Trying to get unstuck

Following another weekend round of parties, Sunday night found me, breathless and head-achy and somewhat morose, curled up in the chair in the corner of my bedroom I’ve designated for thinking/writing/praying/staring reflectively out the window. Mostly I just stared out the window, but I did a little bit of thinking, too. And in talking with the roommate and various other friends, I decided two of those thoughts might be worthy of bringing up on this blog, because they’re definitely not relegated to my own head. So here they are, ready to be dissected and discussed, both on this WordPress site and (hopefully) in person as well.

First, you all know I love a good party. I’ve definitely blogged on that before, and it remains true. But I have been noting with increasing unease this trend in the young adult community toward nothing … but … parties. Okay, so it’s more than a trend. It’s almost a rule. You want to see your friends? Have a party. You want to meet someone (in the full significance of the term)? Have a party. Go to a party. Get dragged to a party. In whatever way necessary, get thee to a party, grab a beer, and scream at strangers over loud music about your career and life goals, and try to make yourself as charming–and authentic–as possible. Be social. Be yourself. Make at least 15 new Facebook friends per weekend. This is what it means to be a thriving, healthy, happy young adult.

My pastor even told me once, about a year ago, that if I felt called to get married I had something akin to a moral obligation to go out on weekends. “You can’t be sitting around at home,” he told me.

I do agree with this, of course. You’re not going to meet your spouse if you’re hiding out under a rock. Nor are you going to have much of a social life. Still, this exhausting fact of parties every night of every weekend seems to be lacking something. There are two problems I’ve noted most pointedly:

1) Very few people are truly themselves, in the sense of being comfortable, relaxed, and able to be known, at parties. I know for a fact that I’m not. It’s difficult to meet someone who’s wearing his “I’m at a party and I’m actually feeling pretty awkward right now” mask, just like it’s difficult to be met when you’re wearing that same mask.

And 2) parties do not give a very firm foundation for authentic friendship. I will say from experience that parties among people who are already friends are a blast; but trying to make all your friends in the context of, “We met at so-and-so’s party in April” gets a bit exhausting. And when I look around at most of my closest friends right now, they’re not the people I’ve partied with (exclusively, anyway). They’re the people I’ve lived with in some way.

Meaning, the people with whom I have shared my life, whether as physical roommates, in prayer groups and Bible studies, in works of service, or friends from school.

And this leads to my second point. Just like most of us aren’t making many authentic, lasting friendships in the course of our breathless runs from party to party, our friendships with members of the opposite sex aren’t blossoming, either. And I mean that in two ways: we’re not becoming better friends with one another, and we’re not really able to explore the possibility of maybe becoming “more than” friends, because we’re getting stuck in this limbo of shallow social relationships, restricted to party-appropriate conversations.

Not only are we all stuck in the “friend zone,” we seem to be entrenching ourselves in the “shallow friends” zone. (By this I mean, we’re not even becoming GOOD friends in the fullest sense of the term, learning to really love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.) And I think a large part of the reason why lies in the point I made above: true friendship is based on a shared life–not just a shared social scene. Our life is composed of so many diverse, rich pieces: prayer, work, study, community service, hobbies, trips and adventures, even basic things like exercise. Parties [should] occupy a really, really small portion of all that, and yet they’re taking over the whole.

So friendships aren’t blossoming and people aren’t dating. And we’re all getting frustrated because we all feel a little bit…stuck. I can’t speak much from the male perspective, but on the girls’ side, we’re organizing parties and doing our hair and wondering when the men in our lives are going to step up and take some initiative. Then again, we’re not sure we want them to because it could really make things awkward, throwing off our carefully organized social structures. So the vicious cycle carries on.

I wonder what we can do to combat this trend? Organizing the occasional service project or rosary dinner seems like a good start, but are there things we can put in place that have more permanence and regularity, so that people have a sense of truly belonging to a growing community, and not just showing up for the latest Facebook event? For instance, instead of now and then gathering for Saturday morning Mass and work in a soup kitchen, what about starting an official group (and naming it) that goes to Saturday morning Mass every week and then spends two hours in service? Even if people don’t come every week, they could have the permanence of knowing it’s an institution, and it happens weekly.

