Saturday, June 14, 2014

Middle of the Night Musings

Last night, I was sad and went to bed early (at nine).  I woke up at 2 am and started to think.  It's now 4 am and here I am, writing.  I finished one post on JPII and Feminism, being vs. doing, and Martha and Mary which had been sitting in my list of unfinished posts for a few weeks.  But THIS post is why I was awake in the middle of the night.

I spent a lot of time yesterday reading a weird book called The Tapping Solution by Jessica Ortner.  Not that I'm totally sold on the whole concept, but I am reading it as a way to try to understand my own motivations and beliefs, and it's been pretty helpful... and painful.

So, anyway, I was depressed yesterday because the scale has ticked up again and is stuck.  I'm tired and frustrated.  In one of the meditations she offers, Ortner talks about the scale and how we allow it to be the thing that tells us whether we are going to have a good day.  She explains that the scale was not something that anyone even had access to a hundred years ago.  Bathroom scales didn't come into wide usage until the middle of the 20th century.  And here they are, these petty dictators that dominate our bathrooms and our imaginations.  This led to a discussion of the beliefs we allow to limit us.

So, that's the background.  When I woke up in the middle of the night, I started to think about my own limiting beliefs.  Several things popped into my drowsy mind and electrified me.  One of my beliefs was "I don't feel safe in my body."  And another one was "My body is not a prison."  This led me to think about my earliest experiences of my body --  THE BODY CAST.   I've written about it here and here.   Even though I don't remember it, how frustrating must it have been for a baby, at a crucial stage of motor development, to be completely encased in plaster from mid-chest to mid-calf.  I remember my own children at that stage and their constant movement. I look at my niece and nephew who are about 18 months old now -- they are constantly in motion. Could this be why frustration seems to be my base emotional state?  Really interesting.

While I would say that most of my childhood and adulthood was pretty normal, given the way things started, there are several things that have stuck in my mind and maybe have played too prominent a role in setting me up for all the "I Can't" stuff.
  • When I was sort of mid-childhood, I "caught a virus" in my hip.  I have no idea what that means, if it's possible, or if I am misremembering what actually happened.  (What do you know.)  What I DO remember is that I was not allowed to walk for what felt like forever (probably a week or ten days).  I could come down the stairs (on my backside) in the morning, go to the couch and lie down, and stay there all day.  In the evening, I could go up to bed.  I could get up to use the bathroom.  That's it.  Incredibly boring.  I mean, really awful.  I remember it so clearly because I was allowed to eat in the living room, something that was off limits in our house, and because my beloved godmother took pity on me and brought my older cousin, B., up to our house in the middle of the day one day (I don't know whether she took him out of school or whether he was off anyway), and he played Scrabble with me.  And let me win.  He was so sweet -- playing board games with a 9 or 10 year old cousin when you are a pre-teen boy is probably not high on your list of "want-to-do's", but he was so nice to me.  And I appreciate it to this day!
  • On our road, an older girl lived in an old farmhouse.  There was a root cellar built into the earth -- on the back, it was low to the ground, while it was high off the ground in front.  One day, all the kids took turns jumping off the front of the root cellar, a drop of probably 8 or 10 feet.  It was so much fun -- thrilling, even.  I remember how angry my mother was that I had done that -- not angry at my sisters -- just angry at me.  I couldn't understand why I was in trouble and they weren't.  There was a similar incident with our middle school bus stop.  Funny -- what's with country kids and jumping off of structures?
There are a couple of other things similar, but that's pretty interesting to me.  

When I was thinking, "I don't feel safe in my body," that was pretty interesting too.  I was thinking in particular of the terrible fall I took a few years ago when I dislocated my knee so painfully.  It was really scary because my body just sort of turned against me and it took me so long to recover and get strong.  It has made me really fearful of common things, although I was so happy to find myself stepping into and out of the baby pool easily and without fear, so I guess that is progress.

