Thursday, May 22, 2014

"What's your greatest fear?"

I heard those words from the back room as I slipped out the front door in the middle of my regular Wednesday prayer group.  I had to leave just as the discussion was getting personal so that I could meet my mother and two of my aunts, whom I was taking to visit the Saint John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C.  Kathryn Ferguson, a prayer group member and a friend, was talking to us about her faith journey in the light of being diagnosed with a chronic disease.  Kathryn writes about her experiences at the funny and moving blog, PilgrimageGal, but today she brought me to tears.  

Even though Kathryn's circumstances are particular to her, she so clearly and lovingly showed us that all of us have things against which we struggle. All of us have walls and pretenses that we put up and facades that we build to project the images we want others to see. In a very real way, she called me on my bullshit today, without even knowing that she was doing it. And so I was happy to have a reason to flee -- that's what it felt like -- flight.  

Kathryn said something that really resonated with me.  She was talking about our desire to control our own stories.  We are the writer, director, and lead actor in those stories and we'd like to know that, as the ending credits scroll, the story is the one we want others to see.  We've accomplished all our goals and have lived a successful and happy life.  Back before I met my wonderful husband, I used to bemoan my uncertain and single state over the phone to one good friend.  I'd cry, "What is wrong with me?  I'm smart, I'm kind, I'm reasonably attractive!  Do I have cooties?  Do I emanate invisible "touch me not" vibes?"  After a little while of this, I'd end by saying something like, "you know, Neen, I sometimes just wish that my life was over.  That I was 85 years old and looking back on a happy life.  If I could get one glimpse of myself rocking on a porch somewhere with a contented smile on my face surrounded by my children and grandchildren, this loneliness would be so much easier to stand."  

Well, here I am, fifteen years later, and I can't say that I'm lonely anymore.  With a husband who loves me with his whole heart and two children who are unabashedly THERE and ON all the time, now I sometimes lock myself in the bathroom to get a minute or two of peace.  And still they talk to me and knock on the door and need me so desperately RIGHT THAT SECOND.  And I love it.  

And yet, speaking of facades -- last week when it was my day to host prayer group at 9:30 am on a Wednesday, I was almost in tears at 8:45, looking at my wreck of a kitchen, with a sink full of last night's dirty dishes, a countertop covered in ick, and two different baked goods in various stages of completion.  Yet, when everyone walked in, the kitchen was clean, the floor had been mopped, the bathroom was cleaned and things were generally in order.  The facade had been maintained.  No one heard my four-letter-word curses or was here to see the self-pitying and angry body language as I slammed last night's dishes into the washer, muttering, "what, am I everybody's SLAVE now?  Why does no one ever HELP me?"  etc. etc. whine whine whine.  When in fact, housework and I are NOT friends, I am easily distracted, and I have a million other things I'd rather do than clean.  So when it comes time to stress and strain because people are coming over, it's my own damn fault that it's stressful and a strain.  I want both/and.  I want to be able to do the other things I'd rather do AND have a clean house.  I want the facade but not the substance, in other words.

And that brings me around to, you guessed it, my biggest fear, which, pitiably, is that I will never ever ever lose weight.  That I will be stuck at this weight forever and that I will get to my elderly years without having really lived a healthy middle-aged and older adult life.  That my life from now until the end will be constricted by my own damn fault, just like my house is a mess because of my own damn fault.  

It makes me ashamed that this is my biggest fear.  It's so superficial.  I don't really care all that much that I'm not beautiful.  I've never ever been a fashion victim and I've hated clothes shopping since I was a size 10.  So the fact that I'm deeply ashamed because my facade is not what I want people to see is really galling.  I'm working through a lot of my understanding of the body right now in the light of the Incarnation, and that is making it worse.  How can I be so jazzed up about the Incarnation, and so sure that God becoming man has all of these wonderful implications for our own physicality and for the physicalness of the world itself, and still hate my own body so much?  So much that I won't even look at myself in the mirror?  So now I have hypocrisy to add to the list of reasons to beat up on myself, along with:
  • being unhealthy and shortening my own life because of indiscipline
  • being a poor role model for my daughters when it comes to body image and food
  • being so shallow that this really bothers me
  • being ineffectual in changing my behavior enough to really make a difference
  • being unable to do all the things we want to do as a family (for example, we want to go out West to Yellowstone, but I can't be a good hiker under these circumstances.)  
and the list goes on. 

