Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wait For Sunrise

I gave up watching television series on Netflix for Lent.

It's been a good thing so far, mostly, but it does mean that when I'm awake at three in the morning I have to find other things to do, which means that you, my readers, must suffer more long and rambling three-in-the-morning posts.  I apologize for the imposition.

Today was a good day.  So was yesterday, and so was the day before.  There have been so many good days recently that I begin to worry I won't know what to do with a bad one when it eventually comes along.  

But then there are the three o' clock nights to keep me humble.

A little less than a year ago I wrote this post.  It's incredible how much has changed since then, really.  I have a job I love, teaching online classes to nerdy homeschoolers.  I have a beautiful black marshmallow cat whose favorite thing in the world is to jump up on my lap whenever I sit down, curl up with her nose in the crook of my arm, and purr.  The classics degree is still a distant dream, but my flat is cleaner than it's been in months, and now there's a guy.  I won't say more about that just now--only that I feel and am so very, very blessed, these days.

But there are still the three o' clock nights.

Dragons don't really go away.  

I'm not being pessimistic, I'm not being cynical.  If there were no dragons there would be no excitement, no honor, no thrill of danger and no glory of conquest.  I wouldn't really know the good days if there were no bad ones; I wouldn't cherish the nights full of sleep if it weren't for this three o' clock.  

I want my dragons.  I want my three o' clock nights.  I want the hours of darkness, because they let me see, from my gutter, the stars.  

Gethsemane, the most beautiful place in the world, is all around us.  This is my hour to watch.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Here's A Bad Theological Analogy For You

She has always been called just Puff, but it sounds ever so much more elegant in the Latin, so I'm christening her Aura for the time being.

I've been meaning to get a cat for ages now.  Aren't single women who live in apartments and write poetry on the internet supposed to have them?  For Christmas my family teamed up to help meet some of the initial costs of kitty-ownership I couldn't cover, which was so lovely of them it nearly made me cry.  Then there was the tremendous decision of whether to adopt a kitten from a shelter, wait till summer when there are usually a few local farms with litters needing to be homed, or just take one of my family's outdoor cats.

They've had more cats than I can count over the years, mainly for the purpose of keeping the barn rodent-free.  Some of them have had kittens, and then the kittens have grown up and had kittens of their own, creating whole feline dynasties whose complicated interrelationships only the brave dare attempt to tabulate.  Rainy, the grey-haired matriarch of the clan, was for many years the only one allowed indoors, as she could, like any good queen, be counted upon to behave with civility and dignity.

She was basically the cat version of Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey.

Most of the cats, including Her Majesty, have been of the sleek, slight, shorthaired variety which suits itself to barn life.  One of the kittens a few litters back, though, must have got something different in her genetic makeup, because when my younger siblings were going through their Obvious Name Phase of pet ownership (Googly Eyes, White Face, and Mister Tabby are some mementos of that age), she got called simply Puff, and Puff has remained ever since.

She looks like nothing so much as a large black marshmallow with a tail tacked on one end and two green eyes on the other.

She never did well as a barn cat.  Her long fur was always clumped and matted, with twigs and burrs clinging to it, and she had a sort of frantic, troubled air, as if perpetually on the edge of a nervous breakdown.  Since she wasn't allowed inside, she spent most of her time by the front door, alternately skittering away or mewing for attention whenever someone opened it.  Every spring, the marshmallow fur would start to fall out, not gradually but all at once, whole carpets of snarls and lumps hanging away from the skin, which looked very odd and not a little disturbing, and seemed to make her even more unbalanced than usual.

I brought her to my place tonight.  She was most distressed to be locked up in a crate, and mewed quite tragically all the way home.  When I let her out into my flat she seemed afraid of everything and hid under my bed for the first twenty minutes.  Then it dawned on her that she was indoors, a place she had never been allowed before, and she went a little crazy, rolling about, rubbing her face on the doorframes and kneading the carpet frantically, and crawling up on my lap again and again to be petted.

It reminded me of Corduroy the bear: "I think I've always wanted to live in a palace!"

Presently she calmed down a bit, curled up in a corner and began working some of those everlasting knots from her fur, something I hadn't seen her bother with in a long time.

I think this is a bit like how God must feel when someone dies and He gets to bring them into heaven.  For Him it's a tired and wounded soul, for me it's a black marshmallow cat.  Dying, getting stuffed in a crate.  Heaven, a flat with junk everywhere and a kitchen full of dirty dishes.  Sin, a bunch of burrs in your fur.  You even get a new name.

I think we're going to get along, Aura and I.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Superlatives

These are days when even the smallest of accomplishments, like brushing my teeth, or making the epic trek to the coffee shop for a spot of breakfast and human interaction, are worth celebrating.

My Mom says I think in black and white.  It would be perhaps more accurate to say I think in superlatives.  Things are either the best or the worst, thrilling or excruciating or wondrous or harrowing--never just goodish or okay.  And when I do something, whether it's thinking or writing or teaching or hiking or crocheting an afghan, I always want to do it more or further or differently than anyone has before.  I want to find something new, make something astonishing, be something brave.

