A thank you note

I just want to send out a hearty thank you to all my dear friends, many of whom I know do read this blog. After a lovely weekend (yet another in a long series of lovely weekends) spent with some of the good people I am blessed to call “friend,” I woke up this morning overwhelmed with gratitude. And so I’m going to be awkward and sentimental and a little bit silly and say so…out loud…in public.

Thank you for being my friend.

Thank you for agreeing to give up your Friday and Saturday nights here and there to spend time on my living room couch (or your living room couch) talking about life, or driving off on adventures to local pubs or dancing venues or wherever else.

Thank you for emailing me now and then to wish me a good day.

Thank you for your random text messages.

Thank you for your words of support and encouragement, or for whatever other tokens of love you give just because.

Thank you for laughing at my jokes, and even the crazy things I say and do late at night when it’s waaaay past my bedtime. 

Thank you for listening to me talk and talk and talk…and for talking back.

Thank you for praying with me.

Thank you for praying for me.

Thank you for asking me to pray for you.

Thank you for your example (and each of you is an example to me)…of holiness, of kindness, of cheerfulness, of industriousness, of honesty, of discipline, of a thousand things I just can’t list here.

Thank you for being.

 

 

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The reality(ies?) we live in…

Be forewarned: the following are the disjointed and rather aimless mental meanderings of an erstwhile philosophy major who probably should have waited until tomorrow to write a blog post…

 

There can be such a big disconnect between the reality that goes on in a person’s head and actual reality. Believe me, I know. I walk past countless personifications of this fact every day on my way to work: the homeless regulars who take up their stations on the sidewalk along Massachusetts Avenue, sometimes calling after people for breakfast or change, and sometimes just sitting lost (completely lost) in the worlds in their heads.

Of course these are the extreme examples. What about the rest of us? Because we all certainly fall into this as well: we take up a particular idea or fear, and we let it skew our entire perception of reality. We end up living in a disconnect between what’s really real and what’s real only in our own minds. We do this in our self-perception, of course. Take Callista Gingrich’s hairstyle of choice, for instance. She’s an intelligent, successful, potentially attractive woman–who appears to have chosen to ignore any and all outside opinions on her appearance…because she likes it. It’s a clear case of the reality in her head vs. the reality the rest of us see.*

Even those of us not in the public spotlight tend to have a view of ourselves, our own strengths and weaknesses, quite different from the view everyone else has of us. In some ways, the rest of the world may be more right than we realize. But in other ways, only we can really know our own motivations, thoughts, plans, dreams, hopes, etc. The trick lies in finding the balance between letting other people totally determine your view of yourself, and allowing realities about ourselves that other people notice to change us for the better.

Prime example? My senior year of college I developed a rather foul mouth. Okay, so I steered clear of the doozies, but I certainly dropped more expletives than I ever had before. I commented on this new habit of mine one day, in passing, to a close friend, but not because I thought I really needed to change it; I was just commenting. Maybe in some deep subconscious way I was seeking validation. Either way, to my surprise–and extreme embarrassment–she nodded and said, “Yeah, I’d noticed that.” She didn’t say anything else. She didn’t have to. Starting that moment, I went on a pretty serious vocabulary purge and cleaned up my act (er…mouth).

But in general I’m still working to find that balance. I guess we all are in our different ways. I tend to worry way too much about what other people think, sometimes to the point of paralysis. I want people’s “permission” to be, to act, or even to think a certain way. In my head I know that you can’t always make everybody happy: people will get ticked off with you sometimes, but as long as you’re not sinning…don’t worry about it. But I still get queasy and nervous and weepy when I learn that so-and-so is peeved with me, even if I have zero control over the situation.

Which brings me to my next point. Most of us experience that disconnect between reality and the reality in our heads especially in our relationships with other people. Why else would it be so easy to fall “in love” with a person you barely know? Or to decide right away “we’re friends” or “we’re enemies” when you’ve hardly exchanged two words with the person in question? I know we all do this. And it takes on many, many forms. Perhaps we place people on pedestals and expect them to keep their foothold there. Or we fall in love with someone we’ve seen across the room, and we build entire lifetimes with them in our heads. (Don’t try to tell me you’ve never done this. I will simply laugh at you.)

For myself, I am constantly surprised by the actual reality of other people. I can know a person for years, and then suddenly, one day, who they actually are leaps out and catches me off-guard. I place them in this or that category in my head, only to discover later that they’re so much more than my silly little label.