As I was thinking about these things, I thought also about how I could reframe these issues:

-- instead of "my body is not a prison," I considered all the amazing things that this body has allowed me to experience.  I've looked at the Sistine Chapel, smelled the salt off the Irish Sea, heard the Poor Clares singing in Assisi, tasted food so good I wanted to lick the plate, felt my babies moving inside me.  I've spent hours walking in cities that I loved.  I've heard music that has made my heart sing.  I've seen beautiful works of art and natural scenes that bring peace to my heart.  I have felt my husband's touch and heard his laughter and seen his smile.  So this body isn't so bad at all, is it?  Thank God for it.  
-- instead of "I don't feel safe in my body," I could try a little tenderness.  For that baby encased in plaster.  For that child stuck on a couch while her sisters got to run around and play.  For the young girl who never felt good enough.  For the young woman who had so dissociated her brain from her body that it was kind of pathetic.  For the middle-aged woman who just won't give up already.  For the old woman who I'll become who needs me to be healthy now.  So have some frickin' compassion already.  

It's a start.  



Be Not Afraid



This is, in his own handwriting, Saint John Paul II's famous charge, echoing Christ's words to us:  Be Not Afraid!  I think it's especially appropriate given the title of my last post, "What's Your Greatest Fear?"  God smack, anyone?

I think of Saint John Paul II every day.  He was such a huge figure in my life.  I loved him so much and I bless the day I actually encountered him in person -- it's something I always treasured.

And today, in reading a column by Pia de Solleni, JP2 on the New Feminism, I was struck by her discussion of "being vs. doing" as the basis for feminism.  This is the crux, I think, of the whole debate over the role of women in the Church -- what we are allowed to DO versus what we are called to BE. Women's roles are not what define us -- no matter what those roles are. The priesthood isn't a job with an educational and vocational path to entry, duties and responsibilities, and a path to preferment and promotion.  If it were, then people who believe that it's unfair that women are not priests would be right.  Instead, the priesthood is not something that some men DO as a job, it's something they ARE.  Priests are sign of contradiction,
to use another phrase of Saint John Paul II.  They are in the world but not of it.  It's a lonely and difficult life, I think, and not one I'd choose, even if I could.  But I am glad that we have priests to be our signs of contradiction.

Back to doing vs. being -- maybe the whole women as priests thing gets back to Martha and Mary.  In the story, Jesus comes to visit the family of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.  Imagine, a whole group of tired, dusty, hungry men -- at least thirteen of them and probably many more -- one of whom just happens to be the Son of God -- show up on your doorstep.  There are no phones, email, or even postcards, so you had no idea they were coming.  Maybe for dinner tonight, you were just planning on reheating last night's spaghetti in the microwave or allowing everyone to eat peanut butter and jelly (oh, that's my house), but now you have to pull a decent meal out of your hat.  Hospitality in this culture was one of the most important things, AND YOU ARE GOING TO FAIL.  No wonder Martha was pissed off that her sister, Mary, WHO SHOULD BE HELPING HER GET DINNER READY, was just sitting around at Jesus's feet listening to the words that were falling like pearls from his mouth (the same mouth that would be eating cold spaghetti or PB&J on wheat if Mary didn't get her butt in gear).  No wonder she complained.



Jesus's answer has always kind of angered me -- because I'm a Martha too, and feel like my DOING is what defines my WORTH.  Rather than telling Mary to get off her ass and help her sister, Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part and that she won't be deprived of it.

The Gospel of Luke says:

Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

If I were Martha, I would be angry and troubled by this.  Jesus didn't stick up for me -- he didn't take my part.  In fact, he gently chided me.  And, in fact, he IS chiding me.  Now.  "Colleen, Colleen, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing."

That thing is BEING, not doing.  BEING in the presence of the Lord, all day, every day.  Not whether the laundry is done.  Not whether the to-do list is finished.  Not whether my husband is happy.  Not whether the children are growing up decent.  No.  Just being in the presence of the Lord.  All else follows.  It's the better part.

How did I get here from women priests and feminism?  LOL.  #rambling, #uptoolate

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"What's your greatest fear?"

