So how are you?

It’s easy when your own life is up in the air and strange to forget that other people exist. I’ve been a bit distracted digging about in the rubble that was my familiar, cozy little life, trying to find my own remains so I can start piecing them back together. So distracted that I’m forgetting that the people around me–the roommate, the family members, the friends–are all carrying their own burdens…most of which are a good deal heavier than mine.

So how are you, friends? I hope and pray that your lives are going well, that your burdens are light, and that you’re enjoying this beautiful summer and getting in lots of sun and at least a little bit of rest.

Thanks for your patience with me in the midst of my distractions. And seriously, let me know how you’re doing. I feel like I’ve been a little bit hidden away of late, and more than a little out of touch…

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Through Rose-Colored Glasses

I spent a peaceful Sunday afternoon this weekend with a few of the most peaceful people I know.  (By “peaceful” I mean at peace with who and what they are, and where God has placed them in their lives right now.) It was a beautiful afternoon, full of good company, good food, and good conversation, and it’s left me thinking about a lot of things. Mostly, it’s left me thinking about the drive I once had (a drive shared by these people, and something they are each living out to this day) to live a purposeful, ordered life, guided by the high ideals espoused by people like G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and others. Really, it’s the ideals that guided my education.

Granted, I haven’t stepped away from the desire to live a life guided by those ideals, but I have succumbed to the belief–even the conviction–that I just can’t live that way at this point in my life. In some cases, I’ve even developed a sort of worldly, condescending attitude. My outlook: “That was all well and good back in the family/small Catholic college bubble, but in the real world, it makes no sense.” In a word, I’ve become very cynical about the ideals that used to guide my actions, and spending time with these old friends threw that cynicism into stark relief.

What are some of these ideals? For one thing, community/family life. Another is the continuation of the intellectual life, guided by good reading and good conversation (and aided by such exercises as turning off the television or the iPod). One of my personal favorites is the cultivation of bodily health through good food, as well as exercise and physical activity. And most of all, the conviction to live out these ideals regardless of the opinions of others and regardless of circumstances. 

Let’s knock these out one by one. Community/family life tends to be right out at this point in my life. Yes, as a single person I can gather friends together at regular intervals for meals, trips, games, or just “hanging out,” but (as I’ve written many times before) there’s not too much else I can do on that front. Of course I head home for visits as often as I can, and I try to make time for my semi-local relatives. But most days I am my own community.

If I’m slacking on the intellectual front, I’ll be the first to admit it’s mostly my own fault. But at the end of a long day at work (spent reading, since that’s the career path I’ve settled into), the last thing I want to do is read more. And on the rare occasion when I do force myself to read something meaningful outside working hours, who is there to discuss it with? Of course I could muster my energy and organize yet another get-together with my friends to discuss this or that work, but really, there just isn’t time. Even if we have time to meet, who has time to add the extra reading to their busy life? So my list of books to read grows longer and longer, and my intellectual life remains pretty much suspended. And I’ll admit, I tend to seek the solace of a movie or an episode of The Office or some other sitcom after a long day. Yes, those 45 – 60 minutes could be better spent elsewhere, but it’s like dieting. Every night I tell myself, “Yeah, I’ll start reading instead…tomorrow.”

Even on the food front I’m slacking off. My meals, especially here lately after a pretty stressful period, consist of whatever I can throw together in a skillet for two minutes when I stumble into the house at the end of the day. Healthier than other options, yes, but where’s the cultivation of self in that? Then I throw myself onto the couch or sit on the floor to eat, instead of sitting at the table like a big girl, even if I am having dinner all by myself.

Of course, I’m feeling a little guilty in general on the “living well” front right now because far too many of my belongings are still in boxes. My bedroom remains unfinished, and though I tell myself each weekend, “Now I’ll get this squared away,” somehow Sunday night keeps coming up and not one iota of progress made. I believe very strongly that the external mirrors the internal; if you want a good idea of the state of my soul these days, take a peek at my bedroom.

And what about the conviction to live out those ideals regardless of worldly opinions? Well, here things get a bit fuzzy. You see, at the macro level I have been doing that. I’m blessed with many good friends, especially many single Catholic friends, and we support and help one another stay true to who we are and what we believe. Church? Check. Prayer life? Check. Modesty? Check. But what about the micro level? My own perception of the life I lead has become slightly skewed, and it’s happened so gradually that I hardly even noticed. A physical analogy comes to mind: I wore a pair of slightly crooked eyeglasses for a year and a half, and when I finally went to the eye doctor to buy a new pair, he told me I’d developed a stigmatism in one eye. I’d been getting along just fine with the crooked pair, but it had had a negative effect all the same. Well, a few years out of my insular Catholic upbringing, I find I’m slightly embarrassed by my convictions. I’m the Catholic goody-goody geek, and while I’m okay with this, I’ve lost the rosy view I used to have about it. I like being the “nice girl” in the office, but a little part of me resents the stigma that accompanies it.