I would argue that real love happens only when we finally relinquish the person in our head to the real live, autonomous person. In a way, it’s relinquishing authority–or at least, a supposed authority. An acknowledgment of the other person’s freedom, dignity, and goodness. Because to acknowledge that the other person has an existence of his own is to acknowledge that he does not belong in my head. That his life is not a story I have any right to compose, any more than I want him trying to write my story for me.

I guess God does this perfectly, doesn’t he? In answer to those who say God must not care about us because so many dreadful things happen day after day to his “beloved” children, we can only say: He is the ultimate lover. He values our autonomy even more than we do ourselves, even to the point of allowing the sometimes awful consequences he sees so much more clearly than we ever can.

I’m not really sure where these musings came from or where they’re going. Just following up on a thought I’ve been toying with of late, that living sanity is like walking a rope bridge above a raging river. Insanity is–in so many ways–so much easier. But of course, there’s ultimately no surviving it.

 

*There are those, I am sure, who would argue that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or that fashion is a subjective area. I grant this to some extent, but at a certain point I think we all have a basic agreement on what simply does not look right…or natural.

Dancers don’t wear sweaters.

I love dancing.

I mean, I really, really love it. (Hence the second post on said topic in one month.) To this day I bless my mother for deciding ballroom dancing lessons would be a healthy and productive social outlet for her teenage daughters. I’ll never forget my first round of swing dance lessons in New Jersey. There were eight or nine of us teenagers, and we all slouched onto the roller skating rink-turned-dance-floor once a week and did our best to pound out the steps as the instructors called them. By now I’ve got a pretty solid background in swing (East Coast), with waltz, cha cha, and even a little bit of tango and fox trot thrown in…at least enough that I can toe my way around the floor without seriously injuring myself, my partner, or anyone else. But my roommate has been slowly introducing me to a new ballroom dance (really, a whole new culture of ballroom dancing): salsa.

Okay, so I’m really bad at salsa. They’ve probably started passing around flyers with my face on them at the club where we sometimes go, just to warn other dancers to keep away. Last week I put a whole slew of fellows through the ringer with my ineptitude. There was the poor little Asian man who kept glaring wildly at the ceiling and crying, in the tone of one coming head-to-head with an existential crisis, “Something is not right!” Or the burly guy in jeans who finally dropped my hands and said, “Fine, I’ll dance to your rhythm.” Or the suave black dancer who grinned at me smugly and said, “You’re a beginner.” I chose not to mention my ten years of swing dancing experience and only nodded. To which he replied, “I can tell. Dancers don’t wear sweaters.” (A reference to the cardigan I had on over my sleeveless shirt, because…gosh, I dunno, it was 15 degrees outside and I was cold.)

That aside, I love the way dancing presents so many opportunities for…charity. I mean, let’s face it, you’re going to run through a wide variety of partners, some good, some okay, some just plain bad, and it’s tempting to roll your eyes, or comment, or leave the dance floor before the end of the song when the other person and you just aren’t working out. I’m so grateful for the good dancers who simply laugh with me at my fumbles and mistakes and offer kind, practical tips on how to improve. And because I’m determined to have a good time, I bite my tongue and say nothing when I encounter the ruder sorts like those mentioned above. In the same vein, I danced my fair share with men who simply (*cough*) weren’t very good. But you know, that was okay too. I appreciate them trying, and even more, asking me to dance at all. It’s a give and take. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but you should both walk away with your dignity intact.

Still, after a few weeks of bumbling my way through Latin dances, I can’t wait to drag my roommate (and anyone else who’ll come along) out to Glen Echo for a night of good old-fashioned swing.

Yenta, Yenta…

Oh no!

It hit me with the force of a thunderbolt this afternoon, that I have developed a nasty, subconscious habit…a habit I have guffawed and deplored in others for years. A habit I’ll be working hard to squelch in myself now that I’ve had to consciously acknowledge it. What is this habit, you may ask?

Matchmaking.

Okay, but up until now I have never carried my matchmaking to the point of action, I just like to think about how nice so-and-so would be with so-and-so…how their senses of humor might match up, or how cute they’d look in church, or even how they both happen to love chocolate chip cookies. Little things. But like Emma (from Jane Austen’s classic), I catch myself reveling in a thrill of real pride whenever two people end up together and I can convince myself, “I knew it!” (even though, usually, I didn’t).