I heard those words from the back room as I slipped out the front door in the middle of my regular Wednesday prayer group.  I had to leave just as the discussion was getting personal so that I could meet my mother and two of my aunts, whom I was taking to visit the Saint John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C.  Kathryn Ferguson, a prayer group member and a friend, was talking to us about her faith journey in the light of being diagnosed with a chronic disease.  Kathryn writes about her experiences at the funny and moving blog, PilgrimageGal, but today she brought me to tears.  

Even though Kathryn's circumstances are particular to her, she so clearly and lovingly showed us that all of us have things against which we struggle. All of us have walls and pretenses that we put up and facades that we build to project the images we want others to see. In a very real way, she called me on my bullshit today, without even knowing that she was doing it. And so I was happy to have a reason to flee -- that's what it felt like -- flight.  

Kathryn said something that really resonated with me.  She was talking about our desire to control our own stories.  We are the writer, director, and lead actor in those stories and we'd like to know that, as the ending credits scroll, the story is the one we want others to see.  We've accomplished all our goals and have lived a successful and happy life.  Back before I met my wonderful husband, I used to bemoan my uncertain and single state over the phone to one good friend.  I'd cry, "What is wrong with me?  I'm smart, I'm kind, I'm reasonably attractive!  Do I have cooties?  Do I emanate invisible "touch me not" vibes?"  After a little while of this, I'd end by saying something like, "you know, Neen, I sometimes just wish that my life was over.  That I was 85 years old and looking back on a happy life.  If I could get one glimpse of myself rocking on a porch somewhere with a contented smile on my face surrounded by my children and grandchildren, this loneliness would be so much easier to stand."  

Well, here I am, fifteen years later, and I can't say that I'm lonely anymore.  With a husband who loves me with his whole heart and two children who are unabashedly THERE and ON all the time, now I sometimes lock myself in the bathroom to get a minute or two of peace.  And still they talk to me and knock on the door and need me so desperately RIGHT THAT SECOND.  And I love it.  

And yet, speaking of facades -- last week when it was my day to host prayer group at 9:30 am on a Wednesday, I was almost in tears at 8:45, looking at my wreck of a kitchen, with a sink full of last night's dirty dishes, a countertop covered in ick, and two different baked goods in various stages of completion.  Yet, when everyone walked in, the kitchen was clean, the floor had been mopped, the bathroom was cleaned and things were generally in order.  The facade had been maintained.  No one heard my four-letter-word curses or was here to see the self-pitying and angry body language as I slammed last night's dishes into the washer, muttering, "what, am I everybody's SLAVE now?  Why does no one ever HELP me?"  etc. etc. whine whine whine.  When in fact, housework and I are NOT friends, I am easily distracted, and I have a million other things I'd rather do than clean.  So when it comes time to stress and strain because people are coming over, it's my own damn fault that it's stressful and a strain.  I want both/and.  I want to be able to do the other things I'd rather do AND have a clean house.  I want the facade but not the substance, in other words.

And that brings me around to, you guessed it, my biggest fear, which, pitiably, is that I will never ever ever lose weight.  That I will be stuck at this weight forever and that I will get to my elderly years without having really lived a healthy middle-aged and older adult life.  That my life from now until the end will be constricted by my own damn fault, just like my house is a mess because of my own damn fault.  

It makes me ashamed that this is my biggest fear.  It's so superficial.  I don't really care all that much that I'm not beautiful.  I've never ever been a fashion victim and I've hated clothes shopping since I was a size 10.  So the fact that I'm deeply ashamed because my facade is not what I want people to see is really galling.  I'm working through a lot of my understanding of the body right now in the light of the Incarnation, and that is making it worse.  How can I be so jazzed up about the Incarnation, and so sure that God becoming man has all of these wonderful implications for our own physicality and for the physicalness of the world itself, and still hate my own body so much?  So much that I won't even look at myself in the mirror?  So now I have hypocrisy to add to the list of reasons to beat up on myself, along with:
  • being unhealthy and shortening my own life because of indiscipline
  • being a poor role model for my daughters when it comes to body image and food
  • being so shallow that this really bothers me
  • being ineffectual in changing my behavior enough to really make a difference
  • being unable to do all the things we want to do as a family (for example, we want to go out West to Yellowstone, but I can't be a good hiker under these circumstances.)  
and the list goes on. 