Perhaps it comes of having a large vocabulary.  Average is such a boring word.

But in these days, these short dark days of midwinter when brain and body rebel against the lack of warmth and sun, my superlatives work against me.  The Pit of Despair is far too ready a cliche--and though I don't mind cliches as a rule, I'd rather not live in one.  So pitlike and despairy, with no running water or anything.

Just makes it that much harder to brush my teeth.

So I try to lay aside the superlatives, at least a little, and to be content (another boring word) with the reality of accomplishing very little things, in very short spurts and with many rests.  More than that, to congratulate myself for doing so.  To celebrate it.  Because I have made the effort.  I have kept on trying.  I haven't given up or given in.

Perhaps the superlatives are useful these days after all.

I mean, suppose I were to judge the things I do, not on their impact on the world at large (who cares about that anyway) but on what goes into them?

If the amount of effort spent on a task were reflected in its impressiveness, I've probably climbed Mount Everest at least once this winter.  I've definitely slain a few dragons.  Maybe written a novel or two.  Probably gone whitewater rafting, and ballooning, and to Mars.

I can live with that.  I can live with a trip to Mars.

The folks there know just how I take my coffee.  It's great.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Can't Hurry Love

Every year, between Christmas and New Year, my family organizes a ball with all our friends and acquaintances from under The Hill and over The Hill and across The Water.  A playlist to end all playlists is made, there's a chocolate fountain, and we dance for five or six hours straight, starting with formal-ish waltz and jive which slowly morph into a raucous freestyle by the end of the night.  It's wonderful.

My one sister is going with her fiance and my other sister is going with her boyfriend of a year and a half and I'm half-ashamed to admit that I so, so want someone to go with, not just anyone, but someone obvious like that, someone to make silly inside jokes with and laugh till our stomachs hurt, and mess up the dance steps but not care because we're having too much fun, and cuddle in the corner and take smiling formalwear photos with and kiss goodbye at the end of the night.

Some years I don't go because I want those things so badly and it hurts that I don't have them, and I am ashamed of that too.

Because I know: that thing I want, it's not the most important thing.  I don't need it in order to love God, or fulfill my duties, or be a wonderful, learned, joyful, fascinating, interesting, holy person.  It's not my time yet, and it may never be my time, and that's okay.

But I want it, and I want it so badly that sometimes I can't think about anything else, and sometimes I can't hang out with my sisters and their fiances and boyfriends because being the third (or fifth) wheel all the time makes me want to cry, and sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with me, if I am really so awkward or ugly or off-putting that no one will ever want to miss the steps with me, and if maybe I'll die alone in a flat that smells of cats, and sometimes I am angry with a God who has the divine gall to think He can decide the state of my love life and never mind what I think about it.

Sometimes I feel as if I can't possibly be whole as long as I am on my own.  Or as if it is all my fault because I didn't try hard enough, or did the wrong thing somehow without intending it.

I'm going to the ball this year.  I'm going to put on my prettiest dress and do my hair and nails and makeup, and I'm going to dance alone if I have to, and mess up the steps and laugh and joke with my sisters, and let my little brother try to do a lighthouse spin even though he's too short to twirl me under his arm.  I'm going to have fun.

Then I'm going to come home and put on my comfy jammies, and make a mug of tea, and pray or watch Buffy or cry, whichever helps.

And wait.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Day Before Christmas Eve

The world is tired today.

I went shopping for some last-minute Christmas gifts (read: most of them).  The shelves in the stores are in disarray and half-empty, the cashiers are strained and tired from working long shifts, and the shoppers, so many shoppers, harried and brusque, annoyed by the crowds of which they're a part, focused on finding that last item that will make Christmas Day perfect for them or a loved one.

I had to stop by the welfare office, too, and everyone there was grumpy.  The security guard was grumpy because one of the gentlemen inside had parked his electric wheelchair in the wrong place, the gentleman was grumpy because she told him so, and the lady behind the desk was very grumpy indeed because apparently you can't be intelligent enough to be an online tutor and still have trouble understanding your government paperwork, and if you say you do then it means you are most likely a fraud and are trying to rip off the government.

It's such an unpleasant, embarrassing place to have to be, especially this time of year.  I wanted to buy everyone there a hot chocolate and tell them it would be okay.  (Except maybe the lady behind the desk who made me cry, she might just get a chocolate ball or something.)  And the shoppers, and the workers in the shops, and the old men who stand on the street corner downtown or at the edge of the highway with hats in their hands, begging.  I'd like to buy hot chocolate for the whole world and tell it things will be okay.

But I can't, and they won't.  This world is too broken even for all of the hot chocolate to fix.  When I ask God a million times a day if everything will be okay, I know it won't.  There will still be things that hurt, and people that cry, or die, or hurt themselves or other people.  Even Christmas Day won't be perfect, despite all our efforts to make it so.  One person in my family will snap at another, or burn the gravy, or spill wine on their new shirt.  Someone will cry.  Somewhere, someone we don't know will die, or hurt himself or someone else and be so very not okay, even though we all want so badly for this time of year to be happy for everybody.

