Most embarrassing moment

And now it’s time for “most embarrassing moments.” I’m thinking of making this a feature, partly to keep me humble, and partly to give me something to write about when there aren’t actual important things to say, or when ideas aren’t flowing. And also partly because, if embarrassing moments aren’t relevant for single young adults, what topic is? (I’m willing to post other people’s most embarrassing moments as well. If you have any doozies you’re willing to share, please: send ’em my way. I’ll be sure to change names to protect the innocent.)

For today: Perhaps my all-time most embarrassing moment was a date I went on a couple years ago. I showed up in slacks and a polo shirt because the guy failed to mention that the event required cocktail attire. It gets worse: I was comfortable enough with said guy that I’d even put on FLIP-FLOPS. My face still goes bright red whenever I remember it.

In case you’re curious, things basically ended there with that guy. I think we might have gone out one more time, maybe, but all the fizzle had gone out of it.

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Listen up!

I hate it when I’m talking and it becomes clear after about three and a half words that the other person isn’t listening. Sometimes you can just see it in their eyes, or hear it in the vague way they mumble, “M-hmm, yeah.” Other times they make it more obvious: cutting you off mid-sentence to say something to someone else, suddenly standing up and walking away, or pulling out their phone and starting a text message. It’s hard even to get angry at that point–mostly I just feel sorry for the other person having to tolerate my boring soliloquies at all.

What really makes me mad is when I find myself not listening when other people are talking to me. If it hurts my feelings to be treated like a mildly aggravating background drone, why on earth am I treating other people exactly that way? It takes such a huge quantity of energy to listen, and not just to listen, but to listen and care. It bears remembering: words are the closest we can get to the inner workings of another person’s mind and even (sometimes) heart. They’re more than just noise, they’re the other person’s expression of what’s going on inside, and an attempt to share that. Granted, sometimes you’d rather they didn’t share, and there are some thoughts that should probably be kept hidden. Regardless, in some way, the words we speak are gifts (part of that self-gift that’s the backbone of community) to those around us, and that demands response.

So for crying out loud, people: pay attention.

“What does religious liberty mean to you?”*

I’m not much a joiner. I ignore advertisements, Facebook invites, and generic emails on “freedom,” “pray for our country,” “if you love liberty, click here,” etc. In fact, these things tend to annoy me to no end–the last thing I need in my life is more clutter, and not just clutter, but clutter that claims moral superiority and makes me feel just a teensy bit guilty for hitting the “delete” button. Granted, I still hit delete. But I feel bad about it.

Still, I was reminded yesterday that while I can ignore the clutter, there are certain issues I shouldn’t ignore. And the ongoing battle being waged about our freedom of conscience is one of those issues. It’s easy enough for me to say, “Well I don’t like Obamacare, but that’s up to the Supreme Court now. And the HHS mandate has basically no impact on me. I don’t work for the Church, for one thing, so my health care isn’t at stake. And I’m not married–and yes, since I’m a practicing Catholic that means I’m not sexually active–so the whole contraceptive issue really isn’t something I have to think much about, either.” Granted, I see the potential dangers, and I can’t ignore all the Facebook postings about forced abortions in China and the obvious warning: this could be us. But that’s all hypothetical and far away, isn’t it?

I guess we could sit back and do nothing and find out.

I’m reminded of that scene in the gospel, when Jesus took his apostles with him to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, telling them to “pray with me.” And they all fell asleep. It’s easy to fall asleep. We laugh at the ostrich with his head in the sand, but honestly: aren’t we all like that a little bit? “If I close my eyes and ignore the issue, maybe it will just go away…” I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.

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If we love our country, if we love our freedoms, whether this particular mandate directly affects us or not shouldn’t be the issue. The issue is religious liberty, as you’ve heard over and over ad nauseam. And that directly affects each of us.

So: If you haven’t given some thought and prayer to joining in–in some way–with the Fortnight for Freedom (June 21 – July 4), I would encourage you to do so. It seems like a good place to start thinking about the issue. Pray. Fast. And when the fortnight is over, keep at it.

Okay, I’m done preaching.

*Reflections from a Soapbox

Sometime: My favorite non-word

When I was a kid, my best friend’s mother used to promise both of us that “sometime” we could have a weekend sleepover at my friend’s house. Every time we saw each other we’d run to her mom and beg and beg to be allowed to spend the night, and every time she’d say, “Not today. But we do need to do that sometime.” She used to lay out all the fun things we could do when “sometime” happened: games, a movie, nail polish, pancakes for breakfast, the whole shebang. I banked on that “sometime” plan. I knew it would happen. But three years passed, my dad got orders to a new state, we moved away, and the promised sleepover never happened. I never saw my best friend again.

And yeah, now I’m twenty-six years old living with this gnawing, repressed desire for that sleepover.

It’s weird.

