Betty Duffy

Friday, August 27, 2010

A State of the Union

At the age of twenty-one, when I realized I was probably heading back to my Catholic faith, I talked about God a lot, in bars, on dates, at the dance club. It wasn’t so much that I was “on fire for the faith” (or I probably wouldn’t have been yukkin’ it up at dance club), but God was on my mind so God is what I talked about.

Speaking to men on the subject, I often received sort of cynical responses. I think my fiancé rightly considered God his rival in our relationship, and perpetually wondered what God would do to spoil his fun. When that relationship ended, new beaus, discovering my interest in God, almost always exhibited a chill in their interest—possibly intuiting their diminishing prospects for any carnal delights out of the relationship. Or maybe I was just weird.

No one thought it would last. One guy dropped off his copy of “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” at my flat with a note suggesting that Joyce’s novel would nullify two thousand years of Christian history and the mustard seed it had planted in my soul. Another guy told me to watch out for those nuns, who go around trying to convince people they’re happy when they’re really not. And several people, baffled, just said, “I can’t wait to see where you are in ten years”—implication being that I could not possibly still be so hot on the guy upstairs.

More than ten years have passed since then. My husband, before I married him, was looking for the kind of girl he could bring home to meet his parents, and one who was at ease talking about God was right up their alley. He’s the only guy I dated who asked me out knowing I had this proclivity, so the pressure was off from the beginning, but fortunately, there was no chill.

He was just coming off a doomed prior relationship, and we had no delusions about each other, being mutually fallen individuals, but we had every hope that “God was going to do great things with us.” The night we made that bold proclamation, sitting on the porch of his apartment long after midnight, possibly imagining future children and the infinite potentialities of the marriage of faith, stands out as one of the most naïve and precious moments of my life. Because when I said “great” in my early twenties, I meant “great” with all of it’s worldly connotations—success, beauty, health, influence and perfect children. The world could breathe a sigh of relief because a power marriage was being made.

It’s the darnedest thing about marriage, about faith, about parenthood, these inextricable lifelong commitments; any perception on my part that I’ve done God, my husband, or my kids some radical favor by consenting my life to them, has got to be expunged. People have done all this and more since the beginning of time, and are almost never met with greatness in return.

Still, honeymoons inevitably end. Fascinations fade. I could stare at a newborn child for hours, but a nine-year-old, even though their relative complexity grossly outshines that of a fresh baby, well, it’s exhausting to concentrate so long on that complexity. And as for me and my sacrifices—eventually, they simply must be taken for granted—it’s the only way to move forward.

And the longer I’m married, a Christian, and a parent the more those vocations seem to mirror one another. They say you treat God the same way you treat the people in your life, and sometimes I think that goes both ways. In that I could describe my relationship with God much the way I describe that with my husband.

Sometimes his workload is light, and he’s home with me, and we’re working on the nuts and bolts of things, getting stuff done, and just content. Some weeks have been heavy on travel at the workplace, and I know my husband still lives here, because I see the signs, the kitchen cabinets left open in the morning from his midnight searches for something to eat, the discarded clothes on the bathroom floor. I heard him slip into our bed last night after a late flight, and it consoled me that, no, I’m not doing this alone, though I can occasionally pull it off pretty well, and make myself believe I don’t need help. Other times, I’m not so successful with my loneliness, and I want to throw my responsibilities down and say, “You do it. I’m tired, and I suck a this.”

Then there’s consummation, which is a lovely parenthesis to all the other stuff—my Gosh, I am loved—and if I could cut him open and climb inside without harming him, and just live there, I’d do it. But there’s life and stuff to take care of—the fruits of consummation, these kids, whose life’s purpose seems to be preventing me and my beloved from spending too much time alone together; the way they crawl between us in bed in the morning and pull our tired faces to theirs, saying, “Don’t be so exclusive.”

