Monday, August 27, 2012

POET RITA A. SIMMONDS ON THE SACRAMENT OF MARRIAGE

THE BEAUTIFUL RITA
More and more, I'm fascinated by people's stories. Rita is a friend, an award-winning poet, a wife, and a mother. We met a few years ago in New York.

We've had many discussions since and I've always been struck by the way Rita's life, work, and vocation resist categorization. So a couple of weeks ago, after evening Mass at Our Mother of Good Counsel, I wandered the residential streets of Los Feliz talking to Rita via phone.

Me: Let’s just chat. I’m thinking I’ll run this August 28th because that was my parent’s wedding anniversary and it’s also the memorial of St. Augustine. Whose right eye offended him and he more or less plucked it out: love, lust, the holy longing. A good day to write of marriage.

Rita: August 28th is also the day of Frank’s surgery.

Oh good, we’ll all think of him…
Okay so the very first thing: you have to tell us about is when you had a nervous breakdown and Mother Teresa kicked you out of the Missionaries of Charity.

She didn’t kick me out. What happened was I joined right out of college.

And you’re a total cradle Catholic?

Yes, and I always believed. And I was always very ambitious spiritually. Very interested in my salvation. I saw there were temptations out there trying to sidetrack me but I always knew my purpose in life was to serve Him, that was always very, very clear. So at that time Mother Teresa was really the person who was out there, besides Pope John Paul II. She was really the one to watch, she was the one to follow, the one who caught everyone’s attention, especially those who were trying to follow the Church, to follow Christ. So I met up with the Sisters in the South Bronx, I was working at their summer camp. I met with Sr. Priscilla, who was the Regional Superior at the time. She invited me to do what they call a come-and-see, so I went and I was really taken with their life, and I loved it. I loved the prayer and I loved the total gift of self, that you would give every aspect of your life, all centered around Christ. Every gesture. We would wake up in the morning and we would say prayers as we put on our clothes. It was just amazing. The bell would ring; the bell was the voice of God. Chapel, whatever it was you had to do. I loved it, I really loved it for about the first year, and then it started getting really difficult.

What got difficult about it?

Um…it just became very…I didn’t know how to express myself in that climate any more. [laughing] It’s a very austere life. The one thing Sr. Frederick who ended up becoming the regional Superior, she said, “Sister, I think you need to serve God in freedom.” Instead of confined to that very disciplined lifestyle.

When you say austere, what do you mean? The food? The schedule?

You never sit on a couch, for example.

What do you sit on?

Benches, the floor. In the chapel, you sit on the floor. You wake up at 4:40 in the morning. You clean the floor every single day, you sweep and swab the floor. I don’t know about you, but I never wash my floor every single day.

I don’t even wash mine every month. Did they yell at you for laughing?

You can laugh in recreation, a lot, but I did get in trouble for breaking silence. I had another woman in there at the same time, she was actually the only woman in my Postulant group who moved on to the novitiate, and we used to crack each other up all the time and you weren’t supposed to be laughing in the stairwell…It was hard…I wasn’t really able to be formed there. I just didn’t really fit in after awhile.

So what happened?

Toward the end when things were getting really bad…first of all, I hate to cook, I’ve always hated cooking. I’ve never been a good cook, I’ve never enjoyed it. I had the responsibility of cooking lunch for all the sisters who were at the house on retreat. There were many, many sisters. So I had to make rice for them. And there were two different ways to make it and I wasn’t sure if I should…I didn’t know…I just didn’t know what I was doing, basically, and so I made a huge mess of the whole lunch. It was like ten minutes before the bell was going to ring for the Angelus and one of the professed sisters came downstairs to see how I was progressing and…I just told her that lunch wasn't anywhere near ready, that basically I didn’t know what I was doing. So she said, “Well here open this can of tomatoes.” So I went to open the can of tomatoes and it just splattered all over my white sari. And I just broke down…

Ohhhh…

I ran upstairs and into the bathroom and I locked myself in the bathroom and I would not come out. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Think of the symbolism of the red and the white!…

That experience meant so much to me, was so precious to me, being with the Sisters, still to this day. Talking about Mother Teresa is like talking about my mother. She was really my spiritual mother.

So you met her?

Oh yes, I met her. I spoke to her a couple of times. I saw her privately twice.

And she was holy, right?

Oh yes. She was very small. She looked dead in your eye. She didn’t waste words. And she wanted to know who her sisters were and I think she was looking at me like, “Is this young woman suited to this life?” I really think she was looking at me and trying to help me. She had to do that. Her initial calling was among the Indian sisters. For an American to become part of that order is more difficult than for an Indian.

So you were in the bathroom and then what?

