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.