An Interview with Mini-Me

Do you ever wonder if the 10-year-old you would approve of you?

Forgive me if the question sounds garishly Disney. I’m not talking about reincarnations of our shorter selves suddenly appearing in our lives and making nuisances of themselves a la The Kid; I’m just wondering, if we were to run into one another on a bus stop bench and spend six minutes comparing notes, what might my 10-year-old self decide?

I don’t really know what her overall impression would be, but I can think of a few things she’d be annoyed about:

1) I’m going to wear glasses? When does that happen to me? (Answer: right before the braces, kid. Get over it.)

2) I’m not a nun? Then sheesh, where’s my husband? I don’t have one of those either?

3) I still haven’t published a novel? I’ve had fifteen years! What have I been doing all this time? (True art takes time, dearest.)

4) I’m not a concert pianist? (But I have five students. Count them: five. Doesn’t that mean something?)

5) Where’s my cat? (Whew. Long story, but the short answer is, I’m sure it was quick and painless, and it wasn’t my fault.)

6) I don’t ride horses? (No, but I own a cute car…and a fabulous bike. Not the same? Oh. Sorry.)

7) I haven’t moved to England yet? (Home of the late greats: C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and Charles Dickens…back then I didn’t differentiate, I just loved them all.)

8) I still haven’t discovered a secrete passageway in my house?

9) Okay, how about a friend’s house?

10) You mean I haven’t been involved in at least one epic battle or had my life seriously endangered in some (heroic) way? (Does being in a church during a breaking and entering count? The guy did demolish a window…scary stuff.)

I think in general the 10-year-old me would shrug and sigh and say I’d done okay for myself. I have a job that allows me to read all day. Since that’s all I did at 10, there’s no big surprise there. I still do play the piano, even if not professionally. I have great relationships with my siblings. And I have something now I could only dream of at age 10: great friends.

And hey, little one, cut me some slack. I’ve still got time on a lot of these others. Except, maybe, the riding horses part. Those animals are very big and very scary. You missed your chance on that one.

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Adieu to the long weekend

Thank you, Lord, for long weekends and no plans.

I am ready for Monday, for the first time in…ages. I spent Thursday with family; went for a very long walk on Friday and then watched too many movies and worked on a sewing project I’ve had going for a while; did some praying and more sewing on Saturday, then saw a local performance of the The Nutcracker on Saturday; and went on a delightful “mini pilgrimage” up the basilica today, to get Advent started off right. It has been a truly delicious weekend.

I hope everyone had a very, very happy Thanksgiving and a fabulous long weekend.

A “real” post to follow later this week.

 

John

There’s an old blind man who hangs out each morning in Union Station, calling “Good morning!” to the commuters as they stream past. I do not believe he’s homeless, but he’s definitely poor. People often stop to talk to him, to buy him breakfast, to give him a hug (he’s a big hugger), and to hear him sing the praises of the Lord. He loves to say, “The Lord is so good to me,” and then he laughs and says it again, and pats your hand and gives you another hug. His name is John.

I’ve known John for a little over a year now, and I’m slowly learning from his example what gratitude looks like.

And I am discovering that joy springs from gratitude, and that joy overflows and spills into the lives of all who come anywhere near it. Blind John, who feels his way through Union Station with a white cane, who learns to recognize his friends by the sound of their voice, brings light into the life of every person who knows him.

Things are never what they seem. To see us from the outside, John has nothing–aside from the clothes on his back, the white cane, and the baseball cap he always wears. I, on the other hand, have everything we’re told a person should have. Yet John spends his days smiling and thanking God for all the blessings in his life, from friends stopping by to say hello to a warm breakfast provided by a stranger. And how many days do I forget to say “thank you!” for the everything I have?

I woke up this morning alive; more than alive, healthy. Thank you!

I made the bus this morning and even got a seat. Thank you!

I have clothes to wear. Food to eat. Thank you!

I have a good job that provides a steady paycheck. Thank you!

I have a roof over my head. A car. “The basics” that so many people lack. Thank you!

I had a text message from my aunt when I woke up, just a little sign that I’m loved. Thank you!

I got to spend yesterday evening with a dear friend. Thank you!