Today, I almost did something that would have carried me over the line from the game I play in my head to the real deal. I came *this* close. I even toed the line a little bit to see what might happen. Nothing happened. Then I woke up and saw what’s become of me, and I ran screeeeeaming away.

I am better than this.

Seriously, it must be some bizarre, psychological need I have to impose romance on those around me, even if I’m not really seeking it out for myself. Sheesh. Please, if you see me in some corner at a party, watching people with a peculiar glint in my eye and a sappy smile on my face, slap me, throw something at me, call me names–do anything you must, only I beg you, save me from myself.

Some disjointed thoughts on love

As a follow-up to last week’s post on experiencing the love others have for me, I want to take a look at the reverse side of the coin: loving others.

I admit, this is much harder for me to write. First of all, because loving others is something I’m still learning, and still not very good at.* And secondly, I’m incredibly uncomfortable with emotions and anything that smacks of the sentimental, the sappy, or the “squishy”–all of which are at some point inevitable in loving, at least if you want to be any good at it.

Still, there are three related things I have discovered about love in my life, all of them closely related to last week’s post: 1) I never love other people quite right when I’m not loving God as I should. 2) I find that love just pours from me when I remember to stop and recall how much I am loved by both God and other people. The more I remember to be thankful, the easier it becomes for me to give love. And 3) I am constantly discovering that I love others more and more easily and fully as I grow (through the grace of God) in love of myself.

I guess that first point should be pretty self-evident. God is the source of love, so if we’re not drinking from that source, how on earth can we expect to have any love to give out? It’s an old and obvious point: you can’t give what you don’t have. I am often surprised at how easy it is to love God, and yet what a big deal we make of it. All he wants is for us to love him: to spend time with him, to give him our hearts. That’s it. I picture one of my piano students, who every weekend has some gift for me, or a hug, or a kind word–sweet tokens of love that require little effort, but that she gives with such generosity and joy. They honestly make my day every Saturday. And that’s all God wants from us: a quick hug, a visit, a flower plucked from the garden. Why is that so difficult?

I still struggle to carve out twenty, thirty, forty minutes for him in a day. I groan when I realize at 10 p.m. that I haven’t prayed the rosary yet (you mean I have to pray right now? I wanna watch tv…or read a book…or just sleep…). Horrors. I have to stay up an extra thirty minutes spending time with the One who created me, sustains me in existence, and loves me beyond anything I can comprehend. So…I have a lifetime of work cut out for me when it comes to loving God. Thank goodness each day is a new start on that journey.

The second point (gratitude) is very much tied up in the first. I’m finding that gratitude acts as a sort of lever in the soul, opening it wider and wider to love and to joy. I look back with shame on so much of my life, when my thoughts were always turned in on myself, my relationships were all about me (how I felt, how much I got paid attention to, how loved I felt on a given day), and there was always some dark cloud overhead to complain about. Gratitude has forced me to turn my eyes upward and outward. Once you do that…you have to be thankful. There’s so much to be thankful for. And once  you’ve stopped the navel-gazing, you realize how much other people want and need to be loved, and you’re able to address those wants and needs because you can see them–because you’re looking.

And then there’s the third point–the hardest to get to in so many ways–loving oneself. You have to give love from a secure and healthy source. If you’re shaky in your view of yourself, how can you possibly give fully of yourself? I’m not saying that those who struggle with self-love can’t love other people. Obviously they can and they do. But you will love other people best when you love yourself honestly. (That is: recognizing your faults, but also that you are loved and redeemed.) True self-love removes so much of the insecurity, the doubt, and the jealousy that otherwise crowd to the surface when we’re trying to love others.

Self-love also opens the way to forgiveness. We’re all carrying scars, some of them incredibly deep and painful. In my own experience, the slow, awkward process of learning to love me has allowed me to look back on all the old hurts with compassion, with mercy, and even with gratitude. Like that painful 10th grade crush that went nowhere (trite? Probably. But you name me one girl who wasn’t scarred at least a little bit by a tragic high school non-romance), or feeling overlooked in school, or even those uncomfortable moments when a person you’ve met about four times in the past six weeks squints at you on meeting #5 and says, “Wait…what was your name again?” Or even worse, “I don’t think we’ve met…”

I guess ultimately it’s all about the right ordering of things. The outside (meaning, everyone and everything that isn’t God or I) has to stay outside, and  you can’t really approach it correctly until you’ve got the inside ordered correctly. We have to love God first. Loving God and recognizing his love for us teaches us to love ourselves. Once we’ve got those two things in place, we can really reach out and love others well.

