Betty Duffy

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Gay Friend

In grade school through high school, one of my best friends was a boy named Bob*. Friday nights, after the football games, the cool kids went to parties and drank lots of beer. Bob and I gorged ourselves on fruit flan and donuts from Marsh supermarket, then went to the playground and practiced ballroom dance routines under the park spotlights. We were not total nerds, but like anyone on the fringes of the cool club, we occasionally received ridicule from our peers; Bob was called a sensitive pony-tail-man (though he had no pony-tail), and I, for reasons that are still unclear to me, was called “Banana-titties.”

We both participated in school plays. Over the years we co-starred as Cinderella and Davy Crockett in “Hooray for Hollywood,” Mrs. Boyle and Christopher Wren in “The Mousetrap.” At the curtain call for “Up the Down Staircase,” Bob having played a coworker to my character, Sylvia Barrett, dipped me nearly to the floor and zurburred my neck. It made the crowd wild, especially our grandmothers, who assumed that a ravishing romance flourished between us.

Not so. Though it came as no surprise when Bob first whispered to me that he thought he might be gay, it did come with some disappointment. Even the possibility of his same-sex attraction was too much sex in our pleasantly asexual relationship. I tried to talk him out of it, using rationale that went something like, “Even if you are gay, you don’t have to be gay.” And for awhile—not from anything I said—he kept the thought undercover. He dated several girls, one of them seriously, until he came out in full regalia during the college years.

There was already some distance between us by that time, as we’d gone to different colleges, but our relationship moved even further in opposite directions as we both took on, in our new schools, the alternate personas we’d secretly always desired for ourselves. Bob started using a more flamboyant tone of voice, and greeting old classmates with the news of his confirmed homosexuality.

I became a humorless poetess for a brief episode, until I decided I needed a more facile drama in my life and unwittingly bestowed my affections on yet another closeted homosexual. This one, I thought I might marry, and truly was shocked when I received his whispered confession. Though in hindsight, there was plenty of evidence: his secretive internet activity, the show-tunes we belted out to the neighbors from his front porch.

Anyway, I became sort of down on gay men after that. They kept turning on me, turning away from me. I thought these friendships would follow a predictable trajectory, but at the height of the good time, that trajectory stopped, changed course into completely uncharted territory, and the relationships fizzled. And there was no way to follow my friends into their new lives. The world of gay-man-sex was about as hospitable to straight, middle class Catholic girls as I was to it. No thanks, it was agreed, by all parties. Nor did I want to play the cheerleader to anyone’s illicit sex life. I couldn’t do that for my straight friends. I couldn’t do that for myself.

So years passed, and Bob and I didn’t communicate. I got married and had a bunch of kids. He moved to Japan, and back home again. Several years ago, he got a job in the town in which I now live, and bought a house here, not five minutes from mine. But for thousands of inadequate reasons, which we have tossed around on facebook and virtual elsewheres, it never works out for us to get together. He has ice-cream in his car when he passes on his way home from Wal-mart. I’ve misplaced his phone number and am not certain of his address. Blah blah blah. And I’ve wondered, at times, about the appropriateness of a married woman hanging around with a single man, even if he is gay. What would my husband think? My kids?

This afternoon, when my doorbell rang, I did not imagine it would be Bob. I’ve grown suspicious of that doorbell, as we don’t live in the kind of neighborhood where people drop in on each other, and the last time my doorbell rang, it was the police. But there he was, bleached blond hair, Elvis Costello glasses, and that gigantic 6 and a half foot presence, exuberant as a Labradoodle. “This house is so you! It’s so old-fashioned and full of weird little things!” he said, giving me a hug.

“You are so you!” I said, making coffee, “And you’re here, finally. I can’t believe it.” We once again exchanged excuses for our absence from one another’s lives. We sat at my table, amid the home-schooling mess and dishes in my sink, and the laundry and debris making trails through the house from the drop and go of the Thanksgiving weekend and its parties.

My kids looked on from the threshold of the next room, and Bob spoke to them with the same amused exasperation with which he’s always addressed me. We got caught up on his nieces and nephews, and my nieces and nephews, and how many kids I now have, and which of those were currently staring at him.

And then we talked about old times, resurrecting the names of people who at one time or another drove us crazy: Our class valedictorian with her basketball-honed biceps, JJ the skinny jock wannabe who mumbled insults every time he passed Bob in the hallway—two characters with whom Bob always felt drawn unaccountably into competition.