I saw John this morning in Union Station and got to spend a few moments in conversation with him. Thank you!

And at noon today I will get to go to Mass, where I will receive YOU in Communion. Thank you!

I could (and should) go on and on and on.

Instead, most days I kneel before the Lord and say, “God, please give me ______ and ______ and _______ and maybe also _______ (though I can wait a while for that and will live without it if I must).” Not that we shouldn’t present our needs to the Lord, of course. Far from it, He longs for us to do that. But maybe I should first and foremost, at every moment, in all things … give thanks.

 

Like a merchant…

I’m not much for souvenir-buying as a rule. In fact, I detest it. (Thus I came home from three months in Rome, Italy, with nothing but a stack of postcards and some dried flowers I’d plucked at various points and saved in the pages of my journal.) So my recent trip to Hawaii yielded little in the way of mementos brought home…except for some pearls.

I should add as an aside that I love pearls. As a fashion accessory they’re feminine, classy, understated, but they’re so much more than accessories. They possess this fascinating quality of age—and yes, of suffering. There’s a reason we so often find pearl imagery associated with wisdom and the pursuit of wisdom.

For ages I’ve wanted a nice strand of fresh water pearls (less expensive than rarer sorts), and I   happened upon a great deal on a couple strands at an outdoor market in Honolulu. I definitely swooped. Then on the last day of our trip we got kind of tricked into this touristy “pick your pearl” deal by a very fast-moving, smooth-talking saleswoman who snapped us up before we had time to protest. The way it works: they have a basket full of oysters, and you get to pick the oyster; they then pry it open right in front of you and pull out the pearl. These were cultured pearls, perfectly smooth, round, lovely. My extremely generous father insisted on getting each of us a piece of jewelry made with our pearls, so I brought home a beautiful pair of black pearl earrings.

As a result I’ve found myself thinking a lot about pearls since coming home. I’m fascinated by the way pearls are made. A piece of sand gets into the oyster’s shell and lodges itself there, which obviously isn’t very comfortable, so the oyster puts out a protectant–called “nacre,” the same substance the shell is made of–that coats the grain of sand. The result, after a time, is a beautiful pearl. There’s nobility to that image: pearls are the direct result of suffering.

I’ve found we humans can work around our various irritants by a similar process. How many of us look back on times in our lives when we suffered horribly—the death of a loved one, a painful break-up, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, spiritual struggles—and find we no longer suffer from those times? Instead, we regard them as points of real value…even beauty. Pearls of wisdom acquired through the experience of pain, healing, and growth. In my own life I can think of several examples, from those painful coming-of-age crushes in early high school, to being turned down just after college for mission work I desperately wanted to do, to the death of my grandfather. It makes dealing with current irritants and sufferings a little easier, knowing what they can become in the future if we just hold fast. In particular, those of us who still struggle through this time of singleness can take comfort in knowing we’re cultivating a pearl of particular beauty.

I should add a word of warning here as well. While we can cultivate our present sufferings this way, it doesn’t mean that we do. I’ve been reading various articles on the phenomenon of singleness among our generation for a discussion group I’ll be joining this week, and I’m struck—and saddened—by the incredible bitterness of the writers. Granted, these authors are writing on the issue from a purely secular standpoint, and they are a bit older than I (late 30s and early 40s). One decided to have a child via sperm donor, and another opted out of what would probably have been a great marriage (she herself admits it) ten years ago. They talk about their various sexual encounters, sing the praises of the “emancipation of women,” and then complain that marriage (which is all about “partnership”) remains so elusive. I could go on for days about their failure to connect certain dots, so I won’t. I will only say, I see certain aspects of this tendency in myself, and I have to fight against it with every fiber of my being. I think we all do.

It’s so easy to be bitter.

In many ways, I already am bitter. I hear it in my conversation, I feel it in my gut on those long, lonely Sunday afternoons. When Friend Number Umpteen calls and announces through giddy laughter, “I’m engaged,” when old high school friends are married and pregnant with child number 1, number 2, when it starts to feel like “everyone else” is moving on with their lives and I’m … still … here … yeah, I’m not cultivating any pearls in those times. I’m developing welts and lacerations as I rail against the irritants, instead of letting them cultivate within me.

