Betty Duffy

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Tool

I hired a babysitter Friday night so my husband and I could go out for a hot night on the town. We didn't want to pay the sitter for the duration of our commute to Indianapolis, so we had our hot night locally, which means, in a small town in central Indiana. We caught a show at the local movie theater (The Descendants, A-), and afterwards we talked about getting a coffee and working on our budget, but it seemed too late for coffee, and we were too tired to do the budget (it's exhausting just to think about), so we went to the bar.

The waitress took our orders and asked where we were from.

"Indianapolis," we said, though neither of us grew up there; it's where our marriage began.

"So what brings you here?"

"Oh, we live about a mile up the street."

"But you're from Indianapolis?"

"We moved here from Indianapolis."


"About six years ago."

"And you still say you're from Indianapolis?"

My husband and I had driven by three different bars, looking for the hot spot where everybody in town goes, before we settled on the one closest to home. We never did figure out where the locals hang out. No, this town does not feel like home.

We finished out the evening prank calling our siblings in the wee hours of the night, which always makes you feel popular, especially when they hang up on you. But it's an activity I loosely advocate as a marriage building exercise, just because it's better to be tools together than tools rattling around on their own.

I find it more and more difficult to make new friends as I get older. We're trying to teach our kids how to be Catholic, and we're trying ourselves to be Catholic, and we are gradually emerging as a family known to the world as "The Duffys," though what it means to be a Duffy is still yet to be known. We get in trouble a lot. We're a little eccentric. And we keep crawling back to the Church, usually arriving late, and with much noise.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Confession after the School Mass, and when I came out of the confessional some of the school moms were standing around in the Sanctuary of the Church, talking. There was no way to get past them and do my penance without greeting them in some way, so I went and said hello. I was in my freshly washed state, like a locust nymph, giddy with new life.

(perhaps understandable if they were put off)

The ladies were talking about one of their mothers who is ill. I didn't know the woman or her mother well, and the conversation seemed too personal for my intrusion, so I said I would pray for the sick mother, and attempted to release myself to do my penance. The woman with the sick mother didn't hear me because she'd been talking. So one of the other moms tapped her shoulder to draw attention to the fact that I'd spoken to her.

All the moms turned to look at me then, and I had to say it again, "I'll pray for your mother, Leslie."

Her look was strange, like "Why would you do that? You don't know me." She said thanks and and went on speaking to the other ladies with intensity, and I did my penance with a fresh case of vanity to work through. They must think I'm a holy roller. Not only did I just come out of the confessional, now I'm the lady who can't relate on anything but praying, and even that, poorly.

Even though the woman was clearly upset that her mother was sick, I managed to work myself into a tailspin of self-pity for poor me, my lack of friends--one of those dark moods that come upon you, and you don't realize nothing in your life has actually changed. You're only freshly aware of a dark thread moving back through your history, and forward through eternity that cancels out every good you have received and makes you think that things have always been bad, and always will be bad, even though, objectively, things are not bad at all.

I wanted to scapegoat somebody. Catholics must do better at bringing people together! Those ladies must do better at being my friend! My husband must spend thirty minutes each day listening to me! All of which assume that there is an surefire cure to the periodic demon of loneliness, that there's a way to feel perfectly at home at all times in a life that is exile.

My daughter threw up exactly one minute before we drove away to the ten thirty Sunday Mass this weekend, so I stayed home with her, and caught the Spanish Mass later in the afternoon. Once again, a lone gigantic blonde woman in a sea of petite dark haired people, I felt like an alien.

At the front of the Church, I recognized a woman who at the Daily sits in the back with a little huddle of children. She often looks uncomfortable, makes herself small, like she's hiding. She has a child in class with one of mine. I know she doesn't speak much English.

At the Spanish Mass, her husband sings in the choir, and is a lector. She sits radiantly in the first pew. At the sign of peace, she's up and down the aisles greeting people with kisses.

Shamefully, it had not occurred to me that she had any other posture than the one huddling in the back of the Church. I don't know what this observation offers by way of resolution, but you can always find people who appear both more at home in the world than you do, and less at home--sometimes the same person, different day. And it would affirm Amy Welborn's assertion that the Mass is the ultimate small group study, that it brings people from every background to the contemplation of the One Thing--assuming we can take our minds off ourselves.


Lisa said...

Wonderful, thought-provoking post, Betty. Be sure of this, semi-sorta-friend-of-the-web (even though I'm sure you don't even know who I am) -- we are united in our alone-ness, every one of us. Only some of us know it and others don't.
(Incidentally, I for one, would have felt honored and appreciative of your "prayer" comment after Confession -- even though I may not have known the words to say so at the precise moment.)

