Things that go ‘bump’ in the night…

“Sometimes,” I told my sister last week, in the midst of a rather intense phone conversation, “you just hurt other people, without meaning to do it. You’re like the piece of furniture someone else bumps into in the dark, you were just there being you, and they encountered you the wrong way.”

I hate hurting other people. I’ll go to great lengths to avoid it, even to the point of being uncharitable. Call it the curse of niceness or a mean passive aggressive streak or whatever you like, but if I can get away without saying a thing that will cause another person pain, even if it’s best in the long run for both of us to have it out, I’ll zip it and walk away without saying a word. 

But sometimes you just hurt people, without even realizing you’ve done it. 

Shortly before I graduated from high school, I received a letter from a friend. To my great surprise, this friend informed me I had wounded her deeply through a particular choice I’d made that had absolutely nothing to do with her. I won’t go into further specifics here. Suffice it to say, her letter shocked and upset me. Here I thought I was doing a pretty decent job at being a friend, and it turns out all along she had been suffering because I was just being myself and doing what I needed to do. I apologized as best I could, but the damage had been done long ago, and we were never friends after that. 

I often return to that friend, especially when I find myself growing angry and distant with my friends or family members now. Humans are complex, and relationships are complexity squared. It’s a wonder any of us manage to have any of them at all, really. It’s amazing how much we let our imaginations run away with us. Sometimes we try to imagine relationships into existence when there’s no basis for them. (You can read an older post I wrote on that topic a couple years ago here.) Other times we attribute non-existent motives to our friends when they do things that upset us. 

“Of course she did it on purpose,” we think. “She knew I’d be upset and she did it anyway!” 

Every now and then that may be true, but chances are your friends don’t consider you and your reactions every time they act — or even most of the time. They have their own lives to lead. It’s a humbling reflection, certainly, but one you should all sit with for just a minute. I promise, it will change your life. 

Still, being my brother’s keeper does mean having to keep my various friends and loved ones and their probable reactions in mind when I make choices, especially the big choices. You don’t want a big wedding? That makes total sense, but your extended family will be hurt unless you explain it to them. You need a night alone? Completely fine, but maybe share that with your boyfriend or your roommates or that dear friend who’s been trying to get together with you for three weeks. Your life is in turmoil because Work and because Family Drama and because Hormones? I get it. But if you have roommates, maybe let them know that you’re not yourself so they don’t take your moodiness personally.

 So much of being my brother’s keeper has nothing to do with going out of my way to serve others. It’s just a simple matter of remembering that I’m not an island, that I have sharp corners and if the lights are out, someone else is very likely to bump into them without my knowing they were there. My bad day should never be a cause of suffering to anyone else. My personal choices may cause pain to others, and some of that can’t be my problem, but I should do everything I can to mitigate the blow. 

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I don’t inhabit this planet on my own. Sometimes I just need to take a quick look around and make sure I’m not a hazard to anyone else. 

-Mabel

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Guest Post: Brotherly love in the comment box

This guest post comes courtesy of a D.C.-based writer. It raises a point I think a lot of us don’t consider when we’re thinking about brotherly love and charity: how should I treat my fellow humanoids when I’m dealing with them in the faceless area of online interaction? We’ve gotten our fair share of obnoxious comments to our posts on this blog — but the nice thing about blogging is you can remove offensive comments before they’re ever published. That’s not always the case in the public forum. Leaves something to consider when you’re writing your own comments on other people’s posts, whether they be published articles or simple blog posts. 

By Katrina Trinko

“Don’t read the comments.”

It’s a piece of advice that is passed along, writer to writer, in our internet era. It’s advice I’ve heard and shared with new writers. I’ve been a journalist for four years now, and for the most part, I finally heed the dictate.

But I wish I didn’t have to.

When I was new to writing, I was incredibly thrilled by comments on anything I wrote. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have readers, much less people who cared enough to write a comment. I read each and every comment. Sure, there were always negative comments. And most of the time I was able to laugh them off, or just shrug, with an attitude of “haters gonna hate.”