A hearty kudos to those who already do this. One great example comes to mind–a good friend of mine organizes a weekly ultimate Frisbee game in a local park on Sunday afternoons. They’ve been gathering young adults from all over the metro area for the past three years, and it’s still going strong. And guess what? Authentic friendships…and I think even one or two marriages…have come out of that group.

But if Frisbee’s not your thing (and I admit, it isn’t mine), figure out what is. Then see if you can gather a community of like-minded people around you to participate. That’s my first suggestion for beginning to break out of the social inertia we’re all finding ourselves stuck in: regularity. Friendships are based on a shared life, which implies permanence. Parties are by their very nature impermanent things–as are shallow friendships and relationships.

(Beware: much more on this topic to follow, as well as a close look at dating as it seems to be developing in our Catholic circles…and why modern dating may not be the best trend to follow for those  of us who aren’t part of the hookup culture.)

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Spring somersaults

ImageI’m not sure when it happened, but I took a good look around and realized I’m surrounded by young adults…who are younger than I am. I’ve been on the bottom of the age heap for so long, I just got used to it. Now I’m right smack dab in the middle. And quite frankly, this annoys me.

It shouldn’t annoy me, of course, and I’m admitting this with shame. But like a dog, I guess I feel like I’ve staked out my territory in this harsh social world, and I’m a bit resentful of these upstarts coming in and acting like they belong here. What to do, for instance, with the 22-year-old girls who show up to parties and flirt with your guy friends? Or the new social cliques forming (without you) in the vestibule after Mass on Sunday mornings? Or worst of all, this heart-sinking sense that I have to, once again, start making the rounds with my hand out and a perky, “Hi, what’s your name…” building all those awkward new friendships?

Ok, so the problem isn’t all the new young adults in the area–it’s my attitude. I’m like the youngest child who doesn’t quite know what to do with herself when Mommy comes home with a brand new baby. Where’s my place now? Well, among many resolutions going into the summer, I am resolved to be better about reaching out and being open to new, younger friends. After all, some of my current best friends are older young adults who were willing to reach out to ME just a couple years ago.

Nothing stays the same. You’d think I’d have gotten used to this by now, but every year it hits me like a new surprise. It’s springtime, and my life and the lives of everyone around me are about to go through a few somersaults again. My roommate and I are moving in the end of May. My younger sister moved to Texas and just got settled in an apartment there. Another sister will be moving to Michigan for grad school, and my brother joined the Navy. Some of my family will be moving to Hawaii for a few months (up to a year) in June. Three dear old school friends will be tying the knot May and June. My very best friend from high school is about to have baby #2 (it’s a girl!). Other friends either have moved or are about to leave the area for work. More of my high school students from church will be graduating and going away. An old roommate will be leaving the area to live at home in New England for the summer before her wedding in the fall. Another dear, dear friend will be joining the Carmelite convent in Brooklyn in the middle of June. Yet another (newer) friend will be leaving the area to join the seminary in St. Louis. It’s telling even in my humdrum routine: I’ve finally had to make the painful decision to retire from piano teaching so I can focus more seriously on my writing. A good thing, but it means no more goofy, musical Saturday mornings with four amazing kids and their beautiful families. 

There’s a leap of faith involved in all this change every year. I love the way things have been, and I don’t want to let it all go. But I know, looking back, that it has always been all right. The adjustment period takes a little while, but it’s always, always good. Easy? Heck no. In fact, sometimes it’s just plain hard. But it’s jumping out into the unknown that makes us aware of the hand that holds us.

 

“That’s an executive chair.”

There are certain things you don’t just “get” in the professional world, mundane though they may be. No, no, you must work towards these things; you have to earn them. (Or, if you’re attractive/intelligent/funny/shameless enough, you can schmooze your way into these things early, but that’s a particular skill, and one that cannot be taught.) What are some of these coveted objects, craved by the masses of white-collar workers but enjoyed by only the few?