Taking a look at the practical application of all this, one of my commenters last week asked how I go about loving others. Yikes…tough question. Honestly, I think the best acts of love are hidden, so I’d rather not delve into it too much. One little act of love I’ve gotten into making recently, though, is one that’s new to me…but pretty standard for most people I think: making phone calls. Who knew a five-minute phone call to my sister or my grandmother or a close friend could really make their day? I’ve always been incredibly nervous about the phone. I hate to invade another person’s time, so I’m much more likely to send an email or a text message. But sometimes people need that forceful, audacious display of love. I’m still getting used to it, but it gets easier with each call.

Still, it’s all about those little things. I’ve had many friends in my lifetime who never seemed able to give me the time of day, who remained distant and aloof, but would assure me in our periodic meetings that they’d “always be there for me if I needed something.” I always felt guilty for finding that answer unsatisfactory. Now I see why. True love isn’t about being willing (or at least thinking you’ll be willing) to answer a 3:00 a.m. phone call. It’s about sharing your life with another person, and that means the details.

To quote that old school chaplain again, “Love is in the details.”

A little note; a text message; washing the dishes; visiting home for a weekend; anything that lets the other person know: I’m thinking of you and I’m putting you first. Because I love you.

 

*I recognize that no one is “very good at” this, that it’s a lifelong process, and that we’re all standing at the beginning of it. But there are beginners and there are the just-barely-out-of-the-box types who can barely stay up even with training wheels. I’m this second sort, so I have absolutely zero right to write about any of this. But I’m not letting that stop me, now am I?

 

“I’m such a bad faun.”

I woke up this morning with a scene from C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (the book, mind you, not the movie) running through my head. Mr. Tumnus curled up in a corner of his little home and sobbing, “I’m such a bad faun.” I’ve been feeling that way myself these past two days or so. All my faults and shortcomings are rearing their nasty heads, and every not-so-good thing I’ve done, word I’ve spoken/written, thought I’ve had plays itself out again in my mind and taunts me. These days are always humbling. In an odd way, though, I’m so grateful for these days. Because it’s only when I remember how much I’ve been given that I can really live gratitude.

We humans so easily assume that we can’t be loved. That we are not loved. And especially when my own faults continue to make themselves so drattedly apparent, what else am I to think? “I don’t suppose there ever was a worse faun since the beginning of the world,” sobbed Mr. Tumnus. And I find this thought streaming through my subconscious, over and over: Who could possibly love this? Funny how much faith it requires to accept the objective fact of God’s love: faith which gives a bedrock to our hope; hope which gives us the audacity to love.

His stomach does a little somersault when he sees me. As our old chaplain at school used to say all the time, “When he sees you, his eyes sparkle.”

I want to laugh and say, “No offense, Lord, but have you really taken a good, hard look?”

We don’t often think of his love like that, because we’re so sure it can’t be. It shouldn’t be. Let’s leave God’s immense love an abstract idea, one of those enormous, pervasive realities that’s so big it can’t come anywhere near us, like the concept of the universe, or even the size of the planet. Obviously it is that vast. But his love is also an infant lying on straw, a preteen boy listening and asking questions in the Temple, a man who happens to be a guest at your wedding.

So God loves me despite my failings. Even when I can accept that, though, I struggle to believe that other people can still love me in spite of my faults. I’m always half convinced that “once they know,” that’ll be the end. And while I know I can carry things to extremes, I also know we all deal with this to some level. It’s one of the loneliest and most terrifying things about the human condition…and it’s an especially poignant fear for the single person. At least those who are married, for instance, are vowed to deal with the other person’s faults. But sometimes as a single person, I feel like I’m living just one wrong move away from abandonment.  “Oh – oh – you wouldn’t say that if you knew,” weeps Mr. Tumnus when Lucy tries to comfort him by calling him “the nicest faun” she’s ever met. Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? Don’t praise me, don’t be nice to me, don’t even bother loving me, because if you knew

Yet how often have I, in my relatively short lifetime, seen the mercy of God displayed in the mercy of my fellow men? When my parents forgave me my childhood transgressions, when my siblings forgave me for being demanding, overbearing, and at times downright cruel, and now when friends constantly forgive me despite my biting tongue, my deep-rooted jealousies, my perfectionism, my passive-aggressive tendencies…

I have many, many faults, and still I am loved. I’m daily flabbergasted by it, and humbled. Because I don’t deserve it, and I can’t deserve it. I can only be so immensely grateful.

