn. There is a beautiful stone house, elegant and elderly. The streets here are well-paved. The lawns bristle a healthy brown post-summer-ripe hue, and closely hedge the cheerful, bleached brightness of the sidewalk.

The intersection of Bader and Ironwood is quintessential suburbia, and I love it. Especially now, when I can admire old deciduouses with vast canopies of common yellow, lit up by the bright sun like giant marigolds. Things can grow and breathe here between the tightly-angled sidewalks, which constrict some creative expression, while allowing a natural expansion.
--

Driving up (we can drive up and down Main Street now) the main drag, the Toyota slowly purrs her way through the twilight sun shining around the silhouettes of downtown's diminutive skyline. She growls a little as she trolls through the roundabouts. The car rolls around the curve of the road and the curve of the roundabout with the sleek elegance of a golf ball driven to a hole in one.

As we drive over the Michigan street bridge, its lamps flickering like drowning stars in the swollen turbulence of the autumn river, I think again: how beautiful this is. The quiet yawning of night and the peaceful murmur of traffic blend together in the quiet that emanates from streetlights.

Tonight there are no stars, just permacloud. But the air is fresh and biting, and tastes like honeycrisp and home. Like things dying, and strange new weather on the horizon.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

how should I greet thee?

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o’er me—
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well—
Long, long I shall rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.
--Byron

Letting go of people is harder than I once thought.
Or the process of moving on past someone takes just a lot of time.
It takes a lot of story happening, simply so that you move out of the chapter of your life that is marked by "Them" and move on to a new chapter that is untouched by their specific personality.

That is the first step of moving on past someone. You have to move on physically, so that their image does not barrage your daily vision.

--

You think of all the million lessons they taught you: what an indie band was, Who The Good Poets Are, the Edmund Waller poem you still know by heart, that "Should" is a moral statement, and one can never say "thank you" too much.

And you wonder if they remember what you taught them: Mumford & Sons, TED Talks, feminist theory, Martha is better than Mary, the taste of Vincent Van Gogh, and the importance of Pride & Prejudice.

--

There is a vague, and somewhat morbid, curiosity that perpetuates our interest in our dead relationships just as it perpetuates our interest in the human departed. Things that are gone are tinged with mystery: the beings we bury in the hard past or in the softer ground are fascinating in their inaccessibility.

I really hate losing things. Having a lose thread in the tightly woven fabric of life irks me. The unanswered question and the cliffhanger story, the lack of closure frets at me. Currently, outstanding objects lost include: one (1) blue maxi dress from Target, an unopened peppermint chapstick I put in my pocket last night, and my Dropbox password.

Losing relationships is difficult. It is a loose thread I am constantly tempted to tug at, to see what part of the fabric will ripple away.

We are so quick to insist that we are constant, that we are permanent. We like to think of ourselves as an unchanging constant, a monolith of stability. When, really, humans are fluid beings, morphing and changing, shedding our old skin as we grow into new. As it should be: stagnation is foreign to our nature. Until we reach our final destination, we are not yet fully ourselves. There are new chambers of our hearts and facets of our personalities to discover.

One summer day, I remember responding to a friend's text, and accidentally deleted an old string of messages that I hadn't intended to delete, that I was preserving there precariously like digital saint's knuckles. A cold surge of dismay rushed through me as I watched the small trash can icon fill with garbage, as each small paperless missile disappeared into the ether.

One of the truly sadistic features of my dumbphone is that, sometimes, in order to listen to new voicemails, you have to go through and re-save all the old voicemails you want to keep. In the process of doing this, you have to re-listen to old messages you've been holding onto since 2009. Occasionally, I purge old messages. But it takes a long time to let go.

Recently, I was scrolling through old emails. Emails that, as my mother will rightly tell me, ought to be deleted. One day. Eventually, we delete the voicemails and the text strings, accidentally or intentionally. The business of living crowding out all the miscellanea nostalgia would demand we retain.

Slowly, I can begin to look on old relationships with a fondness and detachment. They are memorials of people who once were, who have grown up into not something else entirely, but have grown deeper, newer, and perhaps truer to the final image. We can appreciate the goodness of what was there, and the doors of our selves that they unlocked, but recognize how they were timestamped from another lifetime.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

quarter-life crisis beatitudes

Last week, around this time on Monday evening, I lay awake in my bed, wondering: how long until my knees stop working? When will I experience back pain so debilitating I can barely walk? How long will this 20-20 vision keep up?

And other thoughts like: how is it that I am still in school, while friends are married with babies? Why am I twenty-five and in the middle of god-forsaken Indiana when I could be in New York? What am I doing with my life when some friends' careers take them traipsing around Dublin, Abu Dhabi, and San Francisco? How have I not been to as many weddings as she has? Will I ever make a salary?

Then I woke up and turned twenty-five on Tuesday. And was hit by the full force of the fact that those are the only first twenty-five years of life I get. There's no re-doing the first quarter of my life (assuming this is the first quarter, and not the first half, or the first two-thirds); what I've made is what I've got.

Somedays, I sit in church, feeling the ring of nutella-fat around my waist that's bulging over my jeans, feeling the scab on my chin from (again) fretting at the same blemish, and feeling utterly immune to grace.

Blessed are those who desire these things.

The beatitudes, Fr. David suggested in mass, are perhaps not a checklist of actions and outcomes, of achievements and rewards, but are a roadmap for our desires. The person who desires peace will keep seeking peace, and eventually find it, in their imitation of the perfect Son, becoming, like Him, a child of the Father. The person who desires to be meek: to temper their anger with gentleness, and offer up justice for grace will find that their kingdom has expanded from their own sorry little perspective to the entire world.

Blessed are those who can desire happiness, not of others' devising, but of their own making. And blessed is she who can stay true to that happiness, even in moments of difficulty. For she will never compare her lives with others, and be content with what has borne fruit in her life, and what has been left undone.

For the person who desires to change, grace promises that they will.
Grace promises that we will grow. That there's a constant invitation to happiness that is being extended to us, that we can ceaselessly attempt to accept. And if we do not, the invitation is still there. 

Grace means I think to myself: I will not let this scab return. I will not fret at the blemish on my skin. This is the last time I will see this scab.

And in two months, when this scab is back, grace says that there is always next time. And so it will continue, until finally grace breaks through; and one day the scab disappears.