Bringing your own lunch to work isn’t always the cheapest option.

I packed my lunch this morning in a recycled plastic grocery bag (the usual) and took the metro in to work. I was wearing a white skirt–it’s time to celebrate Memorial Day in the old style: white skirts, pants, and shoes are now “officially” allowed. For some reason I always follow that rule, even though I recognize that most people consider it passe. But today it was a mistake.

I had a container of raspberries in my lunch bag.

Said raspberries were somewhat wet.

There are now four large purplish splotches spread out across the lap of my erstwhile white skirt.

And my attempt at saving money cost me somewhere in the ballpark of $80.00, because the only clothing store in Union Station that opens before 10:00 a.m. is Ann Taylor.

Go figure.

Some days I understand perfectly the famous remark of St. Teresa of Avila to her heavenly Father on a particularly trying day: “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few.”

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House Hunting

The quest for a home continues. My poor roommate-to-be must be going crazy with my constant barrage of emails, links, phone numbers, and text messages that say, “Can you go look at such-and-such a place today at 1:00?” But she’s got the patience of a saint, and so far she hasn’t complained…

Hunting for a rental home presents a number of unique challenges. For one, so many people only show their rentals between the hours of 9 and 5. Now last I checked, holding a steady job was a prerequisite (of sorts) for clearing an application to rent a place, but somehow all these things are expected to add up. Maybe it’s like magic.

At one point I called a place in Del Ray, which I had seen posted on Craigslist for a little over two weeks. Rentals in that area generally disappear quickly, so I was a bit curious already. Maybe it smells funny, or it has no dishwasher…

The woman who answered sounded like she’s been on the brink of dying from boredom since 1983 or thereabouts. I introduced myself. “I’m calling about the property you have listed for rent on Craigslist, in Alexandria,” I said in my chipper, talking-to-strangers-on-the-phone-must-make-a-favorable-impression voice. A pause.

“What property is that?”

I repeated the address on the Craigslist advertisement.

“Oh, yeah. Well now, there’s a minimum income requirement of $_xx_. Do you meet that?”  

I’m already in a state of disbelief. Seriously? The rent is clearly stated on the advertisement. If I didn’t think I qualified, I wouldn’t be calling. Do I sound poor? Is there a particular vocal timbre she’s been warned to guard against? I assure her that my roommate and I together more than qualify.

Another pause. “Well okay. And they don’t allow smoking in or near the property.”

I assure her that we don’t smoke, indoors or out.

“Ok.” She sounds less than convinced. “Now the lady who’s there isn’t home much to show it. She’ll be there today from 2:00 till 3:30, or Thursday from 1:00 until 4:00 in the afternoon. Can you stop by to see it either of those times?”

I’m so glad this woman can’t see my face at this point. “Well,” I reply after a moment, “I do work 9 to 5, and I’m pretty constrained to those hours. I can take a look at it any morning before 9:00 or 9:30, or any evening…I could see about leaving work a little early on Thursday, but…”

“Yes, see if you can do that, and give me a call if you do. Thanks. Bye-bye.” Click.

Needless to say we didn’t follow up with that place.

Then there was the home we went to look at this week, advertised as a 2 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom townhome. The “.5” bath is actually a toilet–standing alone and proud in the basement laundry room next to the washer. The washer which might double as a place for washing one’s hands as necessary, since there was no sink anywhere in sight. While I have to admire the functional mind of the person who thought that arrangement up, I admit my strongest reaction is one of bewildered horror.

So I guess we’ll just keep looking…

Stop and smell the roses

My bus got to the stop about half a block before I did this morning. But the driver must have seen me sprinting up the street behind him, because he waited for me–even gave me a smile for my pains as I clambered aboard all out of breath, and I was so grateful.

Two musicians–a guitarist and a violinist–were playing Pachabel’s Canon outside a less-trafficked entrance to the China Town metro. It was beautiful. I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of my walk to the office.

It’s the little things that make up a day.

As my old spiritual director used to say to me all the time, “Love is in the details.” 

God has such exquisite taste.

Sunday

Peace. Be still.

Those days when the contents of your heart keep spilling over the edges, when too much thought leads inevitably to tears, when all the wrong memories surface suddenly and even the sweet escape of sleep eludes you…

When you find yourself, though not alone, lonely…

When musings about the future produce not hope, but the horrible, hollow sense that there truly is no point, and “everything is vanity…”

For some reason, those days, the only answer to prayer is: Sit still.

Be stouthearted.

Wait.

And be thankful.

“I’ve invented a light that plugs into the sun.”

I’ve done it!

(No, I haven’t actually invented such a light bulb. I can’t find a cord long enough.)