And do I talk about God all the time, to anyone who will listen? About as much as I talk about my husband, which means, if you know me at all, you know how I feel about him, and we’re not a superstar mega-couple, with greatness oozing out of everything we touch and all that we own, but I do not want to be with anyone else. We are ten years into this, no less in love, and Sacramentally unified, which is often a very quiet state of the union.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quick Takes (with a couple thoughts on unhappiness)

I know this is typically done on Fridays, but it always seems to be the middle of the week when I can't complete a thought, so here it is...

I've been having a "Why did we get a dog?" moment this week. First it was that skunk thing, the smell of which he's only just beginning to shake, and then tonight he went out and rolled in something dead. Licked my knee and now my knee smells like something dead. He's got a fungus on his nose from digging moles, and that doesn't begin to count all the holes in the yard. Chewed the leg of my favorite chair, chewed the leather ottoman, chewed daughter's new bicycle helmet, chewed door frame, countless shoes, and his leash (while I was walking him). I think I'd rather have ten kids.

This weekend was the Blue River Festival, big weekend in my town, a parade with lots of high school marching bands playing OMD arrangements on the Sax and clarinet, boyscouts riding on semi trailers and millions of old Shriners. Shriners driving corvettes, Shriners driving police motorcycles, Shriners driving tiny cars. The "high priest and prophet" of the Shriners waved from a vintage Chevy, and I start to wonder if God told him (in a prophecy) that all these old guys could do nothing better than have a club for every vehicle known to man (with an emphasis on the tiny cars and go-carts).

...and then there were the Church floats, whereby one group chose to dress up as a bunch of clowns and do a mime routine while they walked down the street handing out tracts. Their float was a hot air balloon that said "Up, up and away!" with JESUS on the basket. Sign me up!

It's time to flip the bacon. I wonder where my tongs are. Oh, of course, in the front yard under the yew bushes. Just as I suspected.

According to the Harper’s Index, Israeli researchers have recently developed software that can evaluate the depression of bloggers.


Thanks to Jen, for hosting this little interlude, even though today, Jen's doing a link-a-rama thingy. In that same spirit, I'm going to share a couple links I've been reading lately.

Two of my favorite bloggers, Pentimento and Marie (at Two Ways of Renouncing the Devil) have recently written posts noting that there seems to be little genuine happiness among believers, and this idea has been niggling me ever since.

Marie writes:

"I don’t know any folks that seem to genuinely be Christians that seem to genuinely be happy. Some are joyful or peaceful or content in a Christian way. But very few are happy or at rest in a generic sense. None, I’d say. They are restless. They are, of course, strangers in a strange land."

And similarly,Pentimento writes:

"I kept thinking of how we are all in Babylon, in exile from what is good and beautiful. And it seemed to me that those of us who strive to bring heaven down to earth, to create small utopias of goodness where there appears to be none, are perhaps in the most desolate kind of exile of all. Of those people who order their lives according to daily mass and prayer practices, I know of few who have any real sort of peace in their hearts. Just as I cling to the cross out of desperation, knowing that there is no salvation without it, the people I know who engage in orderly devout practices sometimes appear to be white-knuckling it. And I stress that there is nothing wrong or untoward about that; it's simply the way it is."

I want to expand my thinking on this idea because I have observed the same. Is it just exile? Is it that genuine Christians seek the Cross over, say, happy hot air balloons and driving tiny cars in parades? I start to think that all that "I found peace and happiness when I became a Christian" stuff is what people tell the unconverted to bamboozle their self-interest into believing.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Anwer Answered

I have a lot of sons, but I also have a daughter. This morning while all those boys watched This Old House with their Dad, I thought maybe the gal and I could go do something fun. “What’s fun?” I thought for a minute, “Girl fun,” because typically the quality time I spend with my daughter has to do with her pouring in the flour while I cook, her sitting by me with her book while I read mine, or her tagging along to the grocery store.

It’s shopping and eating and homemaker stuff, getting dressed and combing the tangles out of her hair. Grooming and toenail painting, and all the girly make-up, dressing up, and plumage that I’ve used throughout my life to set myself apart from other women as well as to bond with them.

Today, we did shopping. It was half-price day at Goodwill.