And there’s not really an answer to this, either. Looking to the future and what today’s suffering can be provides scant comfort on those days when your soul just aches. Sometimes we just have to grope about in the darkness. It helps to look through the pearls we’ve collected so far, to remind us. And then … just sit tight.

When Love Hurts

It’s the perennial social conundrum: to hug or not to hug? And it seems to get worse–not better, as I always hoped and assumed during my awkward teenage years when physical affection came about as naturally to me as standing on my head–with age.

This could be partly because age introduces us to all the subtle “gray areas” of social expectations and people’s characteristics. In high school there are two types of people: those who hug and those who don’t. You learn who’s who in your social set and you deal. As an adult you discover all the other types of people. (Were they there in high school and we just didn’t notice? Or do the subtler aspects of people’s personalities emerge as they age?)

Among the huggers, there are the huggers who hug everyone; the huggers who hug everyone they know but steer clear of new acquaintances; the huggers who hug people they know really well and will receive hugs gladly enough from anyone but don’t give hugs readily unless they’re close to you (full disclosure: I am this person). Non-huggers include straight-up, don’t-touch-me non-huggers; non-huggers who reluctantly accept physical expressions of affection only from people they know very well; non-huggers who will accept hugs gladly from people they know well, but make it clear all others must keep their distance; and non-huggers who’ve given up the fight and will allow themselves to be hugged by huggers in whatever situation, even though it makes them cringe and stiffen.

I could be missing subtler nuances, and I’m not even touching on the “bipolar huggers” who are all in to hugs on Monday but go all stiff and strange when you try to give them one on Friday.

I guess we become more aware of all this as singles. Hugging becomes a daily, thoughtless habit if you come from a large, affectionate family (and I do), and then go to a small Christian college where everyone knows everyone (which I did). But after that? Not a whole lot of hugging goes on at the office, on the metro, in the grocery store … Hugs are now relegated to social functions, which happen generally only on weekends, with people one sees–at most–once a week. No more thoughtless, second-nature hugging.

Now? It depends on my mood. It depends on the other person’s mood. It depends on the mood of the party/dinner/event. It depends on what I’m wearing (it’s hard to hug in a bulky coat). It depends on whether the other person is a guy or a girl. A girl I know well? A guy I know sort of well? A new acquaintance? Does he/she look like he/she wants to hug? Should I look more like I want to? Do I want to?

So we resort to a series of exchanges that tends to look sort of like this:

…and in the end we all feel a little silly and deflated.

I know it’s different for everyone, but let me just say this for the record: if you’re dealing with ME, when in doubt: just give me a hug. I never turn ’em down, even if I’m not the best about initiating.

Morning mysteries

I took my usual morning walk to the metro this morning, enjoying the bright sunshine (thank you, time change!) and the crisp fall air. Soooo nice.

Stumbled upon two mysteries as I went, though, and thought I’d share.

The first:

I have no words. Perhaps I should be kinder–that sofa appears to be truly frightened.

And the second:

Granted, slightly less mysterious. Obviously this road sign doesn’t want to catch cold. Makes perfect sense.

A pet peeve

One of my pet peeves (and I like to think I don’t have many): being asked to perform strange and seemingly unnecessary tasks a) in a tone of voice implying I’m fixing a problem I created, b) with absolutely no explanation offered. Especially when the request is made by a complete stranger.

I’m working from home today, and just now my next door neighbor banged on my door. With an expression on his face that said, “I’ve put up with this for as long as I POSSIBLY can, and now I’m being proactive about it,” he asked me, “Would you mind moving your car back a little bit?” Backstory: I live in a townhouse in an older development, and each house has an assigned (unmarked) spot along the curb out front. My car was most decidedly in “my” spot, and he’d managed to park his car in his without any trouble. (In fact, there were a good two feet between the nose of my car and his bumper.)

I glanced at our cars, then back at him, stammered, “Uh–sure,” then waited for the explanation.

Anything would have been fine: I’m unloading groceries and want more room to maneuver. My brother is taking my space tonight and his car is bigger than mine. I’ve started a new exercise routine that requires me to do deep knee bends in the street and I don’t want to dent your hood.