But for perhaps the first time in my life, when confronted with one of those tense, personal questions, I gave the “real” answer. I didn’t pussyfoot, I didn’t apologize, I didn’t try to soften the blow, I just told it like it was and let things fall as they must.

I’m still pretty shaken from the experience, but it’s a good sort of shaken. Similar to the way you feel at the end of a rollercoaster ride. Scared and jostled and relieved all at once.

Whew.

I have to admit, though, I’d be so glad if this were the sort of thing one had to do only once in a lifetime…

On America (the first, I hope, of many parts)

A few of you know that I’ve been rather absorbed in reflections on patriotism of late–not patriotism in general, but American patriotism, and what love of our country should really look like in our lives. A longer post on that will follow at some point, once I’ve been able to wrap some of my hazier thoughts in words.

For today, I present two questions that have been revolving in my mind for quite some time, both of which spring from patriotism, but are more centered on the issue of the American project itself.

First, I think about our nation’s origins, about the ideals on which she was built; how compatible are those ideals with our Catholic faith? Perhaps I hesitate to embrace them wholeheartedly in part from an in-built bias against the religious (or irreligious) beliefs and philosophical underpinnings of many of the Founders themselves. And perhaps that isn’t fair.

Second, and this question springs from the first, looking at the American project today and the manifold ways in which it seems to be unraveling, I wonder if it is necessary to return, as so many conservatives urge, to “the ideals of the Founders,” or if we should instead seek to go back farther than that, to the good principles on which those ideals were built, but perhaps cutting out certain aspects. In particular, the social contract ideal gives me huge pause, as does the staunchly individualistic approach to government. But I admit, I don’t really know what I’m talking about here, so this is largely feeling about in the dark for me.

Give me another two years to ponder, and I may be able to come up with some concrete things to say on this matter. But for now, perhaps it’s enough to lay the questions out there and hear the thoughts of others…

And now, a musical interlude…

So I’m not usually in to Christian music. I hear “Christian” and immediately think: insipid lyrics, soulless melodies, mediocre (at best) musicians, and a lot of hand-waving…

Anyway. I’ve recently discovered a few artists who force me to back off the stereotypes. And because it’s a gray, slow Friday afternoon, I thought I’d post a couple songs for your listening pleasure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3nvpgMCdJE (not the best sound quality, I’m afraid, but still a beautiful prayer/song)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0B2ybZpDeM (this from an artist I just learned about yesterday. I admit, I looked her up mostly because people told me I looked like her–for the record, it’s the glasses. I was surprised at how much I liked this song. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it, too!)

Why did you plaster over…

Did I ever tell you about the time I punched a hole in my bedroom wall?

No?

This seems to be the week of reliving adolescent angst. Yes, I was thirteen, and my mother had had it with me and my hormonal swings for the day, and in exasperation she banished me to my room where I’d be far enough away (I slept in the third floor “turret” room of our Victorian era home) from the rest of the family. So I took my black mood and my indignation and whatever else was roiling around inside me and marched up, up, up the stairs, beating the wall with one fist as I climbed to vent and blow off steam without causing permanent damage to anything–or anyone. Or so I thought. Imagine my shock (and after the initial disbelief, my horror) when my fist suddenly cleared the material of the wall like it was nothing but dust, and I found myself buried up to my elbow in a hole, about six inches in diameter.

Oh golly.

You know that sinking feeling when what’s done is done, and no matter how you slice it, you’re in big trouble. I pulled my arm out of the wall and contemplated my options. I could run away from home. I could pretend nothing had happened and stay in my room and wait to see how long it would take the parents to notice. I could try to fix it myself. I could write the family a letter and include my life savings to cover damages. Or I could just turn around and go back downstairs and tell mom what had happened and see where things went from there.

After about five minutes spent deliberating with myself on the stairs, I decided on the final option. It held the most hope, if nothing else. I was raised a good Catholic, and I decided to cling to the possibility of mercy. Mom was annoyed, yes, and threatened me with the usual tortures and deprivations, until I pointed out to her (even in a rage, I was a pretty rational person) that a teenage girl’s fist technically shouldn’t be able to puncture a wall. That did bring her up short, and she blinked and then (I think) she laughed and sent me back to my room while she worked everything else out. The fruit of the situation ended up being pretty major renovations to the whole attic, resulting happily in a wall I could not destroy. At least not without serious effort.

I don’t really know why I’m telling that story now, except that at times in my adult life I’ve really wished for a wall–or something–I could put my fist through at the end of a long day.

That, and it’s just a great story.

On Spelling Bees

I lost a spelling bee when I was twelve years old.

