Thursday, April 17, 2014

Of Heroes and Hollow Men

The first time I watched the last Star Wars movie, I cried.  It wasn't out of relief that the series was over or frustration at the terrible special effects or even cornily embarrassing sympathy for the characters' happy endings; it was because Luke ended up alone.  Hans had Leia and Leia had Hans, but Luke had no one.  He'd saved the universe and he didn't have anyone to share a victory kiss with.

That's the way it is with the great heroes of Story, most times.  Luke, Frodo, Cyrano.  Beowulf.  Joan of Arc.  I cry for them, I think, because it hurts me that they have to be.  I'm not alone in the sense that I have a wonderful, loving family and many devoted friends, but romantically, I've always been alone, and although I wouldn't choose otherwise, it does hurt.  Sometimes I've thought it was because God wanted me for Himself, either as a religious or consecrated woman living in the world; sometimes, that the right guy has to be out there somewhere and will come along in due time; sometimes I've felt entirely content to be single forever, and other times have thrown up my hands in frustration with God and His preposterous, ungovernable creation of romantic love.  But it does seem fitting.  The makers of stories have to be able to feel all that their characters feel, after all.  Artists, actors, writers of songs and poems and fables, we have to be hollowed out as it were, our insides chipped away by loss or failure or in my case, mental illness, to make room for all the joy and grief and love and despair we must feel, if our characters are to feel them.  Maybe you have to be hollowed out this way to be a mother or father or priest, too; I wouldn't know.  I only know that, whatever happens in that distant and nebulous place we call the future, it's fitting that I should be alone now.  I can't be a hero, but I must know what it's like to be one.

I was wondering why the heroes have to be alone.  Surely they've earned happiness on a human level, if anyone has.  But then I remembered: Christ was.  He won His Bride the Church when He died, but when He died, He was alone, as alone as alone can be.  He lets me hurt for the heroes and He lets me hurt for Him.  The stories all lead back to Him.  We makers of stories, we hollow ones, how blessed we are to be hollow, how blessed we are to be hurt.  To cry with grief when our Hero dies, and with happiness when He rises triumphant.  To carry all these things in our hearts, as Mary did.

Ride on, my heroes.  Ride in His wake.  Ride through His passion and His glory.  I will follow you, pen in hand.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

For St. Joseph


It's your feastday tomorrow, which is actually today now because I stayed up too late.  I thought it would be a good time to say some of the things I've been wanting to say to you.  There are quite a few, so brace yourself.

First of all, just so you know, if you were planning to confuse me this year, you've succeeded already, and we're only not even three months in.  You know those things I was praying to you about, the things I trusted you with because I know I can always count on you, because you've never not come through for me?  Well, they're not going so well.  I wasn't even talking to you for a while, I was so annoyed and frustrated and bothered and bewildered.  I don't know if you noticed, but anyway, sorry about that.  And I didn't really mean that about finding someone else to pray to from now on.  Well, I sort of did, but I'm over it now, obviously.

Remember that time when I was thirteen or so and had a piano recital that I was so nervous about, but I found that little plastic statue of you somewhere and brought it along and kept it on the arm of my seat while I waited to play my piece?  It was the first time I really thought of you as a real person, not just that silent guy in the Gospels.  And then you pointed out that I was actually born on your other feastday, the first of May, and I thought that was so cool.  I still do.  Thanks for getting me through that recital.  And thanks for helping my parents sell our house a few months later so we could move to Cobble Hill and live near other Catholic families, I know you were involved in that.  It formed my whole childhood, and I'm still so grateful.

Remember when I went to college for the first time, at twenty-one, and was so scared I broke down crying in church the last Sunday before I left, and everyone saw?  Remember that tiny statue of you, from a miniature nativity scene I think, that someone found in a crack of my bedroom door in my college residence, and I knew you were looking out for me and everything was going to be okay?  I still have it.  That was the first time I noticed that you seem to like following me around, calling special attention to yourself during times of especial change in my life.  My friends and I have a running joke that whenever you start catching my attention more than usual, it's time for me to look out, because it's a sure sign something unexpected is coming.  It's happened again and again.  I love knowing that you're looking out for me that way.

Remember that cheesy glow-in-the-dark statue of you a friend of mine gave me sometime during the eighteen months that I was so sick?  Remember how I'd lie on my bed in the dark, when I couldn't stand anything anymore or find the words to pray, and stare and stare at it, a little greenish blob in the darkness, as if doing that would somehow keep me from falling?  And it did.

Remember the long, long road we walked together, you and I with all the other people who love me in heaven and on earth, and how it kept looping around in directions that didn't make any sense to me at the time at all, and how I'd fret and whine and complain at every twist?  It must have seemed so silly to you, who could see where we were going and the reason for it all, but you never got mad at me, never turned your back or told me to just shut up already.  You waited until I was done whining, and then looked at me with love and pointed to where Jesus was hanging on the cross, all bloody and waiting.  And then when I realized how stupid and self-centered I was being, you let me cry.

Thank you.  Thanks for all the things you've done for me, since you decided my Mom should go into labor on your other feastday, although she didn't even know who you were back then.  Thanks for listening to me whine today, and when I was done, looking at me with love, and pointing to Him, and letting me cry.  Thanks for never giving up on me, even when I was at my worst.  And all those things I've been praying to you about, thanks for looking after them, even if I don't understand or like how you're doing it right now.

I really love you.  I know you know that already, but I wanted to say it.

Happy feastday.



Friday, March 14, 2014


In the movies, you have to have a reason to be depressed.  You have to have had a traumatic childhood, or lived through a war, or had someone close to you die, or have part of an evil wizard's soul attached to you or something, so the audience knows you're not just having a lame pity party at everyone else's expense.

