Betty Duffy

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thoughts While Driving Home From New Orleans (that have nothing to do with that fair city)

I followed behind my sister’s Volvo from Biloxi to New Orleans. Her daughter and mine sat in the jump seat in the rear end of her wagon, facing out at trailing traffic, waving at truckers, and me. We used to have one of those seats in the back of our old Chevy Malibu growing up, and I never realized how exposed those little faces are to the world back there.

I had already had an OCD thought of my car slamming into them when a pick-up swerved in between the two of our cars, cutting me off, and positioning himself just a few feet from the little girls on the other side of my sister’s bumper. Then he swerved back out again and passed my sister. I don’t remember the last time I had such a visceral response to a stranger. “I could kill you,” I thought. It seemed like a good enough reason to drive up to his window and flip him off, but he was long gone.

I don’t know if that little incident set the tone for the rest of the day, or if it was the result of corralling eleven kids around the city where it’s always Mardi Gras, but sometimes it seems like good and evil have locked horns.

Our old house in Indianapolis was directly across the street from a Catholic Church. Because I stayed home, and often sat out on the front porch, I saw the comings and goings of an urban Church at all hours of the day: A working gal would meet her clients on the steps of Little Flower Parish; Drug deals were passed off in the parking lot; an old man, off his meds, would wander into the Sanctuary yelling profanities.

And just so, in New Orleans, garlands of flowers drip from the balconies, while the aroma of vomit wafts up from the pavement. Palm readers and buskers heckle the people coming out of St Louis Cathedral. Having just laid all my sins on the altar of the Cathedral, I exited the Church just in time to hear a man talking as if he knew something, giving his woman a Church history lesson. “The way to become a saint,” he said, “is to kill everyone who isn’t in line with the Roman Church.”

“Want to see a saint, Idiot?” I thought. “I could kill you.”

It was weird how easily the thought rolled off my brain for the second time this day.

In the afternoon, on the waterfront, one of my boys who had finagled a wooden sword out of the car, was using it on his cousins. I took the sword away from him and walked along with it, feeling a little bit powerful. I had a weapon. And an indigent man said, “Those kids all yours?”

“Mmm hmm,” I answered.

“Man, Y’all weren’t shootin’ blanks.”

“No sir,” I thought, “I don’t shoot blanks….matter of fact… I could kill you.”

They say that a mother who feels her offspring threatened is the most dangerous animal in the world. And we well know people will kill to defend their faith. In an alarming case of two for one, a boy who went to my high school had his children taken away by CPS because he and his wife practiced some religious fasting. They also home-schooled from their mobile home, and one day when the family pulled up to a public library to do school, a concerned citizen thought the kids looked malnourished and called them in. Refusing to cooperate with the system, this man and his wife opted to kidnap their children back at gunpoint. Now they’re both in jail.

But it is so much more likely that harm will be done to my children and to my faith out of my own negligence. Every time I turn my back in the yard the baby runs like a little magnet to the play deck ladder.

And this year has yielded quite possibly the worst Lenten observance I have ever had. I’ve been almost manic about it: taking up smoking during Lent? Drinking? Eating chocolate?—none of which I do during Ordinary Time.

I really do feel detached from any expectations of what my spiritual life is supposed to look like. I’d like to be a spiritual success story, where my past really is my past, upon which I have never looked back. Iron and Wine sings: “No Christian wants to pick at the scab but they all want the scar.” Well, I have no problem picking the scab. Or maybe I don’t want it to heal because I’m afraid of having nothing to do without it.

It’s that little bit of evil that we all hold onto. As Pope Benedict says, “We think that evil is basically good. We think we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being” (“Benedictus” p288).

So the woman who has just laid her sins on the altar exits the Church wanting to harm her fellow man.

Evil is a bit like kudzu. It tends to choke out the good, so that there is a real potential that I could one day lose my faith. I didn’t think it was possible.

I suppose this is something I needed to know about myself.


TS said...

Riveting post BD. I don't think I consciously wanted the scar so much as to get "the most out of life" (defined poorly).

Young Mom said...

This was a thought provoking post. I love the quote from Pope Benidict!

Jus said...

Loved this post. I am having a Lent very much like the one you describe and also find myself having conversations with myself very much like this post. We will be back in 4.5 weeks - want to hang out, maybe run some errands at the same time?

BettyDuffy said...

Jus, I'm putting it on the calendar. Can't wait! Ran into Swaying Mama and her husband in New Orleans-the funniest thing.

TS and Young Mom, thanks.

Peter and Nancy said...

It's dismaying to find those thoughts hiding just below the surface. This Lent, I've been noticing how selfish I am about time (wanting to do things I want to do, vs. what my kids should have from me). And the occasional homicidal thought too. Sigh.

Zach said...

From time to time I share the sentiments you express here. It seems impossible to acquire the habits of the saint, and this is frustrating.

I hope we all make it in the end.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry about those kinds of thoughts that cross your mind from time to time. Just don't take those thoughts and follow them with action.

A wise priest once told me, you're going to have those sort of thoughts from time to time. The birds will fly into the trees. Just don't let them build a nest.

(I love your blog, by the way)

Catharina de Bononia said...

I live here, in New Orleans.

It's a weird, weird city. I never thought I'd be raising babies here, living here permanently.

Though I will say, it isn't always Mardi Gras *everywhere* in this city. Thankfully.

As my husband says, you have to learn to fast in order to learn to feast. New Orleanians in general have much trouble with the fasting... such that our feasting can get very out of hand.

I wish I knew you better and could have met you in real life.

BettyDuffy said...

"I hope we all make it in the end." It's a battle to the finish, isn't it?

Catharina, I loved New Orleans--LOVED IT. Another world from Indiana, but so, so interesting. Wish I could have stayed longer, and yes, to meet some of the people who have become my friends here through the blog.

Kris Livovich said...

Yesterday at Mass I noticed a young girl two pews up intently playing her DSI ALL THROUGH THE MASS. The immediate and visceral reaction I had towards that girl and even more towards her parents was shameful and eye opening. I didn't even have time to lay my sins on the altar before I had added a whole new set!

This morning I read your post and it resonated with my whole Lenten experience. Thanks for being so honest. It is an encouragement.

Anonymous said...

Heard Fr. Corapi on the radio say today that bad thoughts can come from demonic spirits and that he's seen it happen in cloisters nuns having pornographic thoughts without ever having seen pornography.

But even assuming they originate from within, that is part of being human. It's just our job to slough them away. We're like cows flipping our tales at the flies.