In all seriousness, though, I learned something from that experience. (And no, it’s not “never trust your best friend’s mom.”) It’s a simple lesson, really, and one we all know by heart even if we don’t know quite what it means: Don’t take your friends for granted.

That means, in short, don’t assume your friends and loved ones will “always be there” for you. It’s one of those sweet, meaningless clichés we tell ourselves, maybe to lend some sense of stability to our personal worlds. It may be cruel of me to mention it, but here’s the simple fact: People can’t always be there for you; it’s the nature of humanity and this temporal place we live in. People come and just as quickly, they go. It’s the way we’re made. There’s a time for meeting and a time for parting. Sooner or later, in every relationship, you’re going to reach that good-bye where the next “hello” won’t be happening until heaven, because even if your friend is as solid as a rock, ultimately you’ll be parted by death.

Don’t put off the relationships that matter to you until “sometime.” Open up your planner and ask, “How about next week?” And don’t assuage your guilt over neglected relationships by saying, “Well, she knows she can count on me if she ever needs anything.” (You can also count on EMTs, police, and roadside assistance. Somehow I don’t feel cherished by people who insist that the proof of their undying love is in their claimed willingness to come rushing to my aid in the event my world falls apart. Honestly, if my world does fall apart, the last person I’m going to call is a friend or even a family member who hasn’t been able to give me the time of day in months or even years.)

“Sometime,” repeated often enough, becomes “never.” Just a non-promise, unkept.

The people we love deserve better than that.

 

A new leaf

Forgive the lack of posts here lately. There’s so much to say, and so little I actually want to say. At a certain point in the process of change, I have to shut down and shut things and people out and shut off the words and just try to BE for a little while. I know I’m usually a talker (or writer), I usually process things through words, but even I have to admit there are some things that just need to be pondered and digested before they can be aired and understood.

In a brief post, though, I want to try to say something about good-byes. There is nothing more poignant or painful or helpless than a “forever” good-bye. And the only way to face it gracefully is to do so with gratitude. Somehow gratitude seems to be the proper response to everything in life, the good, the bad, the beautiful, the awful. Why? Perhaps because gratitude is the only active response of the rational creature to his (or her) own natural passivity. We  can only receive, and there are two ways to do so: with bitterness or with joy. The rain falls whether we like it or not, doesn’t it?

I said good-bye last week, most likely forever, to a woman who has been one of my closest friends for the past four years. One of those foundational friends, the sort you lean on and go to for advice or comfort, one of the very few you know you can always rely on, someone you can laugh with and pray with. Needless to say, that good-bye hurt. A lot. And it still hurts. But throughout the grieving process, I’ve been surprised by gratitude, by the concreteness of it. The sadness too shall pass, but that firm foundation of gratitude–for her friendship, for a great four years together–will last. There’s real joy in that, and comfort.

And in the midst of letting go of the old, there has been so much taking on of the new. Believe me, things are weird and confusing and stressful right now. I can’t find any of my stuff because none of it has a place in the new house now, and I haven’t gone grocery shopping in close to a month, so I’m not at all sure what I’m living on (but I’m sure it’s bad for me). My moods keep swinging out of control, so I go from happy and even-keeled one minute, to sobbing alone in a corner the next, to emailing all my friends and telling them to come out on a Friday night with me. (By the way, nobody’s coming. I should be sad about that, but given my current mood swings, I’m actually pretty relieved.) I’m losing my temper with family, roommates, friends, and perfect strangers on the metro, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I snap and say something I seriously regret. And sometimes I just have to sit down and put my head in my hands to get my breathing back under control, but at the end of the day, still and always:

God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.

For the record

So I’m sitting up on a Monday night at 11:00, in a house that isn’t mine, listening to a dog that also isn’t mine snore on his pillow beside the bed. I’m trying to wrap up some work, and I’m distracted by this twinge of regret I can’t quite set aside over a Stupid Thing I said in an unguarded moment while hanging out with friends over the weekend. I could write an entire encyclopedia set of all the Stupid Things I’ve said in unguarded moments, so it’s not like this is anything new. It’s just that in this particular instance I’ve had a revelation.

The revelation has occurred during the process of an internal dialogue I’ve been carrying on with my better self over the course of this evening.

Sweetheart (my better self says condescendingly to my unguarded self), Sweetheart, you can’t go ’round saying to men, “I hate dating” and then wonder what you’re still doing being single.

I’m just being open and honest, my unguarded self retorts.

But of course, we both know–my better self and I–that this isn’t quite true. Open, indeed. Honest? Well, halfway.

