Betty Duffy

Friday, March 23, 2012

Quick Takes: A Day in the life of a Madwoman

Nine a.m., and I was walking around the dew-shot yard in my pajamas, with bed-head, a cup of coffee in one hand and an assault rifle in the other.

Not a real assault rifle--a bee bee gun that belongs to my oldest son who wanted to hunt squirrels before Mass, but it sort of looks how I imagine an assault rifle would look, and holding it for him as he put away his bike, the first sentence of this paragraph came to mind.

It sounded like the start of something, but really, where can a mom with a gun actually go?

Look at me, holding a gun. I'm just one of them country people who takes their coffee with a gun (though coffee is a much more useful weapon in my arsenal, and I've only actually shot a real gun once or twice).

I felt like I should be on guard. A woman with a gun should have an enemy in sight, and rather than taking aim at the children, I became suspicious of the flowers.

The peach tree blooming, the hyacinths, and forsythia--even roses starting to leaf out--made me feel like someone was lying to me. Too many flowers, too soon--this is a false Spring. It's going to end badly.

"It just don't seem right," said the check-out lady at Wal-mart when I asked how she liked this gorgeous weather. Everyone in Indiana takes in the good March weather with a not-so-hidden sense of apocalyptic dread.

I had just spent forty-five minutes walking through the aisles looking for note cards, to be used in a report on the state of Illinois, a report that one little boy has known about for three weeks, but only mentioned the night before it was due.

I passed a thousand miniature televisions on the end of every aisle that run commercials on repeat twenty-four hours a day, but I could not find the note cards.

The commercial woman is always brown-haired and friendly looking, approximately my own age, with a familiar voice. She wants me to buy toothpaste and fill prescriptions, I think, though I rarely look at her. I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on the co-relation and frequency of suicidal thoughts while shopping at Wal-mart.

"It just don't seem right" that the sun is out? That there are flowers, and warm breezes, and the air is scented with lilac? THAT don't seem right to you? And yet, this dumb store, where it takes forty-five minutes to find the note-cards, is just AOK?

Hearing that someone else had suspicion of the weather made me think the weather is the under-dog. Someone had to stick up for it. "It will be fine! The weather will be fine!"

Lord, why am I so fickle? Why so critical? Why the same dumb sins over and over again.

Even my discouragement is tiresome.

Driving home from Wal-mart, two older ladies shuffled alongside each other on the walking trail, their two big bottoms accommodated by slacks with a high elastic waistband. Those bottoms weren't going anywhere fast, and I thought, "Damn--that's my soul--a big, stubborn, unchangeable butt."

I've got to do something crazy to shake out of it. A forty day juice fast!

When I got home to unload all the bags of not-juice I threw in the cart on my quest for note cards, the note cards I had finally located were nowhere to be found. I sat down to cut fifty notecards out of paper. Sort of wanted to shoot something.

"I'm just doing what the Church prescribes," said Pedge when I asked how HER Lent was going. "No meat on Fridays. Making a sacrifice and sticking to it. Being grateful. It doesn't have to be crazy. Just do what the Church prescribes and trust God."

No juice-fast, then?

Trust God it is, then. Let the weather be what it will be. Let people feel how they will feel. Let my crazy wear off, as it always does eventually. Chip away at the big unchangeable butt with the slow, steady diet that the Church prescribes.

I think there really is something about Lent that's more difficult in my old age.

More quick takes here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Prize for Pain

When I was preparing to give birth to one of my kids, my OB asked if I'd be wanting the epidural. I told her I wanted to try it naturally this time, and she put down her clipboard, turned around to face me and said, "You know, there's no prize for enduring the most pain."

Read the rest at Patheos

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Strange Alliances

I tried to move the kids towards clearing the table, and brushing their teeth for bed, but no one moved. My voice rose in pitch, and it became unclear to whom I was speaking, so my husband sent me out for a walk, which I was more than happy to take.

I enjoy claiming the dusk hour as my own, necessary for recollection at the end of the day, though it's hard to tell what hour I wouldn't claim for my own if given a chance to claim them all. In any case, the hour was given, and I accepted, and made for the river with the dog.

The dog has required a ritual cleansing each night since he rolled in something dead Sunday afternoon, and necrotic odors still follow him wherever he goes. He can be an annoying dog, but he's handsome, and when he trots into the river, and swims out to tread water against the oncoming current, I feel a comforting sense that at least one created being is doing exactly what he was meant to do. Being and vocation are united in him, and it's a moment of encouragement, however brief.

Everyone and everything else are in flux. The water is high and fast in the Spring, calling to mind a Hebrew word my friend Karly taught me, "rishrush" for a rustling, sometimes associated with running water. The grass greens up, and the atmosphere closes in under the clouds, so that the burnt odor coming off the fiberglass factory recalls cookies baking in a damp kitchen. Venus and Jupiter have aligned in the night sky. Love and the Law, making a temporary alliance, moving further away from the earth as they set, and yet closer together as they go.

And the liturgical season offers some of the most memorable phrases of the year. "Now is a very acceptable time," (2 Corinthians 6) though I often think the contrary. "Why is this night different from all other nights?"(--from the Passover Seder). And from Genesis (37:19-20), regarding Joseph, the beloved son: "Here comes the Master Dreamer!…Let's kill him!" I wonder what it would have been like to live in a time when "master of dreams" was an insult.