  • Desk chairs with proper lumbar support. The progression of desk chairs in the corporate environment is a dreadful, mysterious thing. Yes, that office has been vacant for eight months, but NO: you may not take the chair. It is for executive bottoms and backs, and yours, my dear, are the bottom and back of a minion. Get back to your Ikea seat. (This literally happened outside my office door yesterday. A non-executive tried to co-opt an executive chair from an empty office and was roundly chastised. A meek executive came by twenty minutes later and wheeled the chair away, explaining, “I was told to come take this chair.” So odd…)
  • Real desks.
  • Ergonomic keyboards (the avoidance of carpal tunnel syndrome belonging properly to those who have already had it for years, apparently).
  • The ability to stand wherever you want for bi-monthly full company meetings. (Out of sight in the corner is a good option, but only if you’re not too blatantly “out of sight,” which makes you look like you’d rather be somewhere else, or as if you have something to hide.)
  • The right to have an actual opinion when your superiors ask, “What do you think?” (I once made the mistake of actually having an opinion in that circumstance. “What do you think?” I was asked. I proceeded to answer, and got cut off halfway through my response. The person who had just requested my opinion now snapped, “I don’t give a damn what you think.” I had to admire the honesty of that assessment, but it definitely opened my eyes to The Way the World Works.)
  • The right to find out information pertinent to your job without having to resort to eavesdropping on every conversation that occurs within earshot of your office door.

I often have to chuckle at the way democracy will never find its way into the corporate world. Everybody’s equal, of course, but as they say on the farm, “Some [people] are more equal than others.” (And in all seriousness, would it really work any other way? I’m honestly not sure.)

Christos anesti

The heady scent of lilies that greets you when you walk into the dark church…

Cold wind outside, and the crackling of a roaring fire, the prickle of goosebumps on your legs, the muted voice of the priest reading out words you can barely hear…

Hot wax dripping over your fingers from your tiny vigil candle and the  sweet smell of the burning wick…

The heady sound of bells and organ music and the slight pain behind your eyes as the lights come on and the priest intones the “Gloria”…

The delicate noise of water poured over foreheads and the muttered words, “I baptize thee…”

Cold drops of water falling on your head, your arm from the priest’s aspergillum…

The thick smell (almost a flavor) of incense as the altar is prepared…

The taste of Jesus hidden in bread, dissolving in a soft mound on the tongue…

And the triumphant sound of “Alleluia” shouted by the choir, by the people, pounded on the organ until the whole building shakes with it and you feel the vibrations of it reverberating in your own chest…

Easter crowds in on all the senses, so that even when understanding fails, you can’t miss it. This is human life, the life He took on and raised up: spiritual and bodily.  He is risen. Alleluia!

 

A Holy Week reflection

I learned the value of repetition from my college chaplain. Granted, I knew repetition had its uses in grammar and math classes, and in practicing music (how else is one to memorize the multiplication tables, or the proper conjugation of the verb “to be,” or to learn the really rough spots of Chopin?). But it hadn’t quite sunk in that our hearts learn the same way–they take things in only after weeks, months, years of repetition. Why? Maybe at least in part because constant repetition allows you to turn off your mind at a certain point, so you can take the thing in on a deeper level. As long as the conscious mind is engaged in a thing, it holds it out–away from the self, if you will–in order to scrutinize it and understand it. But once the mind gets turned off, the thing can take root in you, because you’re no longer keeping it at arm’s length.

Again, our school chaplain taught me this, not directly–but just by repeating certain things over and over and over again during the almost four years he served our spiritual needs on campus. Sometimes then I would think, “Okay, Father, we get it…you’ve said this like a million times before.”

But now I couldn’t forget if I wanted to, because so many of his repeated lessons sank in, and are still sinking in, and will probably continue to sink in for the rest of my life.

I’ve been reflecting on one of those lessons for the past couple weeks, as the Church has readied itself for Passion Week and (soon!) Easter. Father talked about Our Lord’s vulnerability, and the meaning of “vulnerability”–literally, the ability to be wounded. Christ is the exemplar of vulnerability, and in his Passion he says to each of us, “I wish to be able to be wounded by you.”  He became man precisely in order to be vulnerable.