I’m just here to dance

So what did you do this weekend? Among a laundry list of other things, I accidentally went speed dating.

Oops.

They told us it was a dinner/dance, and lately I have this near-constant hankering for dancing. So I went. But before they cranked up the music and let us hit the dance floor, they announced the preliminary activity: not an ice breaker or a slightly awkward but well-meant game of some variety, but speed dating. And there was nowhere to run. So there I sat, embarrassed and aggravated, while a string of five or six guys settled themselves into the chair to my right and proceeded to tell me about themselves. Granted, it wasn’t all bad. I even had one downright enjoyable chat. (And then there was the guy who covered his mouth with one hand and leaned way in conspiratorially every time he spoke, like he was confiding some deep, dark secret. Him, leaning in: “I work in finance.” Me, leaning waaaay back: “Cool.” Him, leaning in even farther: “In my spare time I…” Thank goodness they called “switch” before he could tell me something even more confidential, like his favorite color or the make of his car, or I’d have been lying flat on my back.) But the whole thing felt contrived, and since I didn’t go to the dance to find a date (at least not on purpose), I felt false.

Fortunately, I have guy friends who are able to help me keep things in perspective. After kindly letting me rant about the awfulness of the whole thing over a small dinner with a few friends the day following the dance, two of them offered their defense of speed dating from their personal experience. (Neither of these guys was at the event in question, by the way.) Sometimes (okay–most of the time) I forget that there are two sides to the whole dating question. My perception is terribly skewed by my female-ness. And by my almost unhealthy obsession with keeping things “natural,” “normal,” and “non-awkward.” I guess the male half of the equation is equally important, isn’t it? And what relationship, whether it be friendship, rooming situation, a work relationship, or romance, begins without at least a teensy bit of awkwardness and artificiality?

Anyway, these two guys explained to me that the speed dating scene made it a lot easier for them to meet women in a relatively comfortable setting 1) without the gravity of a serious commitment to any one person, and 2) in a venue where “they knew the women involved were also interested in the possibility of dating.” You could keep it casual and friendly, and really you had to since you only had a minute or two per person. If there was interest, you could go back for a “real” conversation later.

I guess a jump start to the whole male initiative thing isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re a guy. Being a girl, I hadn’t really thought of it that way.

Okay, so after hearing what these two guys, both of whom are quite normal and pleasant, had to say, I am willing to recant my original “speed dating is always silly” position. In fact, kudos to those who are willing to make themselves vulnerable like that in the hopes of meeting someone. But I still cling to my insistence that springing speed dating on a group of people isn’t fair, if only because not all of us were “also interested in the possibility of dating.” At least not in such an open, obvious way. (*Blog post for another time: granted, maybe that’s my problem…)

A New Year’s adventure

I went to NYC with four lovely ladies to ring in the New Year right: with a masquerade ball.

There were crowds (and crowds and crowds) of people. We dragged our suitcases from the Port Authority all the way to Grand Central Station, fighting throngs the whole way. Last time I found myself surrounded by that many people in one place was 2010, in Rome, waiting to get into St. Peter’s for the Easter Vigil Mass.

There was coffee.

There was Mass at St. Patrick’s cathedral.

There were two hours spent dressing up for the ball, helping one another with hair and makeup as needed.

There was music. Lots of it. And champagne. (Some of which ended up being spilled–by an unknown, unseen entity–on my dress. Thank goodness for BLACK.) There were random meetings of strangers, some pleasant (like the friendly fellow who took a fancy to my roommate and enjoyed dancing–even twirling–to anything that had a beat), some quite unpleasant (like the drunk guy later in the evening who made some pretty ugly passes at another girl I was with. I’m afraid I saw red. Fortunately, we left at that point, or I probably would have said some things I would later have come to regret. “This is New York, sweety. I don’t know who the f*** you are…” is NOT an okay response to a girl’s gently but firmly removing your arm from her shoulder. Especially when said girl doesn’t even know your name).

There was sleep. And sightseeing. And shopping. A lovely dinner. A visit to the Met. And a pleasant trip home.

Happy 2012!

 

Banning Politicians

I have written little of late, and I blame it on the holidays. (When the holidays are over I’ll have to come up with a new excuse, but all things in their proper time I think…)

For today, just this.

Three cheers for private ownership! Can we do this to our newspapers, televisions, radios, and private conversation as well?