Time to grow up

You know how sometimes you’re having a complete meltdown over something that seems absolutely critical to your future health, happiness, and overall well-being? There you are, staring out the living room window at the cold, dreary rain, thinking dark thoughts about the future without whatever it is and wondering how you will ever survive. You’re in the depths of despair, and you glower in black fury at your roommates when they walk innocently by and wish you “good morning.” Nothing interests you. Food loses its flavor. Life — what meaning does it hold now that That Thing is about to be taken from you?

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So I was having one of those days on Sunday. And I’m both relieved and embarrassed to admit that the answer to my woes was incredibly simple. It went something like this: Grow up.

I’m realizing with increasing regularity that I spend a whole lot of time thinking about how the events and people in my life affect me. Those that affect me most get the most attention. Those that affect me less can sit and simmer on the back burner, if I give them even that much thought. Why worry about other people’s lives, seems to be my semi-conscious mantra, when I have my own to worry about?

But when someone else’s life has a noticeable impact on mine, theI stand up and take notice.

This weekend a blip in someone else’s plans threw my own plans into a tailspin, and instead of reacting in genuine concern for that person, I had a fit because I wanted things to go my way. Granted, this other person would probably like for things to go my way, too. I’m not being completely selfish. But it wasn’t until the blip in their plans unsettled mine that I took this person’s long-standing intention to prayer with real fervor. Heretofore I’ve been comfortable with the more passive, “Please bless so-and-so in such-and-such situation.” But now my own dearest wishes were on the line, and my prayers were much more focused.

As a result, I’ve been taking a much deeper look at all my intentions and realizing how selfish I am…yes, even in prayer. It’s easy to say, “I’ll pray for you,” and it’s even pretty easy to tack names on to my daily rosary or Mass. But to really carry the people I care about to Our Lord and present all their needs to him and beg him to look on them in love and satisfy their deepest needs–needs that have nothing to do with me? I won’t say that’s hard, but it’s hard to remember. It’s hard to pull my selfish head out of my own goings-on long enough to focus on The Other.

It’s just so dratted easy to be selfish. And quite frankly, it’s childish. The child can center the whole universe on her own measly wants and needs, but the adult is supposed to know better. Not just outwardly — it’s one thing to volunteer at the homeless shelter, give your seat to old ladies on the metro, or let the person with two items get ahead of you in line at the grocery store. Those are good things, but they’re also external and therefore easier to see. What goes on inside is just as important.

Real Christian charity isn’t just an outside thing. It should be all-pervasive, all inclusive, and deeply selfless. I should have genuine concern for the people in my life in everything, not just the areas that impact me directly. So I was grateful, albeit a bit embarrassed, when a wise person listened to my tearful tale and chuckled and said, “You’ll be fine. But you should be worried about that other person.”

Ah, perspective. It’s still not all about me. Maybe some day I’ll learn that lesson for keeps.

– Mabel

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No reason

So it’s my turn to post, and ‘Virginia’ suggested I post something funny. Which must mean — though she didn’t say it outright — that my latest posts have been a bit too heavy. What can I say? Life is serious business, folks.

Still, to please the masses, a funny post you shall have. So I bring you “Mabel’s Weekend in Review: In Which a City Girl Learns Not to Attend Picnics, Parties, or Anything Else That’s Social When She’s Suffering from Laryngitis.”

First there was the Dunkin’ Donuts run. I had to lean in real close to the nervous cashier to order coffee for an event. “Sorry,” I rasped, “I’ve lost my voice.” He looked confused but reassured me it was “all good.”

And it probably means I’m a very poor listener, but social events are simply no fun when you have no voice. I could barely squeak one or two audible words before my voice vanished again, so I kept trying to ask open-ended questions. They must not have been very good questions. Conversation lagged. People who didn’t know me started backing away slowly after about thirty seconds. People who DID know me just laughed at me.

Yeah, you know who you are.

Today I’m living in hope that no one stops by my office to find out how my weekend went. But hey, there’s nothing like a little case of laryngitis to endear you to new colleagues, right? That and my persistent, hacking cough which has got to be driving the guy in the office next to me absolutely crazy.

And related to absolutely nothing, I give you a video that had me crying I was laughing so hard. #bestlunchbreakvideoever

Happy Monday, friends. Happy Monday.