“I’ve got this new program in my life that I like to call ‘GROWTH,’” he said. “I think about JJ and all those people, and I forgive them. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I release them.” He made a gesture as though he were letting doves fly out of his hands and into the sky.

“That’s good, Bob. Growth is necessary.”

“Really, I’ve been concerned about all these bullying cases in the news lately, and I thought about contacting JJ, my bully, and maybe Steve, Mr. Popular who looked on but didn’t do anything to stop it, and maybe the three of us could get together and…”

“Go on the Motivational Speaker Circuit!” I said.

“YES! That’s exactly what I was going to say!”

“Never overlook an opportunity to take your hurts to the stage.”

“You never do.”

It was the time to break out into a song and dance routine about overcoming oppression, maybe something from Les Miserables. Or we could eat something terrible for us in self-congratulation, though we’ve both given up sugar. But I had to pick up a couple of my kids, and he had to move on to something else too. So he downed the rest of his coffee, while I gathered kids, and we all went out the door to our separate cars.

Farewell, Bob. I release you! I waved. And then I drove to the school wondering, if maybe he just needed to release me too.

*To protect the innocent, anyone about whom I write on this blog shall be called Bob.


Berenike's funny.

So's Dorian.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Every Knee Shall Bend

In Chicago we did a lot of walking, a lot of eating and browsing, and a lot of Churching. Saturday night during the Festival of Lights when thousands of people roamed the closed-off streets and shops, trying to catch sight of a Mickey Mouse Float on parade, my husband and I dodged into Holy Name Cathedral for Confession—to see holiness more clearly, in one another, in all of these people around us.

The stores and all the walking can gradually suck a little something out of your soul, if not from perpetual wanting, then from pure exhaustion, and I’ve realized lately, on several different occasions, that there really is no other place on earth to live one’s life but in the Church.* It’s always a homecoming, stepping inside, all candle smoke and quiet, and of course the Presence that puts all the wanting back in its place.

The last time I was in Chicago several years ago, Holy Name had recently had a fire, and we couldn’t go into the Sanctuary. It has been restored beautifully. The woodwork on the ceiling took my breath away. By the time my husband and I got there for Confession, Mass had just ended, but I thought I would like to come back in the morning to attend Mass, even though we had to hit the road early to meet up with our kids and my parents for Mass in Indianapolis.

When the wake-up call rang through the fog of a deep sleep, I thought for a minute that I might just brush off going back to Holy Name, because sleeping was so nice, and the bed was so comfortable. But as soon as I rolled over again, I was awake and debating with myself about lost opportunities, among them, the pleasure of being one the first souls on the street in the morning after a revelry. It was the street, more than anything that I wanted to see—Michigan Avenue with the shops closed and the sidewalks empty, and all the remnants of yesterday’s festivities discarded on the pavement, glow sticks and chewing gum.

It was the Feast of Christ the King, and the empty street in all its faded glory was just what I needed to see. I was glad to be awake for it. I’ve always considered myself a night owl—late to bed, late to rise—but I’ve developed a recent fondness for these dark autumn mornings, particularly slipping into a Church where a domed ceiling encapsulates the warm light like a secret. All of these people have crawled out of their beds so recently, to sing in the morning, not with the boisterous pipes of a noon Mass, but with the whisper quiet song of a mother waking a sleeping child.

A nun with a soothing voice did the first and second readings. The priest, as well, was all gentleness and precise elocution. So it came as an irritation, I’m sorry to say, when I heard a voice during the Creed that was not in solidarity with our somnolent tone. I thought at first that it might just be a loud talker, one of those people who likes to hear their own voice carry a word just a half-second longer than the congregation.

It soon became apparent that the voice was not only off rhythm, but it was not saying the same words. It was saying some other words that I couldn’t make out, that didn’t have the cadence of English. Utterances came in jerks and then petered out, and I thought that maybe the speaker suffered from Tourettes, poor soul, and I prayed that people would be patient with him—that I would be patient. I turned around in time to catch a glimpse of a security guard sliding into the pew next to the man emitting the sounds. Words were exchanged between them, and the man became quiet for a time.

Mass continued through the Consecration of the Eucharist, and when we began to edge our way out of the pews to receive it, the man once again made his presence known. He had been sitting near the back, and when the first few rows had stepped out into the Communion line, the man walked briskly up to the front of the line, only a few people in front of me, and cut in. He had on a thick silver ring with engraving that I couldn’t make out. He was dressed, not exactly well, but not shabbily either.