I was very nervous. I was afraid. I was shaking uncontrollably. I started having crazy thoughts about my eternal salvation, that I was going to go to hell. I mean this is not me. So I was obviously under some kind of duress. I just remember in the days afterward not wanting to go down to the chapel because I was crying too much and I had to go and I’d just cry, cry, cry. So it was very obvious to everyone that something was wrong with me. Also right around that time we were supposed to write a letter to Mother asking to go to the novitiate. I thought Maybe if I go to the novitiate things will get better. And Mother wrote back and said I’m giving you six more months as a postulant. And I thought, Oh no. I’ll never survive here six more months. And I just remember praying about it, and it was the first snowfall of the year, I remember seeing the kids outside the chapel window and they were frolicking in the snow and I just remember thinking, Oh I just want to do that. I just want to play in the snow. And so right then I was called in to speak to Sr. Frederick. And she said What do you want to do? And I said, “Sister, I think I want to leave.” And Sister said, “I think so, too.”

And that was it.

I even went back later and tried to speak to her. I was trying to make it in the world on my own and I really missed that life and I would go back to her and she’d day, No, you can’t come back unless you realize somehow that you made a mistake. That you could have done something differently and you didn’t. And I said Well I can’t say that because I tried as hard as I possibly could. So…


So from there you went?...

To my mother’s, my family, my mom and dad in upstate New York. My mother was devastated. I looked terrible.

How old were you at that point?

Twenty-two.

So you had this whole you thought you were going to be a religious and now you have your whole life ahead of you and you don’t know what you’re going to do with it, sort of.

Yeah, I had no idea. My mother said I want you to stay home for a month. You need to rest. So I did. But I was counting the days.

And you had how many brothers and sisters?

Um. Five brothers and four sisters.

Okay. And not a ton of money growing up, right.

No, not a lot of money. We always prayed the Rosary. We went to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. My mother and father both taught us about our faith. And lived it.

And then you met Frank?

No! I didn’t meet Frank till I was in my late thirties.

Oh, okay, so fast forward then and tell us what you did in the intervening years till you met Frank.

Well I had a friend in college and we’d formed a pro-life club at Hofstra University. We’d become very good friends. So after my month at home I went to NYC to be close to my friends. And my friend Rich, who is now Fr. Rich, invited me to this group that was meeting at St. Patrick’s Cathedral at the time that was called Communion and Liberation. Basically from that time on I was very involved, still am involved, with CL.

Which is a lay movement?

Yes, and that’s where I was all those years. 1988 on. I hoped that I could…since I’d tried to become a nun and couldn’t, I suppose I thought Well I should try to get married. And all those years, I just never met anyone that was right for me or…I just didn’t find the right person.

And you were active in the pro-life movement all these years?

I was active in the pro-life movement, but once I got into CL, it was more all-encompassing, more total life, not just focused on one particular issue. It was more living the faith in every aspect of life. It was very similar to being in the Missionaries of Charity in a way. It took everything I had. And I really liked that. I’ve always liked that. I’ve always wanted to be totally and completely immersed in something. I met tons of people my age…

Wait, I want to back up. Didn’t you tell me there was a time…your politics were very right-wing, right?

Oh yes. Extremely right wing for quite a while.

Like when? What years?

Well I think when I met CL that started to change. That’s when I started to realize that following Christ is not following a political movement or even a good cause.

When you say right wing, what do you mean? You were pro-war…

Yeah. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the death penalty, for example.

So you were kind of hard on criminals type of thing.

Yeah, I probably was. I mean it was just an ideology, it wasn’t really my heart. My heart was always compassionate. Of course that developed over the years. I mean if someone had come up to me and said Spare my life, I probably would have done it, but as far…I don’t know…I hadn’t thought it through very well but if you’d come up to me and asked Are you for capital punishment I would have said Oh yeah… So there was a split between what I thought and what was in my heart.

But then things started to change. When you’re hard core right-wing, you don’t care about making friends. You just want to throw the book at everybody, point the finger…I was making friends now and the Italians [the CL movement started in Milan] helped me to change my views. But I was very hard on myself and I was very hard on everyone else. That probably led to my unraveling, too. Because if I couldn’t do something well, I just felt terrible. I also had a terrible eating disorder, I was a compulsive overeater for awhile. But those things all started to change over the years when I really met the humanity of Christ in such a vibrant way. It wasn’t that I hadn’t met it in the Missionaries of Charity but I wasn’t in the right place with myself back then. Meeting people, valuing friendships…people wanted to know what I thought as much as what I’d experienced…no-one had ever wanted to know that before…


Okay, and then what happened?

Okay, mid-nineties I started to become interested in consecrated life in CL. They have a group called Memores Domini. And I lived in community with these consecrated women. We worked, I was a teacher, I taught ESL in the city university system.

Tell us what consecrated means. Your virginity, right, your sexuality?