My daughter sort of enjoys playing my rival, I think. From a very early age, if my lap were busy, and it usually was since younger brothers arrived to sit on it very shortly after she was born, she would pick a lap, any lap in the room and go sit on it. Times we’ve had company, she had no trouble backing herself onto some other parents’ sitter, and from there she would look at me in triumph.

I remember one winter morning at the daily Mass, she needed help putting her arm in the sleeve of her jacket, but she didn’t want my help. She preferred the careful attention of tender strangers, the old ladies who said she was adorable and were more than willing to hold her coat for her—poor thing with all those brothers at home. But her eyes were always on me, as if to say, “See how I make it without you?” (or my fear: “See who I need you to be for me?”)

In the car, since it was raining, I wanted to listen to Hildegard, but she wanted the Dixie Chicks, and she wasn’t going to let it drop, which made me feel greedy for the affects of my melancholy. So I put on the Dixie Chicks, the song that she and her girl cousins sang together this summer on vacation.

My cousin, Rachel, and I used to sing like that, with our voices just louder than the recording, proving to one another that we knew all the words to the song, and that our voices were pretty darn good too. I almost started singing along, but I sort of remember wanting my own voice to ring out when I was little, have someone notice. So I let my daughter prove to me she knew all the words, and then I said, “Maybe you should sing in the choir.”

She sat back in her chair, and kept singing while she looked out the window, and occasionally met my eye in the rearview mirror, not to be undone by a compliment.

I’m not sure about this, what to do with her to let her know I love her, that I’m definitely not her rival nor am I precisely her friend. As with the boys, we have not been too hasty to get her involved in things, rack up dates on the calendar for dance classes or gymnastics or soccer. But she becomes more and more herself each day, and it’s beginning to seem like she’s going to need something with which to identify herself and set herself apart from me and my things. I’m happy to have her tagalong where I go, but her own special interests have not yet distinguished themselves from mine. How to lead?

She wants to be a mom, as I did at her age. When I was in school, it was not kosher to say that you wanted to grow up, get married and have babies. My daughter’s only in first grade right now, but I spent most of my school years wanting only, really, to be a mother someday. Throughout college, and young adulthood, while I could begin to see a life as a writer, I still maintained that I never wanted “to work.” It was my mistake to think that homemakers (and writers, for that matter) didn’t work.

I wonder sometimes if it would be negligent for me just to let her continue following me around, hoping for motherhood and nothing else. At the same time, I wish that I could always be satisfied in my motherhood and nothing else. I have never been certain what that “else” might be for me, and far less certain am I for her. I suppose it will work itself out, as in Eleanor Ross Taylor’s poem, “Woman as Artist”:

When I first gave the question life,
The howling naked question life,
Did I not have some inkling of the answer,
And the answer answered.
The door that closed across the room
As my door opened?”

She’s a strong girl, like all the women in my family, some of whom have had careers, some who have “only” been mothers, and some who continue to hope for motherhood in spite of their careers. I think she will assert herself in her own good time. The answer will answer.

Right now, she seems to relish self-adornment, which she comes by naturally. She gets dressed several times a day, does her hair several times a day, goes through my jewelry drawer and tries things on, as I suppose young ladies have been doing with their mother’s jewelry for centuries.

I could slant her interest in dress as a proclivity for costume arts. She’s an artist, then, and to help her in her arts, we sorted through the aisles of secondhand goods on half-price day to pick out the perfect tools in her medium. She was happy to find some bright yellow sandals to wear for the remainder of the summer, and for mom, a white silk tunic with embroidered flowers.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Going through the attic

Any time I receive a comment from my friend Karly, I think about art, because she and I used to draw together in college. Had to go to the attic and pull out some old sketches. As you can see, I was/am a copy cat artist. I copied photos, drew models, and I managed to look at myself in the mirror long enough to do a self portrait.

Took my son to the art museum yesterday, and as always, I'm amazed at the ability of some people to originate their own images and then translate them to paper or canvas (which is something Karly was able to do).

Feeling inspired to do sort of a tweaked image of the Divine Mercy. Would love to commission a real working artist to do it...but I've got empty pockets.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Moviegoer (...or...Will you please get over "Eat Pray Love?")