Dating as a topic of conversation seems to come up a lot in my friend circle. Maybe it’s a Freudian slip, since so few of us actually are dating, and we’re certainly not dating one another. Now I know full well, when I’m in social settings, that the wise and prudent course would be for me to put a lid on it and change the subject when I “can’t say nuthin’ nice.” Instead I end up going on and on and on. And on. Until I fall into all sorts of hyperbole and heightening-of-situations-for-effect, and I’m saying all sorts of things I don’t actually mean, especially on the topic of dating, because a) I’m on a roll and b) people are laughing and c) see a) and b). Thus I found myself spewing unnecessary vitriol about dating in general to a poor guy friend during a side conversation we were having while at a small house party over the weekend. Fortunately, he’s an old friend and probably knows by now to take every word I say with a generous grain of salt. Still, I thought later, cringing, did I have to say all that? Did I even mean it?

The trouble is, I say that kind of thing a lot, in all sorts of settings. Girls’ nights, house parties, hanging out in mixed groups of friends, even on this blog. “I hate dating” or something like it seems to come dribbling out of my mouth before I have time to suck it back in, whenever the topic comes up. In my usual take-no-prisoners way, I make snide comments about dating in general, I tell jokes about my worst dating experiences, and I realize only hours later, long after the damage has been done, that I’ve run my big mouth again and said all sorts of things I don’t actually mean. Because “I hate it” is a lot easier to say than the reality, which is: I’m terrified of dating, and I’m reeeeally bad at it. (Apparently fear inspires hatred, though, so maybe I’m not too far off the mark.)

I’m so far beyond the traditional fairytale princess trapped in a tower guarded by a dragon: unlike those classic chicks, I’ve hired and trained my own dragon. I’ve spent the past five years diligently setting things up so none of those pesky princes can possibly come riding in here on chargers to make me unnecessarily uncomfortable. I like my tower. I like my dragon. I feel safe here. No one requires me to make stilted conversation, to talk about myself, to ask about them, or to deal with ridiculous, inexplicable emotions.

As you may have noticed, I’ve written pretty sparingly on dating over the course of this blog’s life. Quite simply, that’s because I don’t do a whole lot of it, and I can’t really write too openly about the little I do, because it would be unfair to the good, God-fearing men I’ve been blessed to know and even (on occasion) go out with.

That’s not necessarily going to change any time soon, but I did want to use this space to set the record (at least the record in my own head) straight: I do not “hate” dating. Going on dates makes me incredibly uncomfortable, yes, but that’s not really the same thing. All the most important things in life seem to kick off with something unpleasant. Life itself gets a jumpstart after hours of a woman’s labor, doesn’t it? Really, anything worth having or doing requires a certain death first. There’s a reason why initiation into the Church begins with Baptism (which symbolizes death); why good wine requires crushed grapes; why real love necessitates the humbling of oneself and “dying to” oneself.

I don’t necessarily get it. It freaks me out. But I don’t “hate” it.

The Visitation

Yesterday was the feast day I’ve adopted as “mine.” Why? Because I’m named after both saints involved, mostly, and because everyone needs to adopt at least one feast day. If you haven’t done this yet in your life, please do. Then let me know about it, and I’ll be sure we all celebrate with cake and wine and other appropriate trimmings.

It’s funny how every year on May 31 I start the day with all sorts of plans for how I’ll celebrate. Mass, of course. A rosary, maybe with friends. Perhaps a cake or drinks. And every year, all my lovely plans fall to pieces by mid-afternoon, for one reason or another. Yesterday I realized at about 7 p.m. that moving “the last little bit” was actually going to be a much bigger job than I anticipated. So I ranted and raved and stomped around and threw items carelessly into boxes in an attempt at “hurry,” and then I realized it didn’t matter.

The feast day happens whether I celebrate it the way I want to or not, doesn’t it? Why not just turn my move into the celebration?

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I thought about what the actual visitation must have been like for the two women I’m named after. Mary’s visit to her cousin probably included its fair share of missed expectations, inconveniences, and miscommunications. For starters, the entire trip came up as a last-minute thing, the minute Mary heard “Your cousin could use your help right now…”

And Elizabeth was probably freaked out. Have you ever been in close quarters with a freaked-out middle-aged woman for months on end? Then add “pregnant…for the first time” to that. Yikes, that’s all I can say. Granted, Elizabeth was a good and holy woman who rejoiced at the arrival of her little cousin, but I’m more than willing to bet that the old Original Sin thing reared its ugly head from time to time during the three months Mary stayed with her.

Besides all that, Mary was also pregnant, and young, and kind of on her own to figure it all out. I like to think of her life as one big sphere of light and peace, but that gets things backwards, doesn’t it? Mary remained peaceful, in the face of the not-peaceful. She remained beautiful in the face of ugliness and holy while surrounded by a world dead in sin. So as I stood knee-deep in my belongings in our new dining room, battling a growing sense of guilt because it was near midnight and I still hadn’t gotten in my planned prayer time in honor of the feast day, it hit me that I’d celebrated in perhaps the most appropriate way: by marching forward through the chaos that is my life right now, and striving (with the help of some very patient friends) to maintain my peace and joy in the face of it all.

I guess it makes sense that the Blessed Mother would have the best idea about how to spend her day.