So much for living out my ideals regardless of the opinions of others. What about living them out regardless of circumstances? Um–let me reorient my life and get back to you.

So I’m very grateful to my good friends for sharing their Sunday afternoon with me. They’ve given me a lot of food for thought. Mostly, spending time with them this weekend reminded me in a really poignant way of that peace and joy I knew and loved before in living out this Catholic life. It reminded me that those things are tangible, even if not always easy. Beyond the cynicism that surrounds me in the workplace…beyond even my own tendency to bitterness (yes, I’m admitting this out loud) at my sense of vocationlessness and thus purposelessness…I’ve been given one life, and one moment to live it in: right now. It’s time to get back to basics, and to start living out those ideals within the circumstances in which I find myself.

Five years from now…

Sometimes the conversations I have with myself can sound a lot like job interviews. My inner guide is actually a program director, with a shirt starched too stiff and a really ugly tie. We sit down for our periodic chats, and he eyes me over his thin-rimmed glasses and asks the stale old question: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Gulp.

In real interview situations, of course, I smile a big smile and make something up. But when dealing with my own psyche I can be (I have to be) real. This is a big question. And it’s a good thought to ponder, since I’m not likely to be much of anywhere unless I start working for it.

The only trouble is, I don’t really know. I have some scattered, hazy plans for self-improvement, some pie-in-the-sky dreams of fame and fortune, but very few concrete, definite, workable hopes for my life. Mostly, I’m thinking about my professional life. I like my current job, but I can’t seem to develop a practical trajectory for anything that resembles a “career.” So I sit still, and I’m afraid–deathly afraid–of stagnating. I run into old college friends, and the question has now become, not “So what are you doing these days?” but “So are you still at that publishing place?” Followed quickly by, “So are you seeing anyone?”

Of course I don’t want to make my life plans based on the opinions of those around me, but it’s getting to be just a little bit demoralizing. Yeah, I’m sitting still in the same job, and no, I’m not making any great strides toward my “vocation” or anything resembling a larger life picture. I lead a very small life. Five years ago, I have to be honest–this is not where I would have seen myself in five years. As my youngest sister would say, “Gee, failure much?”

For now, my work is just about the only thing I can lay concrete plans for, since any other serious life moves aren’t things I have much control over. (Sure, I’d probably be okay with being married in five years, but that part isn’t really up to me.  Capice?) So, without becoming a workaholic, maybe it’s time to start investing more of my energy there.

It’s a challenge we all face as single Catholics, especially we single Catholic women. I know for myself, and for many of my close friends, our whole current life situation is a surprise. We were raised and educated to focus on “finding our vocations” (i.e., marriage, religious, or consecrated life); the word “career” never even came up. In fact, “career woman” tended to come across as more a dirty word than something to aspire to in the circles I grew up in. We were going to be wives and mothers or nuns. And this is not meant to come across as a slap at that mindset; I think it’s a beautiful one. But God seems to have had other plans for me, and for many other wonderful women. When it became clear in the weeks and months leading up to college graduation that Mr. Right (or Ideal Convent) wasn’t anywhere nearby, we were gently urged by wise Catholic mentors to “do our best,” but the advice didn’t get much farther than that. So we all did our best.

Most of my non-engaged girlfriends took jobs as teachers or nannies or went on for more school. I sat through three (count them: three) grueling interviews for teaching positions at various local Catholic schools and realized as I walked out of #3 that the idea of teaching made me itch. And having spent basically my whole life as a sort of built-in nanny (oldest of 7 and always the oldest, “most responsible” girl on the block/in the homeschool co-op/in the parish…), that idea was right out, too. Then I got offered an internship with a publishing company, received some excellent advice to take it and did so, and the rest is history.

That’s all well and good; but I can’t shake the uncomfortable feeling now, three years later, that it was all nothing more than an accident, or a lucky coincidence, and certainly not something I can replicate in the future. I will air a grievance that’s been growing with me since I stepped off the platform diploma in hand back in May 2008: Where are the career mentors for good Catholic girls who find themselves, whether they planned it or not, thrust into the working world? Should I feel guilty for–I dunno–even kind of liking it? Should I just plan to cross my arms and sit still in a $35k-per-year + benefits desk job, sharing a house with three or four women, and waiting until **My Vocation** finally makes an appearance? Or is it okay that I’ve gone after a job I can sink my teeth (and even a bit of passion) into? Is it okay that my work excites me, and that I could see myself moving forward with this and maybe even making something of it in five, ten, twenty years?

Maybe this time is a gift.

Then what am I waiting for? Where do I see myself in five years? It’s time to start taking that question seriously.

“And if I weep, let it be as a man who is longing for…”

So we’re in.