Jus said...

and I would bet your husband listens to you 30 minutes every day ;)

I hope you have a wonderful day sweet Duffy-girl. Say a prayer for me.

JMB said...

Are you me? Just a thought, you may be under some sort of spiritual attack when you feel desolation and loneliness. I don't mean to get all looney on you, but the more I go to mass the less I want to be there. More things bug me, like the people who insist we have to say our prayer intentions aloud (in my head I'm like "I don't give a flying *&^% about what your praying for"), or the fact that we have to have mass in the old rectory basement when the church is sitting there empty.

But I get the friend thing, I feel very alone in my spiritual journey too. None of my friends get it, or even go to mass on a regular basis. I really don't want to be known as a holy roller because I don't think I can personally live up to it. The mean girl teen is still alive inside me, no matter how hard I try to stifle it.

BettyDuffy said...

JMB, I may well be you. I don't think spiritual attack is a loony concept at all. I once had a dream that I was on my laptop, and it got all hot on my lap and said, "I own you" in a wicked gravelly voice. I definitely felt loony after that, but, it was also more or less true. And the dark mood--it comes and goes-- and somehow I'm always surprised when it comes back unasked for. I've definitely been through that experience of feeling revulsion for things I know to be good. Not a good feeling. But nothing to do about either, except what you're doing, keep going back.

I've had this discussion with my friend Pedge, (who lives in Indy, so there's no serendipitousness as to when we see each other) about how attempting to live the spiritual life does somehow put a distance between you and those who are not attempting it. but it also sometimes provides a wordless kinship with people you'd otherwise never befriend. it's interesting.

Jus, My husband does read my blog, and my diary, and he listens to me talking in my sleep, and we communicate in many vignettes throughout the day. But the times I've gotten him to sit down and listen to me, I almost never have thirty minutes of stuff to say. It's the breaks.

Lisa, my semi-sorta-friend-of-the-web (I like that). So true.

Kimberlie said...

I get the friend thing kinda. I do have friends both here in town and web friends. But lately, and this is where I am totally and utterly selfish, I am wishing for a friend without children or without children who are very young. I have just this year gotten to the point where I have "free time" during the week. A few hours, twice a week when all kids are at school and I want some adult time. Most of the time I am content to spend it in solitary pursuits. However, lately, I'd wish I could meet someone for coffee to girl-chat and not have our conversation interrupted every two minutes by a cranky three-year old, fussing siblings, or listen to the 50 million wonderful things they love about spending every minute of the day with their children and how perfect they are at parenting. I'm being semi-dramatic about the last part. But I do feel a bit judged and guilty because I like my free time, crave it, and would like a little bit more, and don't really want to spend it with other peoples' children. Know any older, non-childbearing women who live in the Tulsa metro area that has free time during the week and will be my friend?

The last part about the woman at the Spanish Mass is profound. I can't quite put words to what it says to me, but, and I am totally being serious, no sarcasm here, 100% dead on serious, it will make me ponder for the next little while.

Julia said...

Ah, but you don't know what Leslie actually was thinking. It could have been, "Wow, I've never had someone who I barely know offer to pray for me before!" You never know. You never do, which is why you do the best you can to live the life you have, and assume that God does what he does with what you give him.

I find that the less I think about having friends, the more I have. Or maybe I'm just easily fooled. Or maybe I'm just old enough that I don't fight loneliness any more, and just accept it when it's part of the plan. Not sure. I do know that when I'm focused on simply living out what I believe, and go about my days trying to be who I am, my path crosses that of a surprising number of people I wouldn't have noticed (or valued) if I were in a swirl of friends.

Glad you noticed the woman-who-wasn't-hiding. Sometimes we only see people shine when we are in the shadows ourselves.

Amy Welborn said...

Thanks for the link - and I echo the props for the post. Especially the observation about the woman at Mass.. will be no consolation, but I find that the more settled I get into a place, and the more connected I get to people in that place...the worse it is for my writing. I think there is great value - for the writer - in having a stance that is more an observer than a participant. For me at least.

mrsdarwin said...

For myself, I find that when I feel alone it's partly my fault. I'm not good at keeping up with people or doing the day-to-day work of maintaining friendships when circumstances don't drop me in people's laps. I've been meaning for two weeks to go down to my neighbor's house some evening and hang out with her on the evenings that her husband isn't home, and I just haven't made the time for it. Though I can almost always pick up with old friends where we left off, I'm not the one who often makes contact. A friend from Texas, who is very faithful about calling and catching up, made that point to me and I felt ashamed at the truth of it. But I still haven't picked up the phone to call her. It's so much bother.