I almost cried two days ago, looking at wall size paintings of the Life of Christ. The DRE at our Parish took all the Catechists on a tour through the resource videos she had in her office, pointing us in the direction of things we might use in the classroom, and this video was one of the items she highlighted, pulling out the screen and projector so we could all see what we were getting into.

It had been too long since I’ve seen really good art, and religious art, at that, shown on such a large scale that all my senses perked up. We weren’t looking at the real thing, an altarpiece placed over the tabernacle, but regardless, even video stills inspired contemplation. Image has such profound effect on the imagination.

Believe it or not, I had all these thoughts in mind when I decided to go see Eat Pray Love tonight at the movie theater. If anyone spent as much time picking apart my writing as I have spent hashing out this particular book, I would tell them to get a life. Move on, please. Liz Gilbert does not care that you found fault with her book, and if it was so bad, then why’d you just spend $7.50 to see the movie? (Liz Gilbert thanks you for the donation, by the way.)

Because image has a profound effect on the imagination, and tonight, I wanted to leave the fish sticks and broccoli on the table and go to Bali with Javier Bardem. And as a sensory experience, the movie delivered: lots of close-ups of sun-lit pasta slurped into Julia Roberts juicy lips; crunching, chewing, talking with full mouths; serendipitous friendships with beautiful people made in places where hibiscus flowers line the streets. So the author and self-styled heroine behaved badly—maybe I can forgive her. Oh how a movie can transport a soul.

And then said soul leaves the movie theater, walks out to where the local teenagers are cussing in the parking lot on a sultry summer night, sees the Wal-mart sign casting an upward glow on the dark sky, gets into her beat up car that smells of skunk and old tennis shoes, and wonders why the real world is so darn ugly. THIS is why that book eats at me. Because more than any other book I’ve read in my life—this particular book makes me despair of Middle America.

I took my kids to the Public pool last night, for “Flick and Float,” a free open air movie, while you swim! The public pool is really expensive, so I jump at a free day at the pool. Free days at the community pool bring out the best of humanity, lots of skin, big juicy skin, with tattoos creeping out of bikini bottoms, curving around biceps, decorating the dimples on a nymph-like lower back.

And the adults in the deeper end of the pool were crowded into the water, not arm’s length apart, no swimming going on at all, just walking, in the water, arms below ground, eyes scanning the waters’ edge. There’s a skin show going on and no one can keep their eyes to themselves, and it’s just not Bali. It’s full of sensory experience…plenty of imagery to chew on here, but why can’t I love it as much as I think I would love “somewhere else?”

My husband asked me to pick up some Cokes for him on the way home from the movie, so I followed the beacon light to Wal-mart, my second pilgrimage of the day to the local food pantry. Inside, maybe because I was in a hurry to get to the soda aisle with my empty cart, and so many others were hastily pushing their empty carts to grab their last case of beer before the ball dropped on Saturday night, I kept nearly running into people.

The aisles were narrow. The carts were swift. People were on a mission under the hyped-up influence of halogen lights. Serendipitous encounters galore, and I rejected them. A smile here, an “excuse me” there, then keep on truckin’ to the check-out line. Got to get home to my fish sticks and broccoli, which were no more lovely sitting out on the counter than they were two hours ago.

And now I need a new image for contemplation, a new soul transporting, sensory enlivening image that helps me love this life and this mess and all these unlovely people with whom I share this bit of earth a little more. The image would have to be darker than the halogen lights at Wal-mart, more painful than brushing up against my fellow consumers, more odiferous than my van. It might have to have some blood in it, death even, to remind me that I’m not actually hurting. And for location, someplace I’d never want to go, a place so hideous it could only be called The Skull.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Quick Takes: Lookin' around

Our phone line has been dead for a week. I have limited computer access. The kids started school this week. And the dog has been skunked (hence, so has the house). In lieu of any deep thoughts this week, I give you a few pictures.