Anything.

But nope, no explanation. He just said “Thank you” in a tone that said “FINALLY” and went back into his house.

And because I’m a good neighbor, I went out and backed my car up about 6 inches.

Reminds me of this time I attended Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s in Old Town. If you’ve ever been there on a Sunday you know that church fills up to the point of bursting. By the time Mass ended I’d been pretty tightly packed into the center of my pew. So as my fellow congregants began to file out, I knelt down to make a quick post-communion thanksgiving before leaving the church. Those on my left exited the pew for the center aisle; those on the right would (I assumed) head for the side aisle. I would not be in the way in either case.

Or so I thought.

The older man on my right sat for a little while in the pew; I assumed he was also making a thanksgiving and didn’t give him another thought. Then he stood up, and I continued to ignore him, assuming he’d head out the side aisle. (There was no one between him and the aisle, I’d like to add. We were the only two people left in the pew.)

Instead he just stood there. Maybe he liked to pray standing up?

Finally I glanced up, and raised his eyebrows at me and asked, “Excuse me, are you staying for the next Mass?”

Surprised, I answered, “No…”

And he sighed and asked in a tone of deep exasperation, “Then may I pass?”

I glanced significantly around him to the very accessible aisle on his other side, but he missed the gesture. So I stood and let him out, and tried to return to my prayers, but I was so distracted by my annoyance with the ludicrous and (seemingly) idiotic request I’d just been forced to comply with that I had to give it up and leave.

I don’t get it.

Maybe when I’m a crotchety, balding, slightly overweight middle aged man it will all make sense. Until that day…I remain confused and irritated.

There and Back Again

The month of adventures has come to an end. I touched down in Dulles airport on Thursday afternoon, and I will not be traveling again (except for the jaunt down Virginia Beach way for Christmas) for the foreseeable future. This makes me a little sad, admittedly, but mostly relieved. At the end of everything, there’s no place like home.

But this last trip (to Hawaii) was lovely! (I guess that goes without saying. As a coworker pointed out yesterday, no one comes back from HI and says, “Yeah, it sucked.” Still…) I haven’t seen so many rainbows in my entire life. After a point we all just stopped commenting. “Oh a rainbow!” turned quickly to, “Another rainbow!” and then we just felt silly saying anything about it. It reminded me of finding incorruptibles in Rome–after about the tenth one you just stop getting excited about them.

We ate good food, drank good wine, received the traditional Hawaiian leis at various points, took walks along Waikiki Beach, visited Honolulu’s famous mall, spent some time at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, and in general enjoyed one another’s company. I haven’t spent that much quality time with my parents in ages. And it was, of course, great to hang out with my sister.

Good pictures will, I am afraid, have to follow later. I forgot to bring a camera, so I’m at the mercy of my sister, whenever she chooses to upload hers. I did take a few shots with my phone, and you’ll have to content yourself with those for now.

This was the view back towards the mountains on Oahu–from dad’s kitchen. His place has an amazing view of the island.

Here’s his view of Waikiki Beach and the Pacific:

 

My sister and I went out shopping one afternoon. She was in the market for a traditional Hawaiian dress, but we didn’t have much luck that day. Still, we stopped in one store that looked pretty authentic. A teeny-tiny Polynesian lady with so many smile lines you could barely see her eyes greeted us at the door. “You here for your muumuus?” she asked us. It took everything in me not to burst out laughing. So that’s where we get that word! Some of the dresses were truly lovely. Most were (I have to be honest) rather garish.

                                                                                       Here’s the sister in one:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently Dad lucked out when it came time to rent a car for his four months on the island. They were all out of traditional sedans. “Can we give you a convertible?” they asked.

So we got to ride around with the top down. A great way to see the island on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

And of course I took myself for long walks, some along Waikiki Beach (sorry, no pictures until the sister sends them), some through Honolulu, and one down the Ala Wai canal (picture below).

Not too much else to relate. It was great to get away, see some new things, and relax with the family. Now back to real life. I hit the ground running–hard–on Friday with work. Nothing says “welcome home!” like deadlines and production schedules.