But there were other times the comments lingered with me, gnawing on my mind and worrying me. I didn’t understand. What had I said, what had I done to merit the kind of callous nastiness so many commenters were throwing at me? Nothing, I thought when I was being rational.

Plenty of other writers and journalists I’ve talked to admit a degree of discomfort with the comments. I’ve had my share of conversations pondering why people want to insult and mock people just because they’re the messenger of some news or opinion they don’t like or share. The general consensus is that people do it because they can do it anonymously. You can give any name you like when you comment online in most situations.

“Character,” the old saying goes, “is what you do when no one is looking.”

The anonymity of the internet essentially means no one is looking, because they cannot tie what they see and read to you. I imagine many of those who have commented nastily on my pieces may well seem like normal, nice people in most of their offline interactions. It’s possible, of course, that those who comment nastily are rude jerks offline, too – but the number of online comments makes me hesitant to assume that.

Yet the absence of societal accountability online doesn’t mean normal human bonds are frayed. I will likely never know what those who’ve attacked me in comments look like. I will likely never make eye contact with them, or strike up a conversation with them. I won’t find out their names, and I won’t ever know their stories. Yet we still have a relationship.

In some ways, for me, that’s the toughest part of taking seriously being my brother’s keeper: No one is off-limits. I can’t eliminate anyone, and say we’re never going to have a relationship, and I can do whatever I want to him, say whatever I want, and be reckless and uncaring about his feelings and reactions. Because by virtue of being both humans, we’re in a relationship. We almost certainly won’t have a romantic relationship, and it’s close to unequally unlikely, we’ll ever have a friendship. Yet we’re connected – and that remains true even we interact anonymously online.

We all know, from our close friends and families, that many a person has struggles and trials that are little known by others. We know from our conversations that too often words that people don’t appear to react to later linger with them in all their stinging power. Human nature doesn’t change online. Writers and other commenters aren’t robots, immune to any and all insults. They’re just people you don’t know offline. If you wouldn’t say something to your brother/friend/colleague/neighbor, chances are you shouldn’t say it in the comments, either.

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Katrina Trinko is a Washington, D.C.-based writer. 

I still need my extroverts

Ever since Susan Cain came out with her best-selling defense of introversion (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking), the blogosphere has been atwitter with articles penned by introverts newly infused with confidence and courage to publish long-winded rants about how grateful we should all be that a third of society has finally been released from long-held stereotypes pinned on them by obnoxious extroverts who rule the world and hold introverts back by the sheer, noisy force of their magnetic personalities. 

“Everyone always liked the extroverts better,” the articles seem to agree. “But now it’s OUR turn to shine. Now at last people can see that we’re really much better because we think things through and develop quality relationships with a few people and enjoy spending time by ourselves.”
 
As an introvert myself, I want to be on the introverts’ side. I’m all about Ms. Cain’s book, and I appreciate the premise. (On a side note, she gave an awesome TED talk on it that you can access here.)
 
I know what it’s like to be passed over in crowds, to mingle with the same people for years on end and still be unrecognized, to be unable to get a word in edgewise at a party because even when I do start talking, someone louder and funnier than I interrupts me. I’ve felt the dull throb of shame over my periodic need to get as far away from everyone as I possibly can and just absorb the silence for a while. I’ve gritted my teeth in frustration when my coveted solitary time was wrested from me by friends or family members who wanted to talk or just spend some time when I didn’t feel like being with people. I’ve blushed to admit that the happiest hours of my childhood and adolescence were spent alone in my room or folded up in a chair in the living room buried in books. I’ve wondered if there’s something deeply wrong with me because the idea of spending  a weekend by myself in a cabin or on a beach somewhere sounds absolutely glorious.
 
Still, I’m going to make an argument some of you might consider pretty revolutionary, and highly uncharacteristic coming from me. I think we introverts need extroverts, even though they drive us crazy and sometimes make us feel inferior or just plain mean for needing to be left alone now and then.
 