The Security Guard followed him hastily, not knowing if the man was stable or not, if he wanted to harass the priest or desecrate the Eucharist. I heard the Guard ask the man his intentions in cutting the line, and the man turned around and growled at him (really, a cross between a growl and a hiss), “I just want to taste it!” And then he turned back around and got down on both knees in front of the priest. It was a groveling posture, where most of the other communicants received the Eucharist standing and in the hand.

The priest hesitated for a moment, whispered something softly that I could not hear, and then administered the Eucharist to the man. Immediately, the man stood up and began to crow the most confounding noises I have ever heard. There was some language pattern there, but no language that I could recognize, and his voice was deep but shrieking, like a pig in the slaughterhouse. He was uncontrollable then, and he ran, followed by the guard, directly out of the Church making this choked and gurgling sound.

I have been in Churches where panhandlers come inside and ask people in the pews for money. I’ve heard men whose voices ring with insanity cussing out entire sanctuaries of people worshipping God. I’ve heard stories of people standing up in the middle of a Mass to tell everyone how the Church has ruined their lives. But I have never heard or seen anything like this.

I would like to dismiss the case--the man was probably homeless and crazy, and wandered in off the street, made some vocal and random expression of his frazzled mind, and left again. But there was nothing random about his behavior. Every knee shall bend before Christ the King, even that of he who recoils at the Creed and shrieks at the Body and Blood of the Savior.

I cried for him, mother’s tears, which I suppose are the only kind of tears I cry anymore. Poor boy. Poor little boy. Because if the man has been lost, he at least was once a child and innocent, and maybe it’s that part of him that still hungers for righteousness, like we all do. I just want to taste it.

Outside the streets began to wake. Coffee brewed. Varied churchgoers made their way to and from their chosen houses. A homeless man pulled a blanket over his head where he lay on the sidewalk. I’ve heard it said that lifetimes are lived before 8 o’clock in the morning, which means, of course, that there can be death before sunrise.

I flatter myself that I have been called to be a witness to the lives of others, though I mostly bear witness to myself. What I want to say is that if entire lifetimes are lived in these morning hours, how can I delay? Get up! Take note. They are passing.

*Thanks, Pedge for pointing this out to me.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just a Perfect Day...

Kids tucked away at my parents, my husband and I took off for South Bend on Friday morning, coffee in hand, Red Barchetta on the radio, two books on my lap, five more in my bag. Though my husband makes furniture by night, by day he works on DNA sequencers, and had to do a quick call in one of the labs at Notre Dame, for a client with debilitating (for others) halitosis. And I got to hang around campus while he worked.

There are probably a million things to do on the campus, but it was cold, and the Church was warm, so I went to Mass and Adoration at the Basilica. I had a few irrational morning devils to wrestle anyway--little boogers that might cause me to say something like, "you work too much," when (after this call) my husband's putting it all aside for a weekend in Chicago with me.

"Do you feel holier now?" he asked, when we met up for lunch.

I wish I did, but that's never really how I feel when I've been to Mass. "I feel loved," because I was thinking about how marriage is such a bonus in life. The stained glass windows around the monstrance showed all of these nuns in habit on their knees before Jesus who is pointing to his Sacred Heart.

We ate at Bruno's pizza buffet. Stuffed face. Gluttony. Two men at the bar shared three bottles of wine at noon, and talked to Bruno Jr. about future plans for the restaurant, and how investors respected his father, but him, less so. Italians talk loud, which is so much more entertaining than the flat screen TVs that have gone up on the walls since the last time we ate at Bruno's.

Onwards to the Windy City, where we arrived downtown just in time for (FREE) Chamber Music at the Symphony Center: Brahms Trio, Shostakovich Quartet, Prokofiev Quintet. Noticing that the audience at a Chamber Music performance is not unlike the worshippers at a Daily Mass: older people, innocents and eccentrics. And this woman: tall, middle-aged, frizzy hair in a haphazard updo, a long scarf over her sweater, skirt and clogs. She's all over the cultural and spiritual venues. She's a prodigious mother of grown children or perhaps a professor with no children, and her wizened eyes peer over the rims of her rhinestone encrusted reading glasses, content, but not terribly impressed by any of it, because, Dear, she has seen it all before.