So that's my biggest fear.  It's kind of strange when your biggest fear -- being seen as not perfect -- is also the same thing you advertise each time you walk out the door. No wonder I'm so screwed up.  

Anyway, I'm off to meet a friend for lunch.  I'm getting a salad.  I swear.

Friday, May 9, 2014

What I did with my University of Dallas education yesterday

While websurfing yesterday, I came across a lovely little story about a Black Mass "reenactment" that is being performed as part of a "cultural events" series at Harvard.  Yes, Harvard.  The premier academic institution in the United States, founded in 1636 as a school to train Unitarian and Congregationalist ministers.  I couldn't begin to describe how much the entire thing disgusts me.  So, instead, I wrote to the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club and the President of Harvard.  While I would note that my argument against this disgusting piece of work calls out these people for their bigotry and intolerance, that's not my primary argument against it -- of course, I think it's blasphemous and evil.  But, an argument on those grounds would only serve to encourage and affirm the prejudices of these people, so I wrote:

Dear Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club:
One does not have to have attended Harvard to see that the "reenactment" of a "Black Mass" planned for May 12 by the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is a terrible display of bigotry and racism towards the majority of Roman Catholics. I am sure you are aware, with your Harvard education and everything, that, of the world's Roman Catholics in 2004 (the latest year for which numbers are available), 725,823,970 were from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Oceania while 352,765,647 were from Europe and North America. By mocking the beliefs and rituals of Roman Catholics, you directly attack brown and black people all over the world. One need hardly mention that people living in these regions are among the most economically disadvantaged in the world, while Cambridge, Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest areas in the wealthiest nation in the world. One could reasonably conclude that a bunch of privileged white kids with a surfeit of time and a dearth of sense have deliberately decided to denigrate the belief system of the world's poor black and brown peoples. The cognitive dissonance must be deafening.
One notes that, in an attempt to justify its support of this event, the University has said, "In this case, we understand that this independent student organization, the Cultural Studies Club, is hosting a series of events -- including a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist presentation on meditation -- as part of a student-led effort to explore different cultures." Although I did not attend Harvard, even I can see multiple logical holes in this justification of bigotry. First, Harvard attempts to distance itself from the event by claiming that it is planned and executed by an "independent", "student-led" group. After throwing its own students to the wolves, Harvard then likens the "Black Mass" to a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist event. This violent yoking of disparate ideas, which the Metaphysical poets called a "conceit," is unsuccessful. The Shinto ceremony, the Shaker ceremony, and the Buddhist event are straightforward presentations of different cultural artifacts. A "Black Mass" is, by its nature, a parody and perversion of a religious and cultural event. Finally, the assertion that the "Black Mass" is an artifact of a culture is simply false. The Roman Catholic Mass is a cultural artifact which has inspired art, architecture, literature, music, philosophy, theology, and (for some) reverence, joy, and a reformed heart and mind for over two millenia. The Black Mass is a desecration of the same.
Shame on you for your bigotry and shame on Harvard for its support of this display.
Colleen Monaghan Zarzecki
Class of 1988, the University of Dallas

I wanted to put in parentheses after University of Dallas something snarky like "a university where people learn something other than how to be idiots" or "a university where people learn to love logic" or "a university that knows what education really means," but I thought that it would be unproductive and unkind.  

Disgusting prats.  Pray for them anyway -- they are so confused and lost, they really need it.