It’s one of those childhood disappointments I never quite got over. (Those who have an affinity for Freudian analysis may even be tempted to draw connections between that event and my present career…) In my judgment then (and my judgment now, if truth be told), I lost unfairly; the system was rigged, I was a victim of poor training and unfortunate circumstances, etc., etc. When time came for the awarding of prizes, I was called forth from the ranks of the losers, where I sat sullen and dejected, to claim my participation prize–a paper certificate with my name on it that said, basically, “Congratulations! You got up there and you really tried. ‘E’ for effort.” It was a BS token thought up by some soft parent who wanted all the kids to feel recognized, even if all the kids couldn’t win. I scowled at the woman handing the certificates out and snatched it from her hand and skulked back to my seat. It was a black, black day.

And then to finish off the horrible situation, my father gripped my arm as we were piling into the family van to return home and hissed in my ear, “Don’t you ever do that again.” I’ll admit, in my addled, embarrassed, heartbroken condition, I wondered if he meant I wasn’t ever to lose a spelling bee again. My parents weren’t “those sorts” of parents, so this alarmed me. Genuinely puzzled, I asked, “Do what?”

His answer became a life lesson: “I don’t care how angry you are, you keep your feelings to yourself and put on a smile. That was completely ungracious of you, and I’m ashamed.” Okay, that was a tough pill to swallow, and it took me…a really long time to appreciate the full value of what dad told me then. Regardless of the circumstances, regardless of your feelings, you control your reactions to things. Outside factors might make you angry, sad, even outright depressed, but at the end of the day only you can determine how you will behave in reaction to–or in spite of–those feelings.

So this weekend I thought about my reactions to things, especially recently; I thought about the way I’ve been letting circumstances get me down, and I realized my reaction has been all wrong. I’ve been falling back on self-pity and whiny prayers that begin and end with, “Please let my will be done. Amen.” I have a script written out in my head for my life. Okay, maybe not a full script, but at least the screenplay’s all there. As long as things go accordingly, I’m happy and content. But when life breaks off from that script, when things start going their own way, beyond my control, my expectations, and my stated desires–then I get really upset. Thrown off-balance. Oh yes, and scared.

But the only proper reaction (the only peaceful and ultimately joyful reaction) is acceptance…and gratitude. In all things give thanks.

I’m Big

When a man has seven children, he develops a certain set of talents, not least of which is the uncanny ability to mimic the sound of a newborn crying. (If you know, you know.) Granted, my dad hasn’t actually had to care for an infant in 14 years, but he’s still got the cry down pat. And as I sat here tonight and brooded about my day/week/month (yes, I’m sorry to say I’ve been brooding an awful lot here lately), I realized dad’s impression of an unhappy newborn was the best caricature of me and my whole attitude toward all the difficult situations in my life right now. I wish I had an audio clip–I’d definitely share it. But a picture helps, get the point across too:

(Of course this kid’s a lot cuter than my balding, mustached, bespectacled father, but they censor those kinds of images, so I’ve had to make do.) One of my colleagues stopped by my office this morning to discuss a project we’re working on together, and I’m afraid that’s about how I must have looked. It’s certainly how I felt. He finished his instructions and left in a hurry. The word must have got out, too, because people gave my office a pretty wide berth for the rest of the day.

In all seriousness, though, this has been a time of great stress, yes, and a few pretty big disappointments, but it’s been a time of much growth, too. I have to be honest: I’m not looking forward to the impending changes in my life. I like the way things are, I’m comfortable and happy, and since I can’t think of any improvements, I’m convinced that things are only going to get worse from here. And yet I’m being constantly surprised by these little blessings–things like a random phone call from my roommate-to-be yesterday afternoon, or going out for lunch with my sister, or last-minute cancellations of appointments that leave me suddenly with a free hour.

Today marked a pretty big disappointment, which I won’t go into. Suffice it to say, I learned a little bit more today about the way we go about accepting the will of God in our lives. It’s a daily thing and a daily lesson, but some days you feel it so much more keenly than others. Today in particular I realized there’s nothing actually noble or strong or even brave about that deeply Christian act of surrender–it comes across as noble, I suppose, because it goes against our human tendencies, but in reality it’s nothing more than rational.

Think about it. As long as I keep my eyes screwed shut and my fists clenched around whatever object it is I’m holding, I’m like a helpless, screaming infant. Only since I’m 25, I insist that I’m an adult, rational, capable of seeing and understanding things and situations, capable of making decisions, expressing desires, and exerting control. It’s a funny image, isn’t it? That screaming, clawing, craven baby asserting herself and trying to maintain control of…well, the whirlwind that is her life?

So the only rational thing to do is to let go. I’ve never had any real control, I’m just always telling myself (maybe not in so many words, but it amounts to the same thing) that I have.  And somehow I’m always surprised and terrified–and maybe even a little bit indignant–when it all falls apart. But it sends me scrambling back to the One who can put it all back together again and make it right. Maybe that’s all He had in mind, anyway.