Yeah, I was a novice. I hadn’t taken the promises—we don’t take vows, we make promises. I’d been there five years and it was approaching the time that I would make my profession.

And the promises would be?

Poverty, chastity, obedience.

Chastity, though, meaning, cause even married people are called to chastity, you’re not gonna have sex.

Right.

And you’re gonna be single.

Yes.

So you’re mulling this over…

No, I was in it. I was living in a Memores Domini house for five years. And I’m preparing to make my profession.

So even though this is a lay movement…is this under the auspices of the Church?

Yeah, it’s a consecrated lay community…and it was similar in many ways to how I lived in the Missionaries of Charity. But anyway, I’m living in this group and I was also a member of a theater company called the Blackfriars. And there was a guy in the theater group, his name was David, and we became very good friends. And David worked with the homeless on the George Washington Bridge where he would help people get shelter, get off drugs or alcohol, whatever it was. And he wanted me to meet this guy Frank who he worked with. He said Frank is a really nice guy, but he needs friends. He needs real Christian, Catholic friends. He was raised Catholic but he had a troubled past. He was involved with homelessness also and crack. Supposedly he wasn’t using crack any more though that turned out not to be true.

And Frank is black.

Yes. His family’s from the Virgin Islands but he was born here so he’d be a black African-American. So I said, Sure, I’ll meet him, so I went to the bridge and Dave was there with Frank and they were both seeing people with problems. And Frank came over and I just said Hi, I’m Rita. Frank has a very nice way about him, a good way of communicating.

He’s a big guy, right?

He’s tall and at that time he was very skinny. He was wearing shoes that were too small. I remember him telling me, I’m having a hard time walking. I could see he was having a hard time. He was still living in a shelter. And I could see what Dave was saying, Frank really did need more than what he was getting in the way of friendship at the shelter.


Okay so let’s see if…the long and the short of it is that you and Frank are now married with two kids…how old are they?

Six and almost eight….

Okay, so just tell how they came about. You met, you courted…

Again, the same thing that had happened at the Missionaries of Charity began to happen at Memores Domini. I started to have a really hard time. Only this time it was much worse. I was much older; the stakes were a lot higher.


You had a hard time in what sense?

Just crying. Not functioning.

Okay, but why?

Because I think I was in the wrong place, but I didn’t have the courage…five years of my life, and I didn’t have the courage to ditch the whole thing and say This ain’t for me.

And why did you feel it wasn’t for you?

Because something was missing.

And what did you think was missing?

I think it was a man.

And you knew that.

No. I just knew I was so unhappy.

And this is before or after you met Frank?

Before.

Before. Okay. Interesting.

I was starting to…things were starting to get difficult. I think being in the theater, just being out there, exposed to different people and not living…having a little more freedom, I started to have greater longings, let’s say…

Were you thinking about children?

I really really tried to suppress that. But what happened was me and the women in the house went on vacation and I ruined the whole time for everybody. These were hard, hard-working women, we all were, and vacation time was really important, to just get a chance to rest. And I was so restless because I said This is not my idea of a vacation. And they said, Well, what is? And I said There should be children around. It’s not a vacation if you’re just laying on a beach, that just seems very…I was not comfortable with that. I wanted children around.

So it seemed kind of hedonistic, or just empty?

To me it did. Although to them it was important because they worked hard. I mean these were doctors, teachers, scientists….They were great. They were trying to make me happy but…they just couldn’t. After awhile I was just so miserable. Finally, Giorgio, who was the Superior from Italy, wrote me an email, because he knew I was suffering. I was seeing a psychiatrist, I was on anti-depressants, and nobody knew how to help me and finally in an email he said, Rita, just do those things that make you happy. The cross is not your business. That’s Jesus’s business. You choose the things that make you happy. So I said All right. And at this time Frank had gone through all this stuff, and we were in touch with each other…

Now had you been dating?

No. No. We were friends but he was gone. Frank had his own problems. He’d gone back to using crack…actually, he’d never stopped using crack, come to find out. He’d gotten to an all-time low. He wanted to kill himself. He wanted to jump in front of a subway. He wasn’t showing up at work, which wasn’t like him. So basically he ended up in a shelter, a rehab, and that was the last time he ever used drugs. And then we started writing letters, and we became friendly after that, but it was always me and Frank and Dave. It was always the three of us. Then, after I had my nervous breakdown and I couldn’t even work any more and was staying in a different [Memores Domini] house just to get a break and a change of scenery, and I got this call out of the blue from Frank saying “Where are you? What’s going on?” I really did appreciate that, his reaching out to me and I kind of told him, I didn’t want to tell him the whole story, I just said I was having a hard time. But at that time there was no romantic thing going on or anything like that.