Shop Michigan Ave on walk back to Hotel. Don't buy anything because it's insanely expensive, and causes existential angst to see so many shoppers with so much money buying all that stuff: Mother/daughter pilgrimages to American Girl Store to pick out a doll that looks "just like me;" the Orwellian operation of choosing the perfect doll combo--brown eyes, short blond hair, freckles (your perfect American Girl is number 32). And then there are the women, walking for miles on stilletto heels with their faces so icy and determined. What are they looking for? Oh, but it's fun to walk among them for a day on streets illuminated by strings of Christmas lights, handle the merchandise, leather bags and Waterford crystal, and wonder the whereabouts of the thrift stores where all these good shoes and purses go to die and live again.

Dinner at Tai Restaurant. Stuffed face. Gluttony. At nine p.m. a man and a woman from Indiana drank several bottles of a beer--because it's only money, right? And you don't come to Chicago every weekend, right? And somebody at the restaurant has to talk loudly enough to entertain the other diners. Might as well be us.

At 10:00 we jumped in a cab to Oldtown for an eleven o'clock show at Second City. I've always harbored a secret fantasy to be a.) a lounge singer or b.) a comedienne, and I imagine that sketch comedy combines both careers nicely. Second City is the alma mater of the Belushi brothers, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, and many more. In a parallel life, I moved to Chicago after college and enjoyed a pleasant run at Second City before being recruited by Saturday Night Live. In real life, I finally show up at the Second City stage, a prodigious mother in a long scarf over a long sweater, and I watch with wizened eyes, but am not terribly impressed by any of it, because, Dear, I've seen funnier stuff on Simcha's blog.

Anyway, an entire weekend followed this perfect day--but I'm getting tired of writing this post. If anyone wants permission to go away for the weekend and spend oodles of money right before Christmas when money's tight and everyone's busy and no one really wants to watch your kids [but they'll do it if you act desperate enough (thanks Mom!)]--I will grant you the affirmation you need to get the heck out of dodge. Go. Just go.

I believe these are seven quick takes!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's all on loan...

I love spending time with my parents, but even better is spending time at their house when they are not at home. My husband was burning the midnight oil on our bathroom project, which began many months ago, so I brought the Littles out to the Lodge so we could exhale a little, and not worry so much about people tracking grout and paint all over the floors. The tracking is probably going to happen in my absence, but I enjoy not knowing about it.

My parents went to my brother’s this weekend, so here I am again, feeding cows, wiping manure off my heels at first light. Cock crowed at five am this morning, and I had a thought that I might be able to feed the creatures in my sleep, throw a gigantic coat over my jammies, inform the rooster that daylight savings time entitles everyone to an extra hour of sleep, satisfy the dogs who were airborne with hunger and anticipation, and then stagger back to bed.

I had only just crawled back into the four poster when a jammy-clad two year old crawled in behind me saying, “I want NUR!” which means “feed me.” So I rolled over, and gave up the ghost. This day was going to happen, and I needed to just make the coffee and admit it.

Last night, after the Vigil Mass, I went to get a movie, which I thought I might watch on Mom and Dad’s big screen TV. Couldn’t find a decent chick flick, so with some mixture of civic duty and morbid curiosity, I picked out a documentary on human trafficking. The critics said that this particular movie was “worth every sobering minute.”

Then I drove the narrow country roads in the dark and rain to this isolated cabin in the woods, where my children and I would sleep alone on opening night of the deer-hunting season. By the time I pointed my headlights at the front porch of my parents’ house so I could see to unlock the door, I’d decided there would be no human trafficking for me tonight. I rolled the kids into bed, and lay down with a big stack of catalogs that I paged through, numbing night terrors with consumer hopefulness, until I fell asleep too.

In the headlines recently, an eighteen-year-old boy from an affluent area of Indianapolis, met a strange man on the internet for a tryst. At some point in their activities, the boy died, and the man dumped his body in the dumpster. Authorities have the man in custody, and are combing a landfill for the boy’s remains. I can’t get the story out of my mind—as a friend of mine said, “That really is too much information for any parent to have about their child.”

I keep thinking about how a mother can give up her life to cajole the souls of her children into a safe and respectable adulthood, only to have someone out there use and dispose of her babies like garbage. And of course, the worst of the story is that the child, in full faculties of his will, put himself in the position that would take his life. The demands of the flesh can so easily usurp every other area of promise in a person’s life.