In the movies, you have to have a happy ending: relapse isn't an option.  There has to be a specific, recognizable turning point that changes everything for the better.  The road to recovery is clear and direct, without potholes or blind corners or inexplicable loops and detours that make you think you're headed back whence you came.

It's a good thing no one will ever make a movie of my life.  I had a wonderful childhood, entirely devoid of wars and natural disasters; an amazing family, all the immediate members of which are alive and well; and the only scars on my forehead are from acne.  Yet I doubt the day will ever come when I can be sure another relapse is not waiting in ambush round the next corner.  And my road is so rutted, overgrown and winding that sometimes I can't tell if I'm even still on it.

That's the thing with roads, though.  Looking back, they always seem so much clearer and straighter and more roadlike than they did on that fourteen thousand and seventy-third uncertain, blister-hobbled step.  Movies don't show the blisters...or the tiny, tremendous, desperate choice, repeated with each step, to lift your other foot again and take one more...or the terrifying fear that in spite of all your effort, that next step may be wrong, but if you stop for even a moment to try and figure it out you may not be able to go on again.  The grandiose, exciting things are movie material: thunderstorms and wild beasts and magical forehead scars, all of which would be so much easier to face down than blisters.

I'm fair-skinned and blister easily; my feet turn into a painful mess at the slightest provocation.

So does my brain.

Stuff that doesn't ruffle most people, like being away from home for a few hours, or trying to hold a conversation when there is music playing in the same room, or having to reuse the same face cloth more than once, can send me into a tizzy of anxiety far disproportionate to the situation.  It's neither reasonable nor especially sympathetic.  Hollywood would not approve.

Thank Heaven for real roads, though, muddy and twisting and full of holes, roads that make no sense, roads that never let us see their destination till we've already gotten there, maybe even passed it.  Because if they were all straight, well, they'd never need to cross.  And to find another person's road joins up with mine for a little or a long while is a surprise and a joy that never grows old.

What, you've got blisters too?

Wanna share my moleskin?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Voluntas Tua

There's a word.  Two syllables, four letters.  Latin.  Third person present subjunctive, if anyone's interested.  Translated, it means may it be done, or as in the gospel, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum: let it be done to me according to your word.

I said it to Jesus tonight after my roommate had gone to bed and I was sitting up playing solitaire on my computer because if I let myself go to sleep I may not be able to get up for Mass tomorrow morning and it's easier just to stay up all night.  I turned my music up to drown out my thoughts, thoughts that I am a failure, that I have spoiled everything I've tried to make of my life so far, that I'm condemned to be ruled by the demons in my brain forever and nothing I can do will make a difference.  In the pauses between songs, when the thoughts rise up, I mutter it aloud again and again, as if doing so will keep the thoughts at bay, and it does, sort of.  Fiat.  Fiat.  May it be done, Your will, whatever it is, even if it makes no sense to me, even if it seems to contradict everything I know of You.

It sounds depressing, it sounds pathetic, it sounds passive.  It's not.  That word, two syllables, four letters, it's not an ellipsis to me, it's an exclamation point.  It's the choice to jump not knowing where you will land, to start driving without a map or known destination, to get in a rubber boat and start rowing across the Atlantic.  Any kid will tell you those are the things adventures are made of.  If everything is really God's grace, as St. Therese says, and God's glory is man fully alive, as St. Irenaeus says, then every blind step and leap and fall (because we do fall) is meant to be something wonderful and exciting and surprising.  Saying may it be done isn't an act of resignation, but the first step into Faerie.

I sit here with my computer, music turned up loud to drown out the thoughts, and I type this, and I wonder what's the point really, whether anyone will even read it, and whether I believe it myself.  Apart from your own actions, if you can't help what happens to you, does it make a difference whether you see it as depressing or wonderful?  Is it even worth the effort to choose?

I don't know.  But I think I'll risk wonder.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Day In Eden

Today the sun rose in the west.
The rain went splashing up,
And fishes passed by on a breeze.
A silver cloud prayed on its knees,
And I looked out on purple seas
The moment I woke up.

I took my black umbrella
And went sailing down the street,
With a sword for hunting loons
And mate and crew of blue baboons,
Went privateering red balloons
Too bright and beautiful to eat.

The hills got up and danced for us,
Seeing our bright flags fly;
We caught their music in a sieve,
And made a toast to gods that give
Of life, and men who choose to live;
And no one asked us why.

And morning came, and evening,
Day become dusk's bloody feast:
We touched a long and grassy strand,
And there went walking hand in hand,
And watched as with a goodness grand
The sun sank in the east.

Monday, February 10, 2014

We'll just start walking today and see the world and the way the world walks around and talks, the way it really looks.  I want to see everything now.  And while none of it will be me when it goes in, after awhile it'll gather together inside and it'll be me.  Look at the world out there, my God, my God, look at it out there, outside me, out there beyond my face and the only way to really touch it is to put it where it's finally me, where it's in the blood, where it pumps around a thousand times ten thousand a day.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Peace.  I thy God
Promised peace and peace will bring;
Gave thee song and thou shalt sing
A melody both fair and flawed.

Fair to please Me; flawed, still more.
Think'st to know what draws My eye?
Mine to know for which I sigh--
Thine to be, and wish no more.

Poverty?  Imperfect child,
Know'st not how rich thou truly art!
These rags are jewels in My heart,
Thy poorness gilded since I smiled--

Since My heart rejoiced in thee,
Smudges shine brighter than the sun,
Thy sins and My wounds are one,
Thy flaws lost in My brilliancy.