I'll begin with a picture of the sun shining on my ethnic cuisine:

I have complained in the recent past about "sun shining on my food" pictures. But really, when the sun does kiss your colorful and lovingly prepared meal, how can you not capture it for posterity? It might be the only thanks you get from anyone in this house regarding your red tai curry squash, potatoes and chicken.

(FYI Recipe lovers: This is stuff from the garden baked with chicken and slathered with Trader Joe's Red Tai Curry sauce--couldn't be easier.)

Here's a bonus picture of the sun shining on my food, this one to prove you don't have to go to Italy for juicy produce. You have to come to Indiana. You also have to have a neighbor who is a "Do-be" and who covers their berries on the bush with cages to keep the birds away.
Blackberries bigger than my thumbnail (which needs a file).

Projects around the house.

I failed to take a "before" picture of our bedroom, because it was so miserable and depressing, documenting it never would have occurred to me. Picture heavy brown curtains, blue carpet with thirty years worth of doghair, kid vomit and wear patterns. We ripped up the carpet, refinished the floors, got new blinds and curtains and now here it is:

Note: having a husband who makes furniture does not guarantee that you'll have any furniture of your own.

The Bathroom:


Not much change. The shower is now functional, but the holes in the wall and floor remain, and I fear we may have lost steam. No one has fallen through the hole in the floor on their way out of the shower yet.

On the way to my in-laws, we pass a road called "Opportunity Parkway."

It sounds so promising, doesn't it?

And yet, should you turn down that road, here is what awaits you:


Here's my son's piggy bank:
cracks me up


I like to collect little people. Children, of course, are fine, but what I really like are little statues. Here are a few that live on my desk:

The moody cellist:

He's supposed to be a bookend, but his buddy on the other side got lost, so he just sits there in the corner brooding, which is sort of atypical for cellists. Cellists are known for being sort of good natured, jolly even, mood swings being the territory of violinists and voice majors.

This was my Granny's John Hancock:

Always wanted him, just inherited him.

Here's Mary with the book. See side bar for what she looks like from the front. I caught her looking dreamily out the window this afternoon, though, and it's a side of her I sort of like.

That's all I've got today. Thanks Betty Beguiles for keeping the Quick Takes up for Jen.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Case Study in Controlled Violence

I have no idea how to make children behave, and when I read theories and hear stories of children forever changed into angels by a sharp word here, or a meaningful hug there, I instantly bristle. It defies thousands of years of lived experience for a child to be made perfect by a smart parent. It’s only happened once that I know of, and both the child and his parent were God.

But something worked for me once, and only once, that made me think maybe I held the key to keeping the peace between my boys, who like any boys who share a limited piece of turf, most of their clothes and friends, and have barely a year between them in age, fight, a lot.

It began on a beautiful afternoon in our backyard, when after a lifetime of imperfect aim with the wiffle bat, the soccer ball, the golf club, or with whatever he had in his hands, my oldest son accidentally threw an ace and hit his little brother square in the head with a blunt object. I’m sure it surprised the offending brother as much as it surprised everyone else: he shot to kill, and it actually almost worked.

And I, sitting on the swing with the baby on my lap, not quite carelessly, dumped the baby, and took off running after the offender. I wasn’t sure what I would do if I caught him, but my instinct said, “Get the kid who hurt my kid.” And I chased the little turd for a number of yards before I started to feel really stupid.

There is no dignity in a thirty-something-year-old woman chasing a nine-year-old boy around five acres of yard. And it could only have ended badly: a running chase must end in a tackle, and in that I would have had an unfair advantage.

So I came to a halt and ordered the child keep on running to his room until I knew what I was going to do with him. Only then did I see that little brother, who was blessed by God with the body of a tortoise and the soul to boot, was standing there, not crying, just observing the drama of his mom sprinting after his big brother, all the while blood poured out the back of his head and down his shirt. He had no idea he was so badly injured.

For me, the sight of blood suddenly put the whole incident into a frenzy of heightened seriousness. I’d always wondered if the house caught on fire while I was in the shower, would I remember to put my clothes on before I evacuated?