And I do not understand this. Why does the human heart require that a thing be vulnerable in order to love it? Why did God have to come down from heaven and become infant/child/man/condemned prisoner…and now bread…to teach us how to love him? And it’s not only love of God, but love of one another: love (real love) doesn’t happen between people until each becomes vulnerable in some way to the other. I know this; I have seen it in my own life and in the lives of those closest to me; and I don’t get it.

“I wish to be able to be wounded by you.”

I’m so glad to have that phrase to accompany me as we move into the celebration of the Passion. And of course, one of the greatest fruits of this reflection (thus far) has been my own humbling…as always. Without fail Holy Week presents a great opportunity to come nose-to-nose with my many imperfections. This Holy Week I’m having to face down a particularly nasty one: that in the face of this need to be vulnerable, my initial reaction has always been the cowardly one. I’d rather not love than face the possibility of being hurt. If the cross, with all the blood and horror that accompany it, presents a true portrait of love, maybe it’s better to do without.

As a single person, it’s particularly tempting to reject the whole concept of vulnerability. My state in life doesn’t necessarily require it of me; the world around me encourages me to be strong, impervious, aloof; and being a “career woman” actually flies in the face of vulnerability. We’re supposed to display our strengths and spin our weaknesses to sound like strengths. To be vulnerable can even be dangerous, depending on how ambitious you may be in your field.

Besides, aren’t I getting along just fine without love? I’m comfortable. I have friends and a busy life. I enjoy my work. I find fulfillment in this project, that service opportunity, in travel, in hobbies, in long walks by myself and in bike rides. I’m continuing to grow in my spiritual life–and wouldn’t human love take me away from my carefully ordered prayer routine? Might it not tempt me to love someone else as much as (or more) than Christ?

With these and a thousand other excuses I shield myself from vulnerability. I wear all sorts of armor, to cover up my weakest spots.

And tomorrow is Good Friday. We will stand and watch as Our Lord has even the clothes on his back stripped from him, as he opens his hands to the soldiers’ nails, as he hangs subject to the taunts and stares of an angry crowd, as he dies. I think there may be only one way to start peeling off that armor we create for ourselves: we have to repeat those words to him: we have to stand at the foot of the cross and say to him, “I wish to be able to be wounded by you.”

Teach me, Lord–teach us–how to be vulnerable as you were vulnerable…as you continue to be vulnerable, even in your triumph.

 

 

 

 

Tourist for a day

At least one Saturday this summer, I plan on strapping on a fanny pack, loading up on extra batteries for the camera, and heading into D.C. to play “tourist for a day.”

I’ll ride the metro, and cling for dear life to the standing pole while I scrutinize the system map. At each stop I’ll call out to whoever’s with me, “Okay, we’re getting off in __ stops!” We may even get off at the wrong stop, just once, for authenticity’s sake. Then we’ll huddle on the platform, obstructing other passengers’ route to the escalator, and talk loudly about which way we should go to get back to where we want to be, but we won’t ask anyone for help.

Once safely in the city and in the vicinity of the National Mall, we will disregard all crossing signals at major roads, preferably on the busiest and widest roads. We’ll take pictures of metro stops, city buses, pigeons. We will spread out across the whole sidewalk, regardless of how wide it may be, and look askance at any locals who attempt to pass us. We will talk and laugh and purchase hot dogs from sidewalk vendors and T-shirts that say “I ❤ DC,” and we’ll stop in our favorite museums and feed the geese at the reflecting pool and feel very patriotic.

We may take a tour of the Capitol.

We’ll definitely ride in one of those open-top tour buses.

We’ll stroll past the White House gates on Pennsylvania Avenue and strain to catch a glimpse–maybe–of President O, or Michelle or one of the girls. And if it’s open, we’ll climb the Washington Monument. Then we’ll have a picnic down by the water, near the Lincoln Memorial.

And we’ll end the day by watching the sunset down by the water.

Seriously, this is happening. And all are invited.