Betty Duffy


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Eden at the Indy 500

I managed to live in Indiana for forty years before visiting the Indianapolis 500. A friend offered my husband and me tickets on our anniversary weekend, which also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the race itself, an event that was expected to draw half a million people.

“Oh, why do you want to do that?” My family has used this rhetorical question for many years to discourage wanton desires.

We have shared a long-standing prejudice against the race, because it is a place people go to sit in the sun too long while consuming too much alcohol, and my family largely consists of fair-skinned people who do not drink. We have also casually directed this disdain at amusement parks, cruises and the state of Florida for the same reasons.

My dark secret is that I sort of like drinking in the sun. Like nearly all the forbidden things I’ve tried, it feels quite good, until it’s horrible.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The problem with imitation

St. Therese once wished aloud that her own mother would die. When her mother scolded her, Therese explained that then she could sooner go to heaven.

My children received this anecdote with perverse joy, telling their siblings to jump off a bridge, run out in the street, and let go of the tree branch…that you may sooner see paradise, of course.

Given a choice between heaven and hell, they will gladly choose heaven. But faced with a choice between heaven and earth, they start hedging: Are there Legos in heaven? Who’s going to be there? Is the music any good? Why do they have a gate that keeps all the fun people out?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

I miss my childhood

I was so good, and for such a long time, two weeks at least of decent work and adherence to my schedule. Two weeks of self control, discipline, and a rule—twenty minutes of prayer, ten of spiritual reading, thirty of new writing, one to two hours of old writing and editing, fifteen of cleaning and picking up, with the rest of the afternoon devoted to planning and executing dinner.

Evenings are entirely for the children from two-thirty to ten. Exercise after the kids are in bed, go to sleep at a reasonable hour (sometime before midnight), and I felt so satisfied, was coming to such a place of peace with my life and what I’m doing with it.

And then I took a day off, if you could call it that. It was a Saturday. I refused laundry and dishes and meaningful work, because I was spending time with the kids, see, going to soccer games and helping them visit their friends, and otherwise resting and waiting and falling deeper and deeper into a pit of unquenchable longing.

This happens sometimes. I can almost predict it—though I never bother to try—when I have been unbalanced in my affairs, often, ironically, while attempting to live a life of balance. Evil can only fill a void, the spiritual teachers say. There’s no time for misbehaving when I’m living a full life, but there’s also no time for fun, and I miss play.

By play I mean something primal and social, but not exactly childish. It’s a matter of improvisation in the company of like-minded people, inhibition set aside, a bit more physical than ordinary conversation, with a hint of practical joke or slapstick, and it involves guttural laughter.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

How to help, how to help....?

This year, for whatever reason, has been a crucible for a number of people who are dear to me. More than a handful of friends and family have lost loved ones to disease, divorce and fatal accidents. I’ve been in a muddle, wondering what to do for them: which meal train to join, which services to attend, into which GoFundMe accounts to make deposits and how generally to “be there” for people who may or may not want a bunch of spectators attendant to their grief.

As a mother who, for decades now, has had at least one toddler in tow wherever I go, even what I am able to do is limited by my own responsibility to my family. So while I may feel a desire to drop everything and run to the aid of those I know who are suffering, logistically, I have not often been able to do so.

The matter of offering and accepting help has been a fraught experience for me, of guessing what other people’s material needs might be in their time of crisis, while simultaneously wondering how to manage my own affairs so that I can follow through on my offerings.

I’m inclined to think that the greatest mercy we can offer one another when life is at a breaking point, is clear, cogent communication — the remarkably simple mercy of letting one’s yes mean yes, and one’s no mean no.

People need to feel needed, it’s true, but it is not necessarily true that every need-needy person needs to have his or her needs indulged.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

On the merits of leaving one's thirst unquenched...

When my husband and I were in the very early stages of our relationship, we both hid from each other that we used tobacco. He chewed. I smoked. But we’d been set up because both of our families were churchy. He thought I was a pious Catholic girl who might be turned off by his tobacco use. And I thought similarly of him.

It wasn’t until our fifth date or so that we’d both had a couple glasses of wine and we couldn’t stand it anymore. I bummed a cigarette off the waiter, and we split it. I remember him inhaling twice before he exhaled, and I thought, for some reason, that it was one of the most sexy things I’d ever seen—the depth of his lungs, the voracious authenticity of his need. We spent the rest of our courtship in tobacco heaven, until we married and had our first kid, and we both put our habits to rest.

I’m still drawn to smokers and thirsty people of any stripe. An old friend used to say that “smokers are always looking for something,” and so they form an instant community as they gather on the sidewalk in exile eight feet from every door.

When I was younger and everyone was beautiful and smoking, it was easier to believe we were all on the search, and that by some mystery, we’d all be deeply heart-satisfied someday soon, maybe by marriage, career or family, or by doing something amazing.

But the romanticism of that notion struck me recently, when I had occasion to visit the city hospital. The entire campus of the hospital is non-smoking, and there are signs everywhere that say, “Don’t even think about smoking here!” If that’s not a siren song, I don’t know what is. Under every sign, someone was lighting up; the toothless man with the oxygen tank attached to his wheelchair, the woman with lesions on her exposed arms and cleavage, the man with the yellow mustache—all brazenly ignoring the bossy sign.

There was in their rebellion some nature of fallen kinship, no doubt, which got me thinking about addiction, my addiction to coffee and whatnot, and that feeling of waking up thick-blooded and knotty, and all it takes to loosen up everything inside is a few sips of the hot and bitter. I have a want. I am satisfied. And such instant results are within my control.

That kinship is not a brotherhood of need, or thirst, but rather of terminal satiation— kinship founded on a shared method of evading the thirst.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I think I have a problem...



My thirteen-year-old son had seen the Viagra commercials for years, but never understood what they meant, until finally, he asked what Viagra is and does, and I told him. Now he has this new vocabulary that includes the phrase “erectile dysfunction,” and another galaxy of humorous opportunities has opened to him.

He begins to explore the ever-present sexual subtext that exists just beyond child-consciousness. Dear Lord, the sex is everywhere. How many people are having it, this very minute? How many conversations, looks, and touches are about it, even when the word is never mentioned?

Fortunately, he still has much to learn and a lifetime to learn it—or not—which is also maybe an option. There’s a fair chance he won’t pick up on certain realms of sexual metaphor unless someone points them out to him. I don’t know if beyond a certain age, such would be a privation or a precious innocence.

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