If this were anyone else’s kid, I would have thought to stop the bleeding first. Apply pressure, put on a dressing, assess the possibility of head trauma, and if all systems are go, change out of the bloody shirt before heading to urgent care.

But my brain could only register LOTS OF BLOOD: MUST…GET…TO…EMERGENY ROOM!

Never mind that he had no signs of concussion, no dizziness, no vomiting. He was completely alert and sober, and if anything, proud of himself for producing so much blood. I grabbed a shirt that someone had deposited in the yard, held it to the wound, and began putting all the kids in the car. Offending child, who had just made it to his room, had to return to see the damage inflicted on his brother’s noggin, and I believe he felt, for the first time this incident, a true remorse.

Stitches were administered, and we returned home, really no worse for wear, except that we’d all been spooked, especially me. It was our first taste of real blood in combat, and I feared they’d be eager for more. It occurred to me that as their strength increased and their conflicts grew in seriousness, their blows could one day end very badly.

And so I micromanaged their conflicts, which, naturally, didn’t end with the sight of blood. “Time out! Give that back! Who had it first? I told you to say you’re sorry!” It wasn’t long before I was as angry and immersed in their battles as they were, and I didn’t like the way I behaved. I felt stuck: I had to stay in the game or they might kill each other, but the longer I stayed, the more likely it seemed that I might become the perpetrator.

One miserable morning after a long, conflict-riddled drive to and from the doctor’s office, I got a bee in my bonnet and kept on driving all the way to Church. I wasn’t sure what I’d do when I got there, but I had the idea in mind that I could confess my recurrent anger while at the same time pointing to its source, “See these kids, Father? See how naughty they are? It’s no wonder I’m naughty too.”

I knocked on the Rectory door, which you’d have thought would be enough to edify my kids. But they behaved according to my plan, i.e. badly. The pieces were all in place for Father to absolve me, to console me with the words, “You’re right. There’s nothing you can do. If I were you, I’d book a trip to Paris.”

But Father asked, “What happens if you don’t get involved, just let them fight?”

“Well they might kill each other, Father.”

“They’re not going to kill each other because they count on you to interfere.”

“But how are they going to learn peaceful resolution skills?”

“Well they’re not going to learn them from you if you keep fighting with them.”

It suddenly became clear why I felt so stupid chasing my nine-year-old around the yard, and why it does no good to let the pitch of my voice match theirs when they argue. Their naughty WAS making me naughty, which is not how things are supposed to work. I’m supposed to have peace that rubs off on them. I’m the grown-up, and the occurrence of the occasional childhood crime of passion doesn’t change that, stitches or no.

In the car, not a week later, someone stole someone else’s little plastic army guy (see masthead for an example). I know little plastic army guys are very important, and also very rare, so I was not a bit surprised when their conflict quickly came to blows.

“Mom, He hit me! He stole my army guy! Give it back! Mom, make him give it back!” It was their siren song. They were trying to lure me in.

“I think I’m going to let you guys work this out on your own,” I said.

“How? He’s not going to give it back.”

“Well then I guess you guys can just keep hitting each other until you figure out who gets it.” Was this right? Was it wrong? Was it Christian? I don’t really know. All I know is that it allowed me to be the bystander, to keep at a remove so that I could insert, “Uh, no weapons, and no teeth, by the way, only fists… below the neck,” and then watch from the rearview for them to work up all the sweat while I remained in an amused state of calm. Maybe I could see the sport in this.

A funny thing happened then: They were apprehensive. They’d been given leave to fight all they wanted within certain parameters, and yet they’d suddenly each become timid. They were willing to endure the vicious crimes of passion, but to fight fair for justice, with a level head and a steady hand? Somebody might get hurt.

One of them threw the first wimpy punch, dropped down from overhead like a mallet. A girly swat back. A smack. A kick. A double punch, a squeal. “He hurt me!”

“Yeah, you’re fighting,” I said. “Are you ready to be done?”

“He hasn’t given back the army guy.”

“Are you ready to give it back?”


“Well, then I guess you’re not done.”