After River Song gave up all her regenerations to bring the Doctor back to life, Amy asked if she'd be okay.  And the Doctor replied with one of my favorite quotes ever--he said, "No."

"She'll be amazing."

We're never going to be okay.  I'm not, you're not, nobody is.  Okay is for stuffed animals, mannequins, and the smiling people on billboards: things that can't hurt, and can't love or hope or be happy either, because they have no feelings.

But amazing?  That, we are.  Not because of anything we've done, but because we are.  With all our capacity for hurt and love and hope and joy, we choose to keep on being.  We don't let the hurt, the not-okayness, have the last word--partly because we're a bunch of stubborn idiots, and partly because we have something better than okayness to hope for.

Jesus wasn't okay.  Things went wrong for Him from beginning to end.  And when things go wrong here, when someone snaps or spills the wine or burns the gravy, I think He smiles.

"Here," He says.  "I came up with this stuff.  It's called hot chocolate.  Try some."

"You'll love it," He says.  "It's amazing."

And we do.  And it is.

And so are we.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Risks

I love the days when the fatigue is bad enough that I wonder if I can manage the walk home from the grocery store, and find myself praying that I don't keel over halfway there and spill my groceries all over the sidewalk because people spit on the sidewalk and spit has germs and I don't want to use mustard from a bottle that might have touched somebody else's germs even though I love mustard.

I love the days when it's dark at four and I go on a bike ride in the beautiful rain and get wigged out because I can't see the path and because let's face it, I get wigged out easily.

I love when I'm a little dizzy from the meds and come this close to a massive wipeout that would almost definitely wreck my favorite pair of jeans.

I love taking the first sip of my Americano never knowing if Starbucks might have accidentally made it not decaf like they did that one time and I had a panic attack in the middle of my Latin lesson.

I love when I haven't done any housework all day because I'm a professional procrastinator and then at seven in the evening something happens and I just decide I'm going to wash my dishes, darn it, and I do.

Sometimes I even take out the garbage, too, and feel like a total badbutt because I just know the fruit fly population fears me.

I love it when I look someone in the eye, which is hard because people are so intense all the time, and they look back and smile and it was worth it after all.

I love when life is just insane enough to make me feel alive.

I know, I know.  Never let it be said that this girl is not a risk-taker.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Intolerable

As a kid, did you ever wonder if maybe the way you perceive the world is fundamentally different from how everybody else perceives it?  Like maybe what you call red, someone else sees as what you call green, but you'll never know if they do or not because you both refer to the first color as red.  Or maybe when someone else eats a pickle, they taste what you taste when you eat cilantro, and that's the reason not everyone likes pickles.

I've had one of those questions floating around my brain lately, so I'm going to share it with you here and maybe you can tell me if I've got it wrong--or at least try, keeping in mind that you might only be able to see it as red and I as what you call green.

It's this: what with all the preaching of tolerance these days, it sometimes seems as if people are willing to tolerate anything except intolerance.  

Now, I'm someone who tends to be closeminded, self-righteous, and not infrequently judgmental.  It's the product of a perfectionist personality, I think: it can make one harshly critical of both oneself and others.  

However, logically speaking, self-righteousness and judgment of other people only make sense if I believe myself to be better than other people.  I would like to believe myself better than other people, but I am frequently, like at least once a minute, reminded that I am not better than other people.  Hence, self-righteousness and judgmentalism have no place in my life.

I don't know about tolerance, though.  It just doesn't seem like enough.  All the wonderful people who exist around me, my friends and my little brothers and the homeless guy in front of the grocery store, how am I supposed to just tolerate them?  They don't need tolerance; they don't deserve tolerance; they deserve love.  They need love.  Anything less than that seems more like an insult than anything else.  You tolerate a hangnail, you don't tolerate a person.  You smile at them or hug them or share your pickles with them, whatever you can manage each moment to show them that they have worth.

Now, having absolved myself of the need for universal tolerance and replaced it with the much heavier need for universal love, I'm going to unburden myself a little further.

Here goes:

I'm okay with tolerant people. 

I'm also okay with intolerant people. 

But I am deeply, deeply not okay with self-professed tolerant people who won't tolerate the intolerants.  It's one of those inherent inconsistencies that drives my little logic sensors up the wall.  

Bigotry, I think, is no more nor less than thinking oneself better than others, whether because of one's beliefs, race, gender, political views, or anything else you can think of.  

Which means that it's just as possible to be a tolerance bigot as to be a religious bigot, racist bigot, sexist bigot, political bigot, or any other kind of bigot.  

All it takes is thinking your tolerance makes you better than other people.  

On that note, would you care for a pickle?  I have red ones and green ones.  You might have to help me figure out which are which.