The problem with pigeon-holing people is that no one really fits in a pigeon hole.

Erin said...

This post a little here and a little there so I wondered where you were going with it. By the end, it all made sense. Very well said!

BettyDuffy said...

Amy, the funny thing is, I have totally, wittingly, set my life up in order to be apart, for that very reason. And sometimes, when faced with the prospect of making new friends locally, I panic, thinking they'll take over my life. And then one day, the switch flips, and I realize that while I have a few low-stakes standing appointments that I can attend or not attend without much hullaballoo (and I do attend, because I need it), it's a casual, daily sense of belonging to a community that I lack--or maybe it's a vain panic of not feeling like I fit into the "right" community--because I definitely have a casual sense of belonging with the retirees at Church. I probably have no idea what I really want in the way of companionship. I should stop thinking about it, because I have what I need. Anyway, thanks for your post on the MAss. It's very true.

Julia--absolutely--I was projecting my insecurity on those women. The truth is, they probably were not thinking about me at all--but it was so dumb that what I thought they thought became a spiritual reality for me. It's just one of those things I think, the temptation to vanity, maybe like JMB said, a specific spiritual attack.

Kimberlie--I completely relate. One of my standing playdates is with a group that home schools, since last year I had a couple at home. Now that four of my five are in school during the day, I've definitely developed an aversion to hosting twenty kids at my house. My sister has some relatives in OKC--I'll see if they know any adults in your area.

Alishia said...

Just read The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day. She concludes that we all know what she calls the "long loneliness" and that the only solution is community. I confess that I frequently feel most alone in certain communities--even those with which I am familiar. And yet sometimes I am most gratified by time spent in community. There's the rub.

The Cottage Child said...

it's better to be tools together than tools rattling around on their own.

I laughed. So true. My husband and I have reached that glorious time of year when we have our annual fight. It's always an impasse, an exercise in acceptance of our both being wrong, and your Flannery O'Connor caliber observation is our regular conclusion, 15 years running.

liz said...

Several years ago I began praying the prayer, "Lord, conform my heart and mind to Yours." The feeling of isolation from others has only grown from there. I've come to think it might be inevitable. That doesn't make it any easier however.

Ashley said...

Hmm . . . I thought this feeling of loneliness would go away as I got older, but it looks like that might not be the case. I agree that attempting to live a spiritual life does put distance between you and others. And being an introvert by nature doesn't help either. I'm glad I have my husband to confide in but sometimes I want another woman my age, with similar values, to talk too. Unfortunately that's hard to find, which makes me grateful for the internet. It gives me some vague sense of community even if I'm mostly an "observer."

LazyBones said...

I've been spending far too much time pondering my alone-ness while feeling sorry for myself lately. I don't usually think about what other people can do to fix it--who might the other people be? Part of the problem is that ARE no other people! The other part is that I'm working alone, and have no one to bounce ideas off of, so I frequently feel incompetent, and I hate feeling incompetent. But there's really no way around incompetence. You just go through it, and develop competence in the process. I hate waiting. But feeling sorry for myself certainly isn't making the time pass any faster! Or developing new competencies. And I'm not as incompetent as I sulk that I am on my worst days. All this naval-gazing to say that I related to this post on a number of levels.

Dorian Speed said...

What's been weighing on me of late, largely driven by the Massive Downer that is Facebook during an election year, is that my life is not actually moving along smoothly to a point where all of my diverse friends and family start getting along and enjoying one another's company - like a never-ending wedding reception. It's not all going to work itself out.

In fact, all of these little groups sort of hate each other, and probably will continue to do so.

The sentence "We get along great as long as we never talk about anything that matters" seems to sum up a great many of my interactions.

I know this probably makes no sense; I have only had 2/7 of my cup of coffee. I'm thinking about sending out an email newsletter that consists of five paragraphs of bemoaning the state of the world today and ends with, "Anyway, but Happy Valentine's Day!"

BettyDuffy said...

What keeps coming back to me this morning, is that this Catholic blogosphere is, really, a jewel without price. It has issues sometimes, but-- internal issues--they can be reasoned with, or at least judged by a common principle.

Wade out just a little bit further, and you realize how truly alone you are. Gosh. I love you guys. I'm not even drunk.

Marcia said...

(((Betty))) Looking forward to meeting you in person next month! :) And I hope to drink a whole cup of coffee with you.

Jenny said...

In fact, all of these little groups sort of hate each other, and probably will continue to do so.

The sentence "We get along great as long as we never talk about anything that matters" seems to sum up a great many of my interactions.