This morning, coffee made, baby and animals fed, I pulled some dark chocolate out of my purse, broke off two squares and ate them in bed, trying to pray, but mostly looking out the window. The sun is out, and each gorgeous day in November feels like another day borrowed from winter. The readings for this week have been about the tribulation, how we will face persecution, we will give testimony and Christ will come again. And I sat there, pillows piled up behind my back, chocolate on my tongue, wondering how persecution at the end times could be any worse than what some people are experiencing this very minute.

And good grief, how lucky am I?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Paging Humility

I should have known when the low-mood hit on Friday that I was coming down with the flu. All the signs were there: the barfing child, the bathrobe, the nap.

Occasionally, I entertain the thought that I’ve contracted a serious life threatening disease like cancer or congenital heart failure. I’m going to die, and it will be my fault (all those cigarettes I smoked in college), but getting a flu-bug or a cold always comes as a surprise somehow. What’s this? Nausea? Surely not the flu. I put off a diagnosis until the symptoms are beyond question.

And now, my house is in chaos. The baby keeps walking past my doorway with a package of lunch meat saying, “Hot Gog!” All he wants out of life is a sandwich, and I’d indulge him if he didn’t just eat breakfast twenty minutes ago, also if the thought of lunch meat and mayonnaise didn’t spawn a devilish gurgle in my gut.

It’s times like this, when the only duty I can handle is the one that takes place in the bathroom (and even that, I’d prefer not to handle), I realize the illusions of control I hold when I am well.

Last week, my daughter did a safety unit at school, and when she asked me what our designated meeting place would be in case of a fire, I said, “It’s…outside….away…out there.” The kids wanted something more specific, however, and we settled on Daddy’s workshop.

Then I thought maybe there were a few other safety concerns we needed to address like how and when to dial 911. So I gave them a crash course in all that, and then not two days later, the police showed up at my house investigating a 911 call.

My husband and I were both at home; I was putting dinner on the table. Four of the five kids were waiting, fork in hand, for their pesto tortellini. But a fifth child was hiding under a blanket in her room with a cordless telephone. She had told the dispatcher that her parents were not at home.

The police came in, looked around a bit and said, “Well, it looks like everything is ok here.” But the sight of police officers standing in my kitchen at dinner time on a Tuesday night planted a seed of doubt in my mind. Is everything ok here? Are we really alright? It was like looking at a mole that’s been on my wrist my entire life, and then someone else calls attention to it and it suddenly looks different. I must have CAAANCER!

Then, this weekend, another one of the kids comes in from the yard with a bloody lip needing stitches.

I keep joking with my parents that they need to get certified to become foster parents because one of these days, my kids are going to show up on their doorstep with a caseworker and a suitcase. But the suggestion becomes less and less funny with each delivery. Perhaps I’ve been kidding myself that we can maintain some level of functionality, when we’re really on the verge of complete collapse.

In my mind, I chronicle all the ways in which I have been a selfish mother, and all the ways that I might prevent chaos from occurring. Why didn’t I tell her not to play with the phone? Maybe if I’d used an angrier tone of voice when I told the boys not to play with sticks, they would have listened to me. I should hover more.

I called my mother, hoping for some kind of affirmation that we really are ok, and she said something to effect of my needing to be humble, which wasn’t what I was looking for, because it sounded a lot like: “What you really need to do is beat yourself up a little more.” I hung up feeling a bit twitchy, because the whip was already out.

But I thought about humility, and thought a little more. And finally, I decided that YES, Humility is what is needed! All fear is rooted in a lack of humility. I need to obtain some humility NOW. But the recognition that I need humility didn’t immediately supply the virtue. In my case, humility, like the cops in that old Tracy Chapman song, always comes later, if it comes at all. (Whereas the cops in my town are quite prompt.)

Was I more upset about the police following up on a 911 call, or about what their car parked in our driveway might say about us? Was I really upset about my son’s injury, or about the probing questions from the staff at urgent care? The task of keeping five young kids alive day and night, 365 days of the year is large enough without stressing out about how clunky it looks to onlookers.

The real injustice of these episodes is that I secretly think I’m doing a perfectly adequate job of being a mother—if it weren’t for these crazy kids who keep undermining my smooth façade. They complicate things by being individuals who want to do irrational things, like flirt with danger, and eat lunchmeat when it makes no sense to eat lunchmeat.