The cycle repeated. Swat, kick, punch, “Mom!” It repeated again.

Soon we were home, and they were sweaty, though neither of them had even a bruise from all their punches, and I asked them if they were done fighting or if they wanted me to work it out for them.

Unanimously they said, “You work it out!”

“Ok,” I said, “Give me the army guy.” They handed it over. “Now give each other a hug.” They gave each other hug. I pocketed the army guy, and said, “Wasn’t that a waste of time?” and walked away.

I’m not saying that this is the way I now handle fights at our house, or that this story has value as anything other than a case study in controlled violence vs. uncontrolled violence. I like the “Wise Padre” element, and the old school values of playground justice and disengaged adults with a level head. But beyond all that, I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from a fight feeling so darn cool.

Friday, August 6, 2010


I got tagged by The Anchoress to list my five favorite Catholic devotions. I’m thrilled she knows my blog exists, and as Danielle Bean said, if the Anchoress tags you, you don’t ignore it.

I know this tag game doesn’t call upon anyone to write an essay on the subject, but that’s sort of my schtick, and it just happens, I’ve had some thoughts in the pipeline about the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, because I think sometimes particular devotions seek us out rather than the opposite. I wouldn’t know where to begin to find my favorite Catholic Devotion, to shop through thousands of Saints, Novenas, so many practices and prayers, two thousand years of devotions.

But the Chaplet of Divine Mercy has been handed to me, not once, but three times, from three different priests, in three different Confessionals. When that happens, you begin to think that God must really want you to say that prayer.

The first time was in Rome, where I went a month after my engagement to “The Wrong Guy”--back in the college years. The priest in the Confessional went to the effort to teach me the prayer, gave me a little card to practice it, and told me to say it for the following nine days.

I said it in restaurants. I said it on walks. One night, very close to midnight, I said it in a bar at a youth hostel while my traveling companions danced on the tables. But I made it through the nine days in reparation for my sins, and at the end of it, I broke up with my fiancé. After years of wondering whether or not the relationship should go on, I had no doubts that it needed to end.

Two years later, different priest, different confessional, different “Wrong Guy” and my penance was the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. I already knew that this wrong guy was on his way out, but I felt a little broken and discouraged by life, trying and failing to make it back to my faith with conviction.

Within three days of this Novena, I received a phone call from one of the girls I’d met in Rome. She was going to Rhode Island for a retreat with Regnum Christi and she wanted me to go with her. I was scheduled to start a new job in Boston , but I had a week to spare so I went on the retreat. By the end of the week, I had canceled plans to go to Boston, and became a “co-worker” with Regnum Christi.

That friend of mine was/ is my husband’s sister. And after a year of working together she discerned that I should go home and marry her brother—that we were perfect for each other. I went out with him on my first night back home, and we were married ten months later.

Finally, not very long ago, actually, I received the Chaplet as a means of overcoming a particular attachment of mine. This one came from my parish priest who has had a mural of The Divine Mercy painted on the wall over the Tabernacle in our Sanctuary. Every time I go in there, I’m reminded to pray for detachment, for myself, and for all people who struggle with this particular attachment.

And so it happens that I have on a few occasions in my life felt as though I were on the precipice preparing to jump. But I have been stayed, and commanded to flee in the opposite direction saying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

Other devotions that seem to have sought me out somehow? A devotion to Saint Therese, the Little Flower. I could write another post about strange coincidences that have led me to her, even after I snubbed her at my Confirmation—knowing I wanted to take “Theresa” as my Confirmation name because I had a pretty art teacher named Theresa. But I chose St Theresa of Avila, because she was a “Doctor” of the Church. It didn’t take long to realize I had the wrong Theresa.

Other devotions:
1. The Rosary
2. Our Lady of Guadalupe
3. Saint Joseph

And of course, I’m going to tag my girls at Reading For Believers

Mrs. Darwin
Emily J
Melanie B

also, Jen, who has been incredibly generous with the links lately.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Things are...O.K."