We need extroverts to pull us out of ourselves, especially when we start to fall into the nastier traps of introversion — like navel-gazing and self-pity and passing harsh judgments on the people around us.
 
We need extroverts to ask for our numbers and pursue us and ultimately force us to be their friends, because many of us simply won’t go to all that effort to make friends, even if we really like a person.
 
We need extroverts to organize the parties that we do still like to go to on occasion, even though we complain about them.
 
We need extroverts to remind us of the power of collaboration, and to force us to work together for things that really matter, from projects at work to volunteer opportunities, grassroots campaigns, and evangelization.
 
We need extroverts to show us how to reach out in love to others, because often as introverts it’s really easy to forget to come out of ourselves, and to overlook the people around us — especially strangers and newcomers — who may be aching for interaction.
 
We need extroverts to help us lighten up when we’re tempted to let the weight of the world get us down.
 
ImageIt’s the beauty of the human race that we come in all shapes and sizes and unique personality types. Sometimes we drive one another crazy, and often we perplex and surprise and even intimidate each other. But at the end of the day, we perfect and complete one another through the synthesis of our respective strengths and weaknesses. It’s easy enough to complain that extroverts get all the limelight, but I don’t think that’s quite fair. They may get more attention at parties, but introverts get plenty of credit elsewhere. (I mean, Albert Einstein was an introvert, and so was Audrey Hepburn. I feel like we’re in pretty good company…)
 
Extroverts have a lot to offer, and I for one would be a much lonelier, colder, harsher person without the influence of some pretty awesome extroverts in my life. Image
 
So to my extroverts, I just want to say: thanks for getting my number, randomly messaging me on Facebook in the middle of the afternoon, inviting me to your parties, laughing at my dour moods and caustic comments, and teaching me how to look on other people — especially strangers — with genuine interest, openness, and love.
 
We may have been liberated from a harsh societal stereotype, but let’s not go overboard in our celebration. It’s not an either-or proposition. Yes, the world benefits from us introverts; but we introverts need our extroverts like Bert needs Ernie. It’s just a simple fact. So take five minutes, put your book down, and thank an extrovert today. Then you can write your own blog post in defense of introversion.
 
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-Mabel
 
Some great introverted articles and posts you may have missed but probably didn’t, because you’re an introvert who loves thought-provoking reading especially when it pertains to you, and besides, you spend inordinate amounts of time online:
 
 
 

http://verilymag.com/embracing-your-inner-introvert/

Wash your own d**n dishes

I love having roommates. I really do, I love having good women to share my space with and develop inside jokes with and borrow clothes from and occasionally steal food from.* There’s something deeply human about having roommates as a single person, so long as those roommates and you make the effort to form a real community and don’t just inhabit the same space.

Even when you’re all very dear friends, though, having roommates can be very

very

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challenging sometimes. Having any other human being inhabit the same 1,500 square feet and share the same dishes and washing machine and living room sofa and television can be a huge challenge. They say marriage purifies for that very reason. I’m not sure what it is about being human, but it makes us rather insistent on our own rights in any territory we perceive as belonging to us in any way. Yes, we may all pay equal rent, but if I walk into my kitchen expecting to cook myself a steak or bake a batch of cookies and find the oven already in use, I’m going to be a little bit indignant. Is it a justified response? Absolutely not. But it’s human and natural, and that’s all there is to it.

Living with other people requires a thousand small daily deaths to self.

I realize that sounds like the sort of thing you might pull out of a meditation booklet or scribble down eagerly during a talk while on retreat. But I’ve spent five post-college years living with different roommates, and it’s absolutely true. When you have roommates, you bump into it every day, this need to set yourself aside for the sake of the other. Sometimes you do it; sometimes you do it with a loud sigh or a snide remark; and sometimes you refuse to do it altogether, and even if no words are said, it creates an ugly tension that settles into the creaking floorboards and the long silences as you each go about your business.

