Betty Duffy

Monday, February 27, 2012

See you March 10?

I expect posting to slow down in this space for the rest of Lent. Though, I don't know. I'm a contrarian, so sometimes just saying I'm not going to write brings on the compulsion. Anyway, I've got stuff I need to do, and I'm going to try and do it.

But I am going to the Behold Conference in a couple weeks, and hopefully some of you will be there too. Registration goes until Thursday of this week--so there's still time.

I swore off lady conferences for awhile, and then I felt sad and left out when all the fun people were at the Faith and Family Conference last year. All the pictures started turning up on Facebook then, of people eating pizza together and speaking into microphones, and wearing name tags, and I thought, "Never again will I stubbornly sit at home while lady conferences of my favorite bloggers are going on."

In addition to the featured bloggers, I'm very excited to meet Jamie, and to hit the road again with Mrs. Darwin.

And to top it off, I'm bringing a cooler of stuff I gave up for Lent.

If you're anywhere near the Midwest, and you're a lady, register today!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Moarte, moarte, moarte, moarte, moarte, moarte, MOARTE!

It seems like I remember a drinking game where people would put a post-it note on their foreheads bearing the name of a particular public personage, and the other participants in the game would provide clues and characteristics, so that each player could guess whose name they bore on their own foreheads. I'm always reminded of this game, or some version of it, on Ash Wednesday.

One goes up, get the ashes, and even after roughly thirty years of this ritual, I'm still tempted to brush it away before anyone sees it. I'm dust. I'm going to walk around all day long with dust on my face to tell myself, and everyone I encounter today that one day, maybe sooner, maybe later, I'm going to die.

And then I look around the Church after Mass, and people are sort of talking in their pews. The school secretary with her richly-marvelous smoker's voice, calling the older church ladies "Hon"--she's going to die. I see it there on her forehead.

It sort of goes without saying that the old folks are going to die: grey hair, wrinkles, stooped carriage--signs that mark the aged with perpetual ashes. Sooner, rather than later.

And my kids genuflecting on their way out of Church, in line with their classmates, each one marked with a reminder of death on their carefree brows. They also will return to dust.

A corpus of future corpses leaving the Church--"I'm Nobody! Who are you?/ Are you--Nobody--too?"* Of course you are. Have a good day! Happy Ash Wednesday (and by that we mean God speed in your practice of total bodily mortification)!

I always look forward to Lent (and Heaven) with a combination of both fear and longing. Won't it be great when I order my life completely towards God? And won't it be terrible giving up all that stuff?

"And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well. The child cries out when from the right breast the mother takes it away to find in the very next moment its consolation in the left one."
--Rabindranath Tagore

I leave you with this gentle reminder of how to live in the interim, compliments of the Cubeland Mystic:

*Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


In our house growing up, there was a plaque on the wall in the upstairs bathroom. It was one of those faux-parchment papers with burned edges, glued to a block of wood, on which a poem was printed by hand. "Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort…" read the first line, and many a body in the family, feeling the relief of abdominal tension while sitting in that bathroom, mouthed the words, or perhaps said them aloud.

In the lull that followed, however, one might ponder the rest of the poem, and wonder why Mom ever hung it there. Was it a poem so meaningful to her, she hung it in the one spot where all of her offspring were certain to memorize it?

The poem went on about the comfort "of having neither to weigh thoughts, nor measure words, but pouring them all outright, just as they are, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away."

I just wrote that from memory. But perhaps more than committing the words to memory, I took them to heart.

I started keeping a diary when I was about eleven. My mother suggested I start writing to cure a weird childhood insomnia that kept me up late nights worrying that I was going to pee in my sleep, even though I'd not wet the bed since I was out of diapers.

When I was struck by pee-phobia, I would go stand by Mom and Dad's bed, and wait for them to wake up, which was weird, and when they did, often terrified by the stranger looming at their bedside, I'd say, "I can't sleep…" which is a phrase that, as a mother, I've come to associate with a caustic sense of annoyance.

"You can't sleep? Could it be because you're standing beside my bed rather than lying in your own?"

I wonder how many nights of sleep I pulverized for my mother before she suggested I write down my feelings rather than bringing them to her attention. I remember her saying something like, "How about for the next week, on the nights you can't sleep, write down what happened before you went to bed. Then we'll see if we can figure out what's causing it."