And really, if a false 911 call and two stitches in the lip from a stick battle between siblings is the biggest trial we’ve had to face this week, I should thank my stars. The world is not out to get me. It’s not out to get my family. People are not spying on me. And if they are, that’s their problem. I do not have cancer. I do not have congenital heart failure.

These runs to the doctor, the police showing up on my doorstep—doesn’t it look like a family on the verge of a breakdown? Maybe, but more harm is done in America by overmedicating people who aren’t really sick. It helps to get a second opinion: these are the coughs and sputters of ordinary family glitches, the common cold, flu season. And there really is nothing, NOTHING I could have done to prevent it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I like Emily J's perspective on the Erica Jong article in the WSJ on attachment parenting. I share her take completely, probably because she's my sister.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I've Opened My Wallet...

...and the cash is flying out. I'm buying books...for the Glory of God.

Over my lifetime, I'm sorry to say, the number of books for which I've actually paid, is very very small. I borrow them. I steal them (only from people I love). And I pick them off the fifty cent rack at thrift stores.

But if I'm going to beg for Catholics to write good books, the least I can do is actually buy them when those books are finally offered in print.

So I have purchased, this very morning, the first effort of Korrektiv Press: Jonathan Potter's House of Words.

Also, I bought Heather King's memoir, Parched.

And after these books arrive, I'm going to read them. And hopefully, I'll think of something I want to say about them, which I will post here at this very blog. Maybe you'd like to purchase, read and talk about these books with me...for the Glory of his Heavenly Kingdom here on Earth, of course.

P.S. I just received a mailer telling me that I'm eligible for a FREE gift subscription to Poetry Magazine, with the purchase of another gift subscription. I know who's getting that first subscription, my husband (which is code for 'me'),but to whom should I give that free gift subscription?

I would not go so far as to call this a blog giveaway, but I am not averse to signing away that subscription to a COMPLETE STRANGER if I thought they'd really enjoy it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pope Benedict in New York (part III)

In 2008, I drove to New York to see Pope Benedict. This post is the third part in my account of that trip.

Part I

Part II

When a young woman has a religious vocation, her eyes take on an otherworldly optimism. Her skin appears translucent. She smiles inwardly because she is in love, and she can have every confidence that her spouse-to-be will never let her down. I never had this look in my eye, which is probably why my spiritual director didn’t blink when I told her I was going home to get married.

But several of the girls on this trip have the look: A young woman who attended the RC pre-candidacy last year, but whose father asked her to come home when her mother died; also, Ally, the other chaperone. This trip, coming to see the Holy Father, is her last hurrah before she begins her new life as a Carmelite.

On our train down to the city, I sat with Ally and Trish, collecting their impressions of the Youth Rally yesterday. Ally had said very little all morning, but those optimistic eyes betrayed the loss of a few tears since I’d seen her the night before at bedtime. Ally had been among those locked out.

“I wasn’t going to talk about this because I didn’t want to complain,” she said. “All I wanted to do before I left home was see the Holy Father. I knew it would be my last chance. And I drove all the way here only to be locked out, while everyone else was in there, enjoying being close to him. I cried in my room all night. But I realized that I don’t ever want to feel this way again. This must be what Purgatory feels like. Everyone else is with God, enjoying his presence, while I sit on the other side, watching, wishing, waiting. I do not want to spend one second of Eternity in Purgatory.”

“I wonder why this trip feels so much more difficult than things like this used to feel,” I said.

“We’re givers now,” said Trish. “Everything used to be set up to coddle us in our faith. Now we’re the ones doing the coddling. We were really lucky to have had that time though when we were younger. Most people don’t get it.”

…Which of course had never occurred to me. In my mind, I had “worked for” the church. I had “given a year.” But how many people have a full year of their lives exclusively dedicated to growing in their faith? This is one of the many reasons why, in spite of our founder’s scandalous behavior, I will always feel grateful to Regnum Christi.

We took the girls into the city to play “Scavangelizer.” They had to start conversations with people and ask them questions like, “Are you Catholic, and when was the last time you went to Confession?” You would think New Yorkers would be reluctant to discuss their faith with strangers. The city is crawling with lapsed Catholics. Of course, when a group of pretty young girls, oblivious to adult concerns, approach people with their big smiles and ask them if they were aware the Pope is in New York this weekend, they are rarely turned away.