-Mabel

When driving drives you crazy

For the first four years of my professional life in DC, I was a public transit commuter. In fact, I commuted just about every way possible that doesn’t involve driving: bus, metro, rideshare, bike, and on foot. With my new job has come a host of new things, including a new commuting style. I now join the disgruntled millions on the clogged roadways of the Beltway area on my way to and from work each day. That adds up to a lot of hours spent behind the wheel, a lot of uncomfortably close brushes with accidents, a lot of talk radio, and a lot (read: a LOT) of pent-up rage.

Granted, DC is ranked as having the nation’s 3rd-worst traffic, and there are polls out that say we have the very worst drivers, so there’s plenty to be angry about.

Still, I’m beginning to think I’m a little bit too angry. Do I have to refer through gritted teeth to every individual on the road who chooses to poke along in the left lane at an exact 7.3 miles per hour below the speed limit as a “moron”? Probably not.

Is every speed demon who whizzes by in the right lane after tailgating me in the center for at least three-quarters of a mile when I’m already going over the speed limit and there’s a left lane for speeders and there are TRAFFIC CAMERAS FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE actually a — ah– “jerk”? Probably. It’s a debatable point.

Do I have to pound my steering wheel and cry to the heavens in exasperation every time the person in front of me decides to slam on his brakes and turn left without using a signal? Perhaps there’s a more peaceful way to tackle the situation.

funny-dog-pictures-dog-has-road-rageWhat it boils down to is charity. I realized this one morning about two weeks ago when it occurred to me as I turned the last corner to my office that I hadn’t encountered a single fellow driver whom I had not called some name or other. “Bozo,” “moron,” “idiot,” and “jerk-face” are my personal favorite epithets. Drivers earn such titles for driving too fast, driving too slow, tailgating, being tailgated, leaning on the horn the moment the light turns green, sitting through a green light to text, turning left from the travel lane without using a turn signal, swerving in their travel lane, running lights, pulling illegal U-turns, stopping suddenly to parallel park and then taking inordinate amounts of time to do so, slowing down or stopping in on-ramps to highways, pretending not to see you or racing ahead to cut you off when you try to change lanes in traffic, or any other host of obnoxious things drivers do when they simply don’t give a damn about the other people on the road.

Ok, I reasoned, so other people are jerks and they can’t drive. (In fairness I have to admit: I’ll bet a lot of the time look like a total jerk who can’t drive.) Still, at the end of the day, what other people do on the road really shouldn’t be affecting my attitude the way it does. Certainly I should not be reduced to fits of pale, quaking fury every time I hit the area roadways.

What can be done about it? I’ve settled on a few life choices that will (I hope) decrease my blood pressure, save my lower gums from extinction, and help me be a kinder driver.

1) Start off trips with a traveling prayer. While I’ve always said a traveling prayer for protection when I drive, I’ve begun to tack on a plea for calmness and charity as well. It’s amazing how well that works.

2) Leave the house on time. It is not anyone else’s responsibility to drive faster because I left late. Nor is there a vast DC-area-wide conspiracy against me that’s turning all the lights red as soon as I get to them. At least I’m telling myself there’s not.

3) Focus on the positive. For instance, it’s not a whole lot of effort to give a wave of thanks when another driver yields so I can merge.

4) Be positive. It’s that popular slogan: Be the good you want to see in the world. I can yield, slow down, put away the phone, and for heaven’s sake, just calm down.

5) Recognize that there are jerks in the world, and their jerkiness is exacerbated about 8 million times when they get behind the wheel of a car. Oh well, they can continue to be jerks. As my dad always used to tell me when I got bent out of shape about the injustice of the world: You can’t let the bastards get ya down. Their unkindness does not give me license to be anything less than Christian. (In fact, if that whole “Love your enemies” extends to loving bullying drivers, I guess they really require me to be more Christian.)

No one owns the road, quite simply. I might as well drive like I’m sharing it with the people around me.

 

 

For the record, I do like my new job

We human beings are an active bunch, and we tend to define ourselves by the things we do. Isn’t that the first question/answer exchange that goes on between strangers? Name, occupation. Check, check. In fact, I find I’m a little put off when people don’t ask me what I do on first meeting. “What?” I huff to myself, “do they not care to know who I am and what I’m about?” People who don’t like their jobs may hedge on the occupation self-descriptor and tell you instead about the things they like to do, but it boils down to the same thing: regardless of how much we argue that a person’s value lies in his very being above all else, we feel more worthwhile ourselves when we can do things, and do them well.

I say this because changing jobs has thrown my happy, smug, satisfied self-definition of the past several years into a terrifying tailspin.