It may be that the hallmark of the modern moment is a certain demi-pleasurable drift—the timeless unspooling of information and entertainment on the Internet, Twittering, partial employment, life spans getting longer (even as the economy shrinks), no end to the reproductive years, midlife reinventions, TiVo-ing everything, four-day-week job furloughs—accompanied by a free-floating melancholy. If the last century crashed into the forces of urbanization, fragmentation and world war, this one seems to be on an endless murmuring skid. Things are…O.K. You know. They’re O.K. Click, click. There’s so much time, at least for some people, but it’s filled with doubts about what, exactly, to do. We can often be a bit frictionless, here at the end of the first decade of the new century. When we’re not feeling postapocalyptic, we hover, paralyzed by choice and what can seem a lack of final consequences.”—Stacy D’Erasmo, The New York Times Book Review, June 27, 2010

D’Erasmo writes what may be the best description I’ve read of culture in the year 2010, and puts into words a gut feeling I’ve had, but have been unable to express: “I’m O.K. Click, click,” melancholy aside.

I embarked on motherhood in the year 2000, loving every pound I gained, kneading my bread dough by hand, and imagining all the songs I would sing to these children I had not yet had. I cooked my husband breakfast in the morning. I plucked the weeds from my garden. And occasionally, until my belly grew too rotund, and then little fingers interfered with my bow, I still played the cello.

It’s a good thing I began with such gusto, because I have counted on the inertia from my first swing at the plate to keep me going for all of these ten years, not without diminishing speed. One by one, certain cares of mine have fallen to the wayside. Purchased bread is a major convenience when one has five kids. The garden reproaches me every time I look out the window, but I’m O.K. Click, click. There was so much I had planned to do.

My cousin has a beautiful, clean home in a charming urban neighborhood with lots of fun restaurants. Sometimes, when I visit her, I struggle with envy. On a recent visit, I asked her how she manages to home school, cook delicious, mostly whole and organic meals, and still have clean baseboards.

“It helps to start with something new, or a fresh coat of paint,” she said, “and then you just care enough to keep it up.” I had hoped she’d admit to relying on some sort of wizardry that would put those clean baseboards out of my reach, like having a closet support staff or a weekly cleaning lady. Then I could chalk it up to her life being different than mine, or special, and I could go on not giving a rip about my baseboards.

But if the difference between her clean baseboards and my dirty ones, her home-cooked meals and my last minute improvisations is just a matter of choosing to care or not care, then I really have no right to my envy. I should not expect my baseboards, which in some corners of the house have not been addressed since we moved here, to look like hers.

And if I don’t care about the foods going into my mouth, I can’t really be surprised when the jeans are snug. Such has been the case since we returned from vacation. After a year and a half of strict calorie counting, I got tired of caring for a few weeks. The first two weeks, nothing really changed, and I started to think that after thirty-four years of battling my hips, I could somehow eat whatever I want and not gain weight.

But weight, like dirt, is tricky. The first few days or weeks, it can go unnoticed, and then suddenly, it’s there...five pounds of it. And one either begins to care, immediately, slow down on the food, wipe up the dust, or one says, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” which really means, “not for a long time.”

I remember a Confession I made many years ago, which was notable not for what I confessed, but for what the priest told me, which is that I need to care enough to come back to Confession frequently, and to examine my conscience every day. “If you sweep the floor often, the dirt doesn’t have a chance to collect. And if you sweep it everyday, it stays quite clean.”

I’ve grown a bit tired of my slacker posture. Saturday afternoon, not looking at the clock until 6 P.M., and darn, I've missed Confession again. I look at pictures on facebook or blogs of the beautiful meals other people are eating for dinner, and I smirk a bit to myself about how they haven’t captured for all of posterity their child misbehaving, or a fight they’ve had with their spouse. No, they’ve captured the sun shining on their ethnic cuisine. Well don’t they have it good? They must have their stuff together. I don’t have my stuff together, but at least … I’m approachable—right? I’m O.K. Click, click.

And yet, by my apathy, I am nowhere near where I want to be. Who cares about whether or not I make my own bread or have a clean home? I do, actually. At least I once cared very much. I'm ready to start caring again.