It was an ingenious solution. I stayed in bed rather than waking Mom up. I felt like I was participating in a scientific study. I'd write until I got tired, or until I realized that indeed, I did NOT have to go the bathroom. And eventually, pee-phobia went away.

I also developed this habit of writing down EVERYTHING that ever happens to me. And perhaps a new phobia was born--a phobia that events might occur without the proper documentation. Words took on an inordinate value to me. The volume of the words was more important to me than what they actually said. I liked to fill up composition books, and stack them, side by side. I write small, but I started writing even smaller, two lines to one on a college ruled notebook.

Then I'd look at all those words and feel like I'd done something with myself, something worthy. I had provided the evidence. I just needed someone to analyze it.

Where was the faithful hand? Who would take and sift all those words, and keep what's worth keeping? What a job.

When I was about twenty-two, I let a soul friend (you get only a few in a lifetime) read some of those words.

"Have you ever thought about filtering what you choose to write down?" she asked me. The thought had not occurred to me. But I read back over what I'd let her read, and realized that, yes, a filter was greatly needed, and that the filter was going to have to be me.

I am currently in the process of filtering some of that old stuff, to keep what's worth keeping. I wish I had known in my youth that the future me would not be impressed by tiny writing, that the future me might appreciate double spaced print, that the future me wouldn't need every bit of evidence, particularly about what made the former me have to pee.

There's a learning curve in writing, not least of which involves honing the filter.

I was talking to Pedge about a combox debacle on a piece I wrote for Patheos (Darwin has written a nice summary of it). I felt a great temptation to get into the combox and fight to be understood. Aside from the fact that arguing with some people is futile, Pedge pointed out that the experience offers a good opportunity for reflection: In politics, particularly in the debates, politicians never bring up conversations they don't want to have. And if somehow, the conversation goes in unwanted directions, they either ignore the diversion altogether, or keep bringing it back to the conversation they do want to have.

It's a sad commentary when writers look to politicians for advice on the craft, but it's a challenge of modern writing platforms that no longer is the author an untouchable mythical being who lives in some backwoods hut pouring out words upon more words, with a loyal editor faithfully guarding the brand.

Now writers are an internet presence. They can dialogue with their readers. They have to keep coming back and interacting, if not physically, then at least emotionally with the response if their audience. Never has it been more tempting to abandon the filter. And yet never has it been more necessary to exercise restraint.

I read a review recently about an author who wrote novels in the earlier part of the Twentieth Century. His corpus has been largely dismissed by critics, primarily because he was too prolific. He wrote a large number of novels, many of them not good ones, but a handful, the present reviewer asserted, were worthy of a much wider readership and critical notice.

Have you ever happened upon a blog, read a few sentences of the top post, and dismissed it? Have you read comments by people, trying to dialogue in a combox, been put off by their grammar, and dismissed them? Have you ever read a tweet by an author you enjoy, and then found yourself completely disillusioned with their work? There is so much information online, that if writers don't filter their own words, then readers will. And readers can be much less forgiving.

In a world with so much small print, with so many words put out at such high speed and volume, the old poem on the bathroom wall seems terribly naive. Not only is "the breath of kindness" nearly absent from the internet, but ninety nine percent of what goes into my brain simply has to be dismissed at some point, due to an economy of neurons, which means I'm constantly either weighing the value of words, or completely ignoring them.

This fact struck me the other day, when for the first time in weeks, I paid attention to the words of the Hail Holy Queen. I'd been slogging through a couple days feeling alienated by the world, only to realize that the exact words I needed to affirm my condition were right there on my own lips, several times a day: "After this our exile, show us unto the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus."

There are certain words we can hear every day of our lives that never lose their meaning, that always have the ability to draw us into deeper reflection, even to change our lives. The priest says the words of the Transubstantiation at Mass, and Christ becomes present in the Eucharist. Through words, the repentant sinner receives absolution for his sins.

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was made flesh. It dwelt among us.

For a Catholic, words have meaning. They have a body. They have life. We're very thoughtful about the words we use to pray. If they are not the words of Christ himself, they are the words of those closest to him: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior." Catholics pray the words of apostles, of saints, of a deliberate and carefully considering bride, the Church.

Clearly, not every airy word that falls off my keyboard carries the weight of this voice, but more and more, I want to choose my words with the same careful consideration the Church practices, if not to teach or to pray, then just to last.

Came across this passage in Saturday's Daily Readings--something to think about during Lent:

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, for we all fall short in many respects. If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. ….the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions.

Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this need not be so."
--(James 3:1-10)

Friday, February 17, 2012

A note:

Pentimento has a post up about a sibling group of seven children who are up for adoption in the state of Indiana. I'm joined with her in praying that they find a good placement.

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.

Friday, February 3, 2012


Quick takes

Oh, how much I needed Father Robert Barron's Seven deadly Sins series. Guest posting for The Anchoress, I started the week flying so high because Mark Steyn linked to a post, and my husband thought I was cool, and housework was such an inconvenience to me because I was a Very Important Blogger who had all kinds of profound things to say that would shake the world out of its complacency.

By the end of the week, angry representatives from the manosphere were calling me dirty names for lady parts and I'd email Elizabeth Scalia and say, "Why don't we just take that one down?" She kept writing back, "Do not be afraid! Taking it down is out of the question."

I'd think, "Do not be afraid. What does that even mean?" I cannot just fabricate courage and fortitude.

But I remembered Father Barron's talk about how fear finds its origins in pride. The antidote to my fear was not to try and lift myself up higher, but to get closer to the ground. I said the litany of humility "That in the opinion of the world, others may increase, and I may decrease…" and if nothing else, I had confidence that God was answering my prayer, because it is just so very true that I am not The Shit.

The best things in my life are my family and my faith, and the sort of unexpected thing about experiencing public disapproval is the way it causes you to adhere to those most important things more closely.

My husband comes home from work, and I just want to fold myself into him. You look at the kids and think, "You people are so, so good." You go to Adoration, and you've got nothing to say; you just want to sit in the lap of the Papa. It's an edifying experience in the best way, not chastising, but an invitation to deeper love and more affection for the first things.

I enjoyed Hallie's post about thinking the best of people at all times. It reminded me of a time that I would have gone to hell defending an accusation I wanted to make towards someone, and I called my friend Pedge to air it out and voice my sense of injustice, and she sat back in the silence that followed my rant and said, "The Blessed Mother would give them the benefit of the doubt."

And I thought, "Why? Because she's gullible?" But I kept thinking about it, and on what quality of Mary's allows her to think the best of people--and again, it's this humility. Practicing charity is always more important than being right.

And I think about situations with my kids where I've had pretty good evidence that they're fibbing, but giving them the benefit of the doubt edifies them as well. If someone thinks the best of you, sometimes (but not always) you want to live up to it.

All things work for the good. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt seems more difficult than being right. But a fight can go on indefinitely between strong willed people. When one person surrenders, however, it's over. How easy is that?

And strangely, even being on the wrong side of someone's lack of charity still works for the good--because you may remember who you are, and how inconsequential it is when someone's found a way to insult you.

From the desire of being loved...
extolled ...
honored ...
praised ...
preferred to others...
consulted ...
approved ...

Lord Jesus, free me.

One of my kids got in trouble at school, and after I had expressed my disapproval of his actions, I became dissatisfied with the way the school handled it. I sent a snippy email, to which his teacher responded, explaining her response in more detail, and then I felt bad, because her response made sense. Now I was in the unfortunate position of having to show my face again at the school, after I had made a pest of myself.

I envisioned pulling all the kids out of school, then and there. I would just home school them so I never had to experience the discomfort of facing that teacher again. But I read somewhere that any time the soul chooses to isolate rather than to embrace, it is the ego. I had already made a jerk of myself, now my choices were being the humble jerk who keeps coming back, or the arrogant jerk who goes into hiding.

Humility: the jerk who keeps coming back.

I got together with my girlfriends yesterday to read this Sunday's readings:

"When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to Jesus all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door." (Mark 1:29-39)

The whole town.

All of us.


It's so difficult to remember, that even when I think I have a point to make, everyone's sick, probably me most of all, in ways I haven't even recognized yet.

I sent my sister a package this morning full of boxer shorts because there's no Walmart in Guam, and all of her boys need skivvies. Giving people gifts is not my love language. I've never been a Christmas card sender, or a sign of appreciation giver--or let's just say it--I'm not very thoughtful.

I had another package to send out as well, and I really enjoyed organizing the contents of the packages, writing notes, putting it all together and mailing it out. There is a seratonin bump to be had in being thoughtful, for sure. I felt efficient, yet tender, generous with my time, yet satisfied with how I spent it.

Do not be afraid to kill the ego. There's a life hiding behind it.