Some afternoons I stop in the middle of my work and close my eyes and try to remember that confident, capable person I’m pretty sure I was only two months ago. Did she actually exist? As I bumble from one idiotic mistake to another, feeling my way through daily encounters with fellow employees, with writers, with the fascinating individuals who make it their daily task to call newspapers and tell whoever they manage to reach about the impending doom of the whole world…I sometimes wonder if I really even know who I am anymore.

Only today did it hit me I never really did know. Who does? I just got comfortable in one safe corner, I got good at one particular function, and I let that take over my entire perception of myself.

I think sometimes, especially as single people, we allow what we do (whether that be our actual 9 – 5 job, our coursework, our ballroom dancing hobby, rec league softball team, on-the-side music gigs, dance classes, even our social lives if we’re especially outgoing, or our ministry) to determine our value – or even, whether or not we have value. Sure, mom thinks I’m great no matter what I do, or don’t do. But mothers are special cases.

We need to know we’re worthy. We ‘re constantly trying to live up to our own self-love, and to be worthy of love from others. So often we grasp at what we do well, and how well we do it as our best measure of how good we are as persons.

Striving after your personal best is all well and good, of course. It builds character, develops virtue, makes us stronger. Still, that striving has to start from the right base point.  Do I push myself to do better because I want to prove to myself that I am, in fact, good? Or do I allow myself to rest in the knowledge that I have been created good, and then strive to do well to give further glory to God in his work of creation? In other words, being always comes first, and we don’t get any credit for that. Doing comes second. (Or, in philosophical terms, agere sequitur esse: to act follows to be.) In fact, we couldn’t “do” if God hadn’t brought us into being in the first place, and if he didn’t keep us there every nano-second. I guess recognizing this is ultimately what humility is all about.

I’ll be reciting this to myself over and over in the coming weeks and even months, every time I feel the tears coming on because I’ve just received another “Just So You Know…” memo and I feel like I can’t do anything right and therefore I must actually be a pathetic, stupid, useless slob. I’m fallen and flawed and I’m going to mess up at everything I do for the rest of my life. But I’m also fearfully, wonderfully made…and I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me.

Thankfully, on those days when my pride is still too much for me, there’s always red wine. And chocolate.

 

Transitions

Today was my first last Monday.

I received and accepted a job offer at a newspaper, and I will be leaving my current position at the end of this week. I’ve been with the same company since I graduated from college, so this whole transition thing is very new to me. Mostly I’ve been hoping that if I close my eyes and hold my breath, it’ll all be over when I come back up for air. But the HR woman this morning made it very clear that I still have quite a bit of wrapping up to do. There are letters to write, papers to file, benefits questions to answer, exit interviews to schedule. Who knew leaving a job could involve so much…work?

And then there’s the hardest part: I’ve been making the rounds of the office, pausing in doorways and trying out different segues into the same conversation, but there’s no point in pretending it’s not awkward. Saying goodbye always is, especially when the other person doesn’t know it’s coming.

I have had some terrific colleagues these past four years. Every one of them has been professional, pleasant, and serious about what they do. I’ve learned a lot from them, and I’ve enjoyed it. Leaving that all behind is proving to be a more emotional business than I expected it to be. I’m practicing my stoic face in the mirror, as my hope is not to make a complete fool of myself come closing on Friday. That may just be asking too much.

Still, change and growth are good things. Very good things (in moderation at least). I’m always amazed at the natural element in even the most seemingly clear-cut, professional, business transactions. Uprooting involves a fair amount of discomfort, even in the most professional setting. And I’m sure my new job will fit for the first few weeks like a pair of stiff new shoes–there are bound to be some blisters and interesting noises before we’ve fully broken one another in. But it’s so good to be removed from comfort. I like to feel safe, to feel like I know exactly what I’m doing, to be surrounded by people I know and enjoy. I’ve had all those things for years now. It’s time to be challenged again.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity, just as I’m grateful for everything I have had, everything I’m leaving behind. God is good!

 

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.

Advent

Being single is always hardest after 11:00 p.m., regardless of your creed. Especially on a Saturday.

I “played eyes” with a guy in a local coffee shop between smatterings of conversation with a good friend for half an hour this evening. And I thought, “Why do these things never go anywhere?” I’m having a bad hair week and my eyes look tired–as tired as I feel. Some days being single feels as pathetic as a Grade B chick flick.

Still, it’s Advent. The usual hope is augmented by the hope that’s part and parcel of this season. You breathe it in the early winter air and see it in the friendly winking of the neighbors’ Christmas lights. Something is coming. HE is coming.

I’m about to drag my weary, single, moping self to bed, and I go in hope. Christ is coming; why should our hearts not dance?