It really is the daily things that present the biggest challenges.

Sometimes I’m running behind on my morning shower, and I can hear one of the roommates padding in her bare feet outside the bathroom, patiently waiting for me to finish up. It’s so tempting to pretend not to be aware that she needs the bathroom, or to let myself think, “I’m not that much later than usual. She can wait.” Even when I hurry to gather my things and get out of her way, how often do I do it grudgingly?

Cleaning out the fridge tends to fall to me, which is totally fine; but you’d be amazed how maddening condiments can be. (And when a roommate comes home with groceries and cheerfully unpacks yet another salad dressing or bottle of mustard, I worry my head might pop.) And then there are the unidentifiable leftovers you inevitably find growing mold in the back corners…

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So many evenings I come home grouchy after a long day at work. The only thing I want is to slip into comfortable clothes, eat a quiet dinner, and be alone with my thoughts. It always seems to be those evenings when I most want to be alone that my roommates have guests over for dinner and I’m greeted as soon as I walk in the door by smiling faces and cheerful hellos and questions about how my day was. It’s so tempting to brush off the questions and offer curt responses and run away immediately to my safe, solitary room.

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Funny how, when you don’t feel like showing love, being shown love can be so painful.

And of course, there’s the classic example, the one we all know too well: encountering Someone Else’s dishes in the sink. If you’re spoiled like me and have very thoughtful roommates, all you have to do is walk into the kitchen and they’re immediately, calling after you, “Sorry! The dishes in the sink are mine, I’m coming for them!” But when they’re not at home, or if you’re not as lucky as I am and your roommates don’t care, all you see is a pile of dishes that you didn’t leave. I will assume that better people than I can approach this situation with a docile smile and shrug. God gives superhuman strengths to certain blessed souls, and we have the example of the saints. But I will admit it has on more than one occasion required all my strength to keep from snide remarks, rude text messages, or boldly scribbled passive aggressive notes.

ImageWhat are a few unwashed plates and forks in the vast scheme of things? Not very much, but it’s amazing how much they can feel like insurmountable obstacles in the quest to step outside yourself and live for others. I don’t want to wash plates and forks I didn’t use; wash your own damn dishes.

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Yet for some reason these are the places where God wants to make us perfect. It can be a bit insulting. Couldn’t I be boiled alive, I want to ask, or burned at the stake or ordered to renounce my faith at gunpoint? Couldn’t I be sent out into the world to make bold and beautiful proclamations about God and his kingdom, and maybe have books and movies made about me and my exemplary holiness? Couldn’t I spend my life in a solitary cave, writing deep and inspirational books and praying for hours on end? Couldn’t I receive visions or a hideously painful disease? In other words, couldn’t I be given any of the noble paths to holiness I’m pretty sure I read about in the lives of the saints when I was growing up?

Anything but someone else’s yogurt-coated spoon or a full kitchen trash bag that’s just beginning to smell.

It can be so hard to be my “brother’s keeper” when it’s just…so…ordinary. Sure, I like to think; sure I’ll be there for my friends or roommates or anyone else when they call me in the middle of the night stuck at the airport or lost in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire or locked out or just lonely and sad. But if all they need from me right now is for me to take out the trash or wrap up my shower two minutes sooner than I’d really like or stop and chat for three minutes, does it even make a difference? Especially if they don’t even know that I’m giving anything up for them?

I guess it’s in those moments when we die a little death that we have to grab onto Mother Teresa’s words and hope they’re true, even if they don’t feel all that impressive in the moment: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

Thank goodness for great roommates, and a thousand small things that give so many opportunities every day to practice.

-Mabel

Hungry for Love

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When I was a sophomore in college, I volunteered my time as a Household Coordinator (For those of you who are unfamiliar with traditions at Franciscan University, we had “households” instead of sororities/fraternities; we were faith based, and each household had a different charism and focus). It was a tough job, let me tell you!