An airline pilot agreed to go to Mass for the first time in years; A musician, to Confession. An Italian shop-boy smoked a cigarette on the sidewalk and when the girls asked if he was Catholic, he loosened his tie and pulled a brown scapular out from under his pinstripe suit. A man in a wheelchair gave the girls his prayer intentions. A group of girls passing out papers each took a Holy Card.

You never know what these little interactions mean to someone, if they’ll follow through, or if they were just game for a serendipitous conversation that day. But the girls felt hopeful that special Graces were available to the city of New York because of their special visitor.

I didn’t get to touch the Holy Father, or see him well, or even hear him. Still, I’m just as hopeful as the girls that special Graces have occurred. Vocations found people. The girl with the nun-look who had to return from the pre-candidacy when her mother died, found that a nun at the youth rally had slipped a contact card into her bag for the Missionaries of Charity. She thinks it might be a sign. Ally’s realization that she wants to aim for an eternity in Heaven, rather than Purgatory may help to sustain her zeal for a cloistered life. I have reaffirmed my vocation to marriage, feeling ok for the moment with the idea that I’m a “giver” now. This trip was about vocation: encouraging, accepting, and affirming vocation.

Praying the Rosary before bed, that familiar voice in my head that I like to believe is the voice of God said, “You will be my scribe. Maybe not a famous one, or even a published one, but mine.” Pope Benedict didn’t go out in the street, kissing babies and greeting people like JPII did. But I almost feel more affection for him because of that. He attracts people with his authenticity. And of course, he is another scribe for Christ.

If I didn’t have an experience of the Pope this weekend, I did have a deeper experience of the Church and even more so, of Christ. I think Pope Benedict would be pleased to know that.

Friday, November 5, 2010


It's probably too early in the season to have Seasonal Affective Disorder. The sun is still out, of course, it's out there, and I'm in here, and the house is too cold for me to doff my robe and get dressed.

Fortunately, one of the kids barfed last night, which was a good excuse to cancel everything on the docket for today. Hence I'm still scuffing around with a mug of luke-warm coffee, sleep in my eyes, and morning, stretched out, interminable. It's best not to write in this state.

Nevertheless, a Serotonin low, a relatively gray house, the threat of illness, all of it means I'm poised to start writing poetry. Beware.

And so I wrote a few lines incorporating the word "varicella" until one of the kids locked himself in the bathroom with a novel and wouldn't come out when a line formed outside his door, and I had to yell lines with Poop-words in them.

And then the Serotonin Low asked "why?"

Which is dangerous.

Just read about some guy selling his self-published books at local farmer's markets. Is it hopeful or sad?

For more uplifting quick takes, see here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Who is Faithful?

“What is important for all people, what makes their life significant, is the knowledge they are loved. The person in a difficult situation will hold on if he knows someone is waiting for me, someone wants me and needs me. God is there first and loves me. And that is the trustworthy ground on which my life is standing and on which I can construct it.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Benedictus, p.88)

I wonder sometimes if I could love men as much as I do, if my own father had been less worthy of my love and respect. Not to say he has always been a saint, but he cleaned up his act before I entered the scene. So I was lucky to grow up with a father who was affectionate, while maintaining appropriate distance, who sought God, and made necessary amendments in his life. Most importantly, he has, to my knowledge, always loved my mother, which made me feel safe in his love for me.

And while I love my mom deeply, and have catalogued her virtues before, I have never felt the same dependence on her love that I have with my dad. If Mom was angry with me growing up, no big deal. But if dad was angry, there was no happiness until things were right.

As an adult, this feeling has translated to my relationship with my husband. When my husband and I are fighting, nothing’s right. I’m short with the kids. I lose interest in the house, and start looking elsewhere for affirmation. When we are at peace, when I’m confident in his love, I want to build up and protect our family.

I don’t think this craving for masculine approval and affection is entirely specific to my being a woman either—because my sons, too, crave approval and affection from their father, whereas I suspect they could really care less what I have to say.

Nevertheless, I think it is a man’s love that is often most elusive. I watched the movie “Precious” recently, had read the book before so knew there was an incestuous father/daughter relationship. What struck me watching the movie was the interview with the mom—how could she let it happen? She says she was jealous. She wanted to keep her man, and if that meant offering her child as a sacrifice, that’s what she was going to do. Otherwise, “Who’s going to love me?” she asks.

There was no trustworthy ground on which to stand, and the perversion of man’s love caused her to hate and abuse her child, and to withhold the maternal love that her child should have been able to take for granted.