So that's my biggest fear.  It's kind of strange when your biggest fear -- being seen as not perfect -- is also the same thing you advertise each time you walk out the door. No wonder I'm so screwed up.  

Anyway, I'm off to meet a friend for lunch.  I'm getting a salad.  I swear.


Friday, May 9, 2014

What I did with my University of Dallas education yesterday

While websurfing yesterday, I came across a lovely little story about a Black Mass "reenactment" that is being performed as part of a "cultural events" series at Harvard.  Yes, Harvard.  The premier academic institution in the United States, founded in 1636 as a school to train Unitarian and Congregationalist ministers.  I couldn't begin to describe how much the entire thing disgusts me.  So, instead, I wrote to the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club and the President of Harvard.  While I would note that my argument against this disgusting piece of work calls out these people for their bigotry and intolerance, that's not my primary argument against it -- of course, I think it's blasphemous and evil.  But, an argument on those grounds would only serve to encourage and affirm the prejudices of these people, so I wrote:

Dear Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club:
One does not have to have attended Harvard to see that the "reenactment" of a "Black Mass" planned for May 12 by the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is a terrible display of bigotry and racism towards the majority of Roman Catholics. I am sure you are aware, with your Harvard education and everything, that, of the world's Roman Catholics in 2004 (the latest year for which numbers are available), 725,823,970 were from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Oceania while 352,765,647 were from Europe and North America. By mocking the beliefs and rituals of Roman Catholics, you directly attack brown and black people all over the world. One need hardly mention that people living in these regions are among the most economically disadvantaged in the world, while Cambridge, Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest areas in the wealthiest nation in the world. One could reasonably conclude that a bunch of privileged white kids with a surfeit of time and a dearth of sense have deliberately decided to denigrate the belief system of the world's poor black and brown peoples. The cognitive dissonance must be deafening.
One notes that, in an attempt to justify its support of this event, the University has said, "In this case, we understand that this independent student organization, the Cultural Studies Club, is hosting a series of events -- including a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist presentation on meditation -- as part of a student-led effort to explore different cultures." Although I did not attend Harvard, even I can see multiple logical holes in this justification of bigotry. First, Harvard attempts to distance itself from the event by claiming that it is planned and executed by an "independent", "student-led" group. After throwing its own students to the wolves, Harvard then likens the "Black Mass" to a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist event. This violent yoking of disparate ideas, which the Metaphysical poets called a "conceit," is unsuccessful. The Shinto ceremony, the Shaker ceremony, and the Buddhist event are straightforward presentations of different cultural artifacts. A "Black Mass" is, by its nature, a parody and perversion of a religious and cultural event. Finally, the assertion that the "Black Mass" is an artifact of a culture is simply false. The Roman Catholic Mass is a cultural artifact which has inspired art, architecture, literature, music, philosophy, theology, and (for some) reverence, joy, and a reformed heart and mind for over two millenia. The Black Mass is a desecration of the same.
Shame on you for your bigotry and shame on Harvard for its support of this display.
Sincerely,
Colleen Monaghan Zarzecki
Class of 1988, the University of Dallas

I wanted to put in parentheses after University of Dallas something snarky like "a university where people learn something other than how to be idiots" or "a university where people learn to love logic" or "a university that knows what education really means," but I thought that it would be unproductive and unkind.  

Disgusting prats.  Pray for them anyway -- they are so confused and lost, they really need it.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Good news at last!

I had a busy morning, medically speaking.  I had two doctor's appointments -- one with my GP and one with a gastroenterologist whom I'd seen in October because my liver enzymes were elevated.  I have a sinus infection (which is NOT the good news) and was prescribed antibiotics (which WILL be good news in a couple of days).  But the real, here-and-now good news is that I asked my GP how my weight this time compared to my weight last time I saw her -- I've lost 20 pounds!  Shocking, I know.  But hooray for me!  The gastroenterologist also had good news -- my liver enzymes, while still higher than they should be, have come down significantly.  They still have a way to go before they are in the normal range, but he said that he was proud of me and that he is not worried about the numbers.