Prior to beginning the semester, we had to attend a retreat with all the other coordinators, followed by leading new students in their orientation small groups. It was an incredibly busy week with practically no sleep, but it was an incredibly rewarding time as well.

One of the activities on this retreat was a series of games which we performed as teams. The first time, we were not to speak to one another as we made our way through the activities. Next, we went through the same games again, this time encouraging one another and helping each other through. During our reflection at the end of the day, we all agreed that the games in which we assisted and encouraged one another were both more enjoyable and more successful. Speed games were done faster, follow the leader games were smoother, and puzzles were less frustrating and solved more quickly.

I’m sure you can easily see the point these activities were trying to make: life is not meant to be lived alone. We are social creatures, and going through our days without others to encourage or assist us makes even the simplest task more difficult, more mundane, and less appealing. Simply going through life side-by-side is not enough. We need interaction and support from those around us. This support can be as little as a smile, a kind word, or a hug. But all of these have one thing in common: They all reach down into that place deep within all of us that constantly begs “Am I worth it?” “Does anyone love me?” “Does anyone care?”

Solitude is in itself not a bad thing, and in small doses it’s healthy and necessary for everyone. However, the soul left alone too long often becomes withered and thirsty, yearning for companionship. How many of us can remember, at least once, sitting alone and wishing we had company? The feelings of isolation set in, and begin to fester and grow like an untreated wound. If untreated, the effects can be catastrophic. Eventually those inner questions begin to sound more like statements – “You’re not worth it.” “Nobody loves you.” “Nobody really cares about you.”

Mother Teresa (one of my very favorite women in the whole world) put it beautifully:

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

As humans, we are called to love one another, and to be the hands and feet of Christ. What are we doing to fulfill this beautiful mission? What are we doing to encourage holiness and happiness in others? How are we working to lead those around us to Christ? And how are we lifting up and encouraging the hearts and souls of others?

I know for my part I’m not doing nearly enough.

Guess I’d better work on that….

–“Virginia”

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October’s theme

It’s beautiful October, and here in the DC area the leaves have already started to turn. The neighbors around the corner have turned their entire yard into what looks like the set of a B-grade horror film a full month ahead of Halloween, complete with flying witches, cobwebs, and a council of wizards around a severed head. I checked this morning when I went out for a run — it’s not quite cold enough yet that I can see my breath, but we’re getting close.

A new month means a new theme. This month, we’ll be exploring the theme of being “my brother’s keeper”: How do I live for others as a single young adult when it’s so easy to live for myself?

So often it seems like we’re actually expected to live for ourselves at this stage. All of our major life choices — career, going back to school, moving, etc. — tend to be solitary choices, and so often we’re told, “Do what’s right for you.” Where do other people fit in all this? Perhaps even more importantly, on a day-to-day basis, how should I be making room for and taking care of others — whatever “others” God may have placed in my life at this point, whether they be friends, roommates, co-workers, significant others, or family members. As a single, unattached young adult, what’s my responsibility? Am I my brother’s keeper?

We’d love to hear your thoughts, and will of course be glad to accept guest posts. The queue has run down at this point, so we’re wide open for new posts from readers and friends. Please reach out to me or “Virginia” if you’re interested in contributing.

Also, in further housekeeping, we’d like to run “profiles” of other single young adults through the month of December. Ideally, we’d like to have one per day, if we can get enough interest over the next two months to put 31 together. Every person’s story is so different, and we’d love to share yours, if you’re interested. Again, just reach out to me or “Virginia,” and we’ll get that process started. (Don’t worry, you won’t even have to write unless you want to. We’ll do that part for you.)

Finally, if you have ideas for monthly themes or future post topics, please don’t ever hesitate to reach out with your suggestions.

We’re so grateful for your continued readership. Please do share this blog with your friends, “like” us on Facebook, and remember to follow us on Twitter — @Miss_Ladybug87 and @mb_baker.

Happy October! St. Therese of the Child Jesus, pray for us!

–Mabel