That John Mayer song that was out a couple years ago—“Fathers be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so mothers, be good to your daughters too”-- there was a lot of sweet sentiment about it when it first came out. What a positive message for fathers. But every time I heard it, I wanted to yell at the radio. No, No, NO, John Mayer! You’ve got it all wrong! Fathers be good to the mothers of your children, so your daughters can feel safe in your love.

Mayer sets up this family structure where love flows from the father, through the children and then back to mom---as though that would be enough for her, as though it would be comfortable for the kids. But it was a safe platitude for a culture where nearly fifty percent of fathers do not live with the mothers of their children.

In high school, a friend’s dad left her mom for another woman. So my friend and I took his credit card, went to Victoria’s Secret and purchased 200 dollars worth of push-up bras. Never would have crossed our minds to do such a thing to a Father who loved his bride.

And I think about the scandals in the Church, how they came sort of spiraling into my life—the sexual abuse was out there somewhere, and it was deplorable, but it didn’t have much to do with me. It kept creeping closer and closer, however; the head of a religious order to which I belonged was guilty, and then a priest that I actually knew.

Fulton Sheen said never to refer to the Church as an institution, because it is a marriage between Christ, who is always faithful, and the Church, which strives to be faithful as well. And I saw, very concretely, that the Church has not always been faithful, and it did something to me.

I have not spent one minute of my life waiting for the Pope to tell me it’s OK to use birth control. I’m not chomping at the bit to become sterile, not waiting for a green light to go on the pill. But when the sex abuse scandals broke, I started having moments…moments when I’d be at the grocery store, looking for Tampax or toilet paper and I’d pass the racks of Durex and Trojans (so many genital products have the letter x in them), and I’d just pause for a moment, considering…what must that be like, to come out of my bunker of fringe Catholicism, the twenty thousand ways to evade the question, “So are you done?”

Why should I be faithful? Who is faithful?

I suppose there was another part of me that was relieved to postpone a deeper kind of faithfulness --a wholeness of person—because I assumed that was for other, holier people, as I believed priests were (and many are). Let them be faithful for the both of us, and I will go on suspecting that even though I’m having kids, and going through the motions, I’m a little bit of a whore inside because I do it all grudgingly, and if there were no hell, I might not do it at all.

So here walked an unhappy person, someone who was not sure of her footing, because infidelity had made its mark, and when the head hurts, the body hurts.

That’s not a good feeling, being a divided person, and I knew that already from back in the days when I bought pushup bras with someone else’s money. But apparently, I had to learn it again: I want to be one of the ones who is faithful.

It’s very easy to come up with examples of the infidelity and the failings of other people. If I wanted to come up with excuses for the times I’ve behaved badly in my life, I could easily find someone at whom to point my finger. Infidelity, after all, is contagious.

But what do I make of the faithful? Because I do know people who are faithful, actually, quite a few, for whom faithfulness is the best thing they have going for them. They might have bad hair and eczema, but they are truly holy.

When my priest breaks the darkness and silence of the morning with the words, “Blessed are you Lord God of all creation…” I hear true devotion in his voice. He is not just dialing it in, and it makes me want to bless the Lord too, because faithfulness, like its opposite, is also contagious, and it only comes from God. But, like God himself, it’s so easy to ignore, disregard, and doubt in the face of all the nastiness that can happen right alongside it.

I loved the meditation yesterday in Magnificat from Pope Benedict XVI (of course):

There are men who not only destroy themselves but also corrupt others with them and leave behind powers of destruction that drive whole generations into nihilism. If we think of the great seducers of our century, we know how real this is. The negation of the one becomes a contagious disease that carries others away. But, God be praised, this is not only true in the negative. There are people who leave behind so to speak, a surplus of love, of perseverance in suffering, of honor and truth that captures others and sustains them.

(emphasis mine)

Those are the coattails, I want to hang onto. May all the saints in Heaven pray for us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"The Edge of Sadness" Reviewed

by Anne Bender and Sally Thomas

Bottom line: Read this Book!

Eight Day Books has it in stock, and take note, the Loyola Classics edition is edited by our own, Amy Welborn.

When an Optimist and a Pessimist Marry...

He said:
"You called me in here to talk but all you're doing is complaining."

She said:
"Friends do this sometimes. They complain to each other, get everything off their chests, and then they can talk about other things."

"I don't complain to you."

"I wish you would. That would be fun."

"Well I don't have anything to complain about."

"Well that's your problem."