Some kind souls shaved a few years off Purgatory and came out last Saturday to help me move my furniture et al to the new house. It took a Jeep, an SUV, a Honda Fit, and two trips, but we got it all over. I’m still unpacking, bit by slow bit, which is unusual for me. As an experienced Navy brat, I pride myself on getting “settled” into a new place quickly. (My record to-date is 8 hours.) For some reason, though, as I’ve mentioned to people over the course of this week, I just can’t seem to get into it this time. It’s not that I don’t like the house; I love it. I love my roommate. I love the neighborhood. I love everything about what this new life of mine is going to be. I’m just not quite ready to let go (completely) of the old one. Not yet. So I’ll let the dwindling stacks of boxes remain just a little while longer, to give the reality of everything more time to sink in.

Over the course of this move I’ve found myself reflecting more than usual on home–specifically, on what “home” means to the single young adult. I heard a single young woman a couple years older than I speak last fall on this very issue, and her words hit the thing square on the head. She posed it as a question: “Why do I always feel like I haven’t got a home?”

Always a roof over my head, a space to put my clothes, a shower, a refrigerator, an oven. So I hope I’m not ungrateful when I have to acknowledge, at least to myself, that despite all these blessings (and I recognize them as blessings and thank God for them daily) I have no real resting place. A place to rest my head, but nowhere to lay my heart. That is the rub of this single life, the one issue that underlies everything else. We set up multiple lovely households, but we have no real home. And I think we’re all constantly, painfully aware of that fact.

For now I’m getting acquainted with yet another new space–learning the places where the floor boards squeak and the way you have to push against the bathroom door until you hear a “click” or else it doesn’t close all the way; learning the particular smell of the place as you walk in after a long day, and how the bottom step on the walkway outside is just a bit too high, so you have to be careful how you step down on your way out. Oh yes, like all the other spaces in the past three years, I’m sure this one and I will be great friends; I’m sure I’ll learn to love it; I’m looking forward to many good times within it. But in the long run, I know this is just another temporary holding place, another stop on the journey. And yes, that reflection makes me just a little sad.

I do know in my heart of hearts, although I roll my eyes and sigh, that this is just God’s way of reminding me where my true home is. I know he knows how easily I would forget otherwise that I’m but a pilgrim on a long journey, and that I have no resting place this side of heaven. I’m tempted to hunker down, fold my arms, and announce, “Here I stay,” but I know it would be no good. We are all wanderers; he has to get us to the point where our very bones ache with weariness so we start looking up to the final goal. In that way, we singles are truly a blessed bunch of people; no one knows better than we what it is to long to the point of tears (sometimes anyway) for home.

 

 

Oh bother.

Be careful what you wish for.

At this point, I just wish I could learn to give those old clichés their due before they have time to come around and bite me. Growing up has been, for me,  the long process of learning just how true old maxims (like the above) are. All those over-used lines about love, life, death, joy, sorrow…we capture the most important lessons and milestones of  human life in groan-inducing one-liners that tend to cheapen the whole experience of living. They also make it difficult, at least for the cynics, to avoid typical pitfalls, since we can’t bring ourselves to take the sayings seriously. They’re cute for Hallmark cards and G-rated family movies, but c’mon–they have no relevance to real life.

Ha. Ha. Ha. That is the sound of hollow, bitter laughter.

 Just three months ago I was feeling stuck in a rut and wishing for change. Now my whole world is changing so fast I hardly know what to expect from one hour to the next over the course of a day. One month ago I was really getting tired of this whole “single” thing and praying for movement forward. I know many wonderful men, I thought. Couldn’t at least one of them be just a little bit interested? I’m not asking for much, I insisted. Even a “texter” would be fine, I allowed myself to think. We won’t go into the experience that pulled me out of that pattern of thinking; suffice it to say, I’ve been sufficiently jolted and have returned to my previous deep contentment with Right Where I Am Right Now: blissfully single.

Then there are one or two relationships in my life that I’ve been asking God to help me cope with. I’ve even gone so far as to request that he set about quietly removing them from my life. Well, he seems to be okay with removing them, and the process has been quiet. But I forgot to specify, “quiet, non-awkward, and leaving as little mess as possible.” Suffice it to say, it has been quite the adventure, with not a few moments of stammering silence and that horrible feeling of your face going bright red.

Finally, a recent long look at my spiritual life has pulled me up short. I’ve been wishing–in some sense–for more challenges, for a deepening in my life with Christ; but I have to admit, the problem isn’t what He’s offering (of course). The problem lies with me. I’ve been getting complacent and allowing myself to nod off on spiritual matters. Daily mass and prayer? Oh sure. I mean, at least I’m physically there. But where is my heart?

I guess that’s what that old saying is really driving at, isn’t it? “Be careful what you wish for” is just another way of saying: be careful what you throw your heart after.

Regrets? No, not really. God is good, and every experience is another opportunity to grow closer to him…and to grow up just a little bit more. To borrow an expression, “It’s all good.”

But lessons learned? Heck yeah. Next time I find myself getting comfortable, I’m going to enjoy it; it means Something Big is probably lurking just around the corner.