And, something I just kind of realized over the last week -- I've gone down a pants size (hooray, except that I bought a pair of pants last week in the larger size and now have to constantly hitch them up) and I realized when I was at Great Wolf that my bathing suit from last year is now a little roomy on me.  

Hooray!  Calloo Callay!  

We have to take these little victories as they come.  Onward!

On a completely different note -- last week, on a cold and rainy day, I was led through the rabbit-hole of the internet to a YouTube video of a 1933 movie called The Story of Temple Drake.  I watched the whole thing, in eight parts, and it was really very interesting. And I was SURE that this story was familiar to me.  Imagine my surprise when a little further research revealed that this film is based on William Faulkner's novel, Sanctuary.  The movie is a pot-boiler but, then again, so is the novel, which I promptly checked out of the library.  I haven't read Faulkner in 20-odd years.  I just love the first paragraph:

From beyond the screen of bushes which surrounded the stream, Popeye watched the man drinking.  A faint path led from the road to the spring.  Popeye watched the man -- a tall, thin man, hatless, in worn gray flannel trousers and carrying a tweed coat over his arm -- emerge from the path and kneel to drink from the spring.

Who is Popeye?  What's he doing in the woods?  Who is the man.  Why is he hatless?  Where is he going?  

Love it, love it, love it, especially on the heels of Faulkner's fantastic introduction, in which he says, 

This book was written three years ago.  To me, it is a cheap idea, because it was deliberately conceived to make money.  I had been writing books for about five years, which got published and not bought.  But that was all right.  I was young then and hard-bellied.  I had never lived among nor known people who wrote novels and stories and I suppose I did not know people got money for them.  I was not very much annoyed when publishers refused the mss. now and then.  Because I was hard-gutted then.  I could do a lot of things that could earn what little money I needed, thanks to my father's unfailing kindness which supplied me with bread at need despite the outrage to his principles at having been of a bum progenitive.  

Oh my gosh, I love it so much:  "of a bum progentive."  Faulkner protests a bit too much, I think -- the Introduction seems to me to be a way that he can disavow the unsavory subject matter and still tell a good story.  I'm in the early pages yet -- I can't remember if I read this during my class with Dr. Bradford on Faulkner.  But I'm reading it now.  Hooray, again!


Some successes, some failures...

So, the successes --

  • At the beginning of the week last week, I weighed in at the lowest weight I've seen in a long time.  That was good.  
  • We went with the Chickadees to the really fun, really kid-centric Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, VA.  
  • We were upgraded to a Majestic Bear Suite™ (FOR FREE -- so exciting, I never get anything for free!) and, after the Chickadees were safely asleep in the master bedroom with a closed door between them and us, my husband and I looked at each other and asserted that we could definitely learn to live that way.  No more lying still as statues in a dark, unfamiliar hotel room, willing the children to even out their breathing to the rhythmic "I Am Asleep" mode that every parent so longs for at the end of a stressful day of driving.  It was GLORIOUS.  
  • This is our third time at Great Wolf Lodge, and it's a lot of fun.  But it's a lot more fun when you can actually participate in the fun things.  This is part of message I sent to my yoga instructor earlier today explaining why I wouldn't be at yoga for the second week in a row:
Last week I was speeding down a water slide, this week I'm taking Chickadee #2 to the doctor. So from the sublime to the mundane in one easy week. I also wanted to tell you how absolutely grateful I am to you and to yoga. My experience of Great Wolf this time was so different than the previous times that I went it can't even be compared.  I had so much more flexibility  and mobility, it was wonderful. I was actually able to play with my children and do some really fun things, so thank you very much.
And the failures --

  • Instead of dinner one night, I had a cup of coffee and a piece of coconut cream pie from Silver Diner (this was on our way to Williamsburg -- it was snowing and I was stressed out to the nth degree, but still -- ridiculous).
  • I still haven't gotten my husband to adjust the bolt on the bike I bought so I haven't been able to ride it.  I'll have to make that job number one now that IT'S STOPPED SNOWING (we had snow last night, on March 30th).

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lunch with Friends

Fried fish. Yum.  But I had the salad instead of the fries.  happy day.