Oh, Lent. It's the season of the bitter herb, and of lamb's blood, vinegar and salt water to taste. We are being led out of Egypt, freed from slavery. Yet the movement is a challenge, always towards liberation, never fully free--ritually cleansed, but still smelling of decay.

The kids, of course, are loving it. They spill out into the yard, pulling every item we've non-sensibly chosen to store in the shed, out onto the lawn to test its capabilities to serve as chariot or sword. The older boys have taken over the dolly--the wheeled cart for lifting heavy things-- and the eldest has convinced the next to yoke himself to it, and pull him around the yard. There are drivers, and the driven, the Brain and the Body.

I tell the younger, "You don't have to do what he tells you."

"I want to though" he replies, trudging breathless out towards the fence line, with the Brain sitting magisterially behind him, noshing on Cheerios out of the box.

Still, it's a better game plan than their winter one, when the Brain sat upstairs reconfiguring passwords on the Nook, while the Body was sent downstairs to fetch a credit card out of my wallet, so they could purchase 30 dollars worth of Star Wars books. Two little boys went to Confession that day, and received the opportunity to sponsor a poor child from the Third World rather than Legos for their birthdays.

My father had a similar friendship when he was a kid with a small, smart boy, who would arrange fights between my dad and the neighborhood bullies with the phrase, "Let's you and him fight." Driver--driven, Brain--body, and the body does for love what the brain does for gain. Venus and Jupiter, strangely paired. All of us in bondage.

Of course, it all comes together in Christ, somehow, though I can't think how at the moment. My sister-in-law tells me never to go into a metaphor you don't know your way out of, and I think I've managed to confuse myself with too many metaphors all together.

The brain must learn empathy, the body, discernment. Venus and Jupiter, love and the law, move closer to one another as they retreat from Earth and advance towards the Heavens. There is a body offered in my stead (let's you and him fight), but it requires me to unite my own inevitable bodily suffering with that of the Slave, and be a willing slave too.

All I can say is hurry up, Lord. Lent seems interminable, and I'm impatient for the work to be accomplished.

Monday, March 12, 2012

This is called a bed

We haven't had a real bed, with legs and posts and rails, for ten years. We've had a mattress on the floor.

When I returned from the Behold Conference yesterday, my husband had completed this beauty, and set it up for admiration. This is actually the prototype he built in preparation to build our actual bed. It's made out of hand turned hard wood with a red lacquer finish. He just wanted to practice making a bed before he actually made a bed, which as you can see, was probably not necessary.

I think we're going to sell it on Craig's list, but if you know anyone who's looking for a very fine queen sized bed, drop me a line.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Growing pains

It's par for the course this time of year, that the Midwest is experiencing "weather." It's neither Winter, nor Spring, yet sometimes it's both in the course of a single day. Temps in the 70s were pushed out by the tornados this weekend, and yesterday we woke up to snow. You can't count on anything, during these growing pains. The weather is your pubescent teenager, your second year of marriage, the first glint of alzheimer's in your aging parent.

As I drove the kids to school this morning, and the sun's out again, it threatens to be Spring more than Winter from here on out. I can't help feeling hopeful.

The book shipped this weekend, THE book, the much anticipated book to which I had the honor of contributing, the book that looks at different aspects of being a Catholic woman in the 21st century through the prism of experience provided by ten very different women. I brought the box of books in from my doorstep, ripped it open and read it, starting with my chapter, and from there, cover to cover.

With my own chapter, I felt a bit of disappointment. Even my mom said, "It contained more restraint than I usually associate with your writing." And I thought, "That's no good. It's the sex chapter. It's supposed to break through the membrane of silence that surrounds the sex lives of Catholic women."

The other chapters were fantastic. I closed the book, excited about my prospects as a Catholic woman, fired up, ready to go write a screenplay about my life with a Rocky soundtrack. And I had the pleasure of seeing what my editor could see all along, how my narrative fit into this book as a whole.

What I see in the book as a whole, is the onset of a season of hope.

Earlier in the winter, we had the shake-up with the HHS mandate. Everyone in the secular media kept pointing to the fact that even Catholics are not Catholic. Catholics co-habitate. Catholics use birth control. Catholic women work, and they want contraceptive coverage. All of which are true statements.

We live in what many have termed a post-Christian world. The age of the Cradle Catholic just might be over.

But that also means we're working on similar ground as the earliest Christian converts. People are tired of the gender war, and the culture war, and the war within the self when the soul isn't satisfied with complete bodily liberation. There are so many opportunities in this age for Saul to fall off his horse, for the scales to fall from the eyes. We're all converts now.

We live in a time of Divine Mercy and conversion. Few of us have a spotless sexual track record, or have always been certain of our identity as Christian women. Few of us have always had confidence in our motherhood, have always known how to pray, or have always nurtured our marriages and friendships.

I think the book shows that there is another way to live; a new life can take root in the wake of failure and disappointment. And this can happen whether we were baptized as infants, or claimed our faith in adulthood.

So, while "take off your clothes," is very good advice indeed for the beginner looking to accomplish intercourse with their husband, I hope you won't be reading the sex chapter with the hopes of adding a plethora of sex tips to your arsenal. Like all the chapters in the book, the sex chapter is about bringing every area of your life into the light. It's about being balanced in favor of the authentically Catholic. It's about shaking up previously held notions, enduring the growing pains, and beginning fresh.

It really is a great book. I can't wait for you to read it.

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