Until one day months later I took a wrong turn home from jury duty and I ended up right in front of his job, because at that time he was working as a counselor in aftercare, he’d done very well in this rehab and then he was actually counseling drug addicts. So we just ran into each other accidentally and we just started talking and I think that was the beginning. When things started to get different between us. But up to that time I had never thought of any kind of relationship beyond friendship at all.


It was the wrong turn that was the right turn.

Yes. I was so mad at myself: how could I have taken the wrong bridge home from jury duty? But I remember we talked and afterward we looked at each other and he said, “You made my day. This is the best thing that’s happened to me all day.” And I thought Wow. Because I felt like such a loser! I was so depressed, I’m thinking I can’t even work, thank God I at least had jury duty to go to. And someone said to me, ‘You just made my day.’ When I felt like such a loser. I wasn’t making anyone’s day, I was making everyone miserable. First and foremost, myself. And I thought, Wow. That’s what I want. I want to be able to make someone’s day. I don’t want to be a liability; I want to be a help.

I think that was the beginning of it, when I felt I might be able to be of use to somebody. I felt so terrible about myself. Here I wanted to give my whole life to Christ. I’d always felt that. For as long as I could remember. And I just felt like I’m doing no service to anybody. So when someone said to me, You just made my day…I was so moved. And he was so sincere. And I was like What does he see? What could he possibly see? And so that was the beginning. And I knew after three months probably from that day…I knew that I was in love with him. And it was really terrifying.

Because first of all I knew I had to leave Memores Domini and that was a very difficult thing because I really loved them. The same with the Missionaries of Charity. I don’t have anything against them at all. I loved these women. They were like sisters to me. And yet, I had to go. Because I just could not find my happiness there.


So that was scary.

Yes, but Giorgio said to me, Do what it is that makes you happy and I thought Well, it makes me happy to talk to Frank on the phone. Because I make his day. And he means it. When he talks to me, he’s happy. And I’m happy, too.

And then it must have been scary cause there's also this thing of you’re white, he’s black; you're this girl who was going to be a nun, he’s a crackhead, or was. I mean the whole almost comical…

It was very intense because when I finally left Memores Domini, I thought Good, now Frank and I can finally start to date, you know, verify our relationship, he ran away from me! He just changed his tune…

And meanwhile, you’ve had a huge, totally unexpected turn in your life. A long, long way from thinking you’re going to be a nun in the Missionaries of Charity…

He said something very interesting to me that I’ll never forget. He said to me, Rita, for a man like me to be with a woman like you would be like climbing Mt. Everest. And I said to him—[almost whispers] But nothing is impossible for God. So we both knew that if we didn’t have God we wouldn’t make it. That was from the beginning. We both knew what was at stake.

You knew you’d need a ton of help.

Yes.

And, if it’s okay, you saved yourself for the wedding night?

That I don’t want to…

Okay, the only reason I remotely bring it up, segueing into the marriage thing, is we’re taught that the more people you’ve slept with, the better, more or less…let me ask you this then. What was your view of the sacrament of marriage going in?

What was my view?

Vis-à-vis…you’re Catholic, and we’re called as Catholics not to have sex outside of marriage.

Well that was the Mt. Everest of our so-called courtship, the thing that we disagreed about most. That was the reason we broke up three times.

That’s a good way to put it.

He’ll back that up. We just could not see eye-to-eye. Forget about it. For me, it was hell.

But then you got married, so afterwards it was okay.

No! It was still difficult. Then it became difficult for him. He was like, Oh, so NOW it's okay for us to be together? He didn’t like these rules and regulations, that authority, that there was some kind of authority over him telling him what he could and couldn’t do, the way he saw it. So then it became difficult for him. It was not easy, but I learned a very important thing from that. What it really means to be with somebody in a marriage. And it’s work. It’s not like everybody says, try it out, see if the you and the person…no, it’s a work. It's a journey. It’s not something you can establish in a one-night stand.

I mean to be with another person, it takes work. It takes love. It takes sacrifice. And then we had to be open to children! We got married in the Catholic church. Frank didn’t expect to have more kids. He’s nine years older than me. He already had two grown children. He wasn’t ready to raise little kids. That was not in his mind or plan at all. So I said Well, we’re getting married in the Church, we need to say that we can accept children. We had one child right away. I mean I was already 40 so it was amazing. Then, a year and a half later, we had another child. [laughing] Frank was like, This is ridiculous.


Two boys, right?

Yes, Micah and Martin.

So Frank was like, This is ridiculous. ..

Yeah, he felt like an old guy having young kids. I didn’t even know being 40 if I'd be able to conceive…so it was a blessing. I saw it as a blessing. And then…I mean I come from a family of ten, I didn’t want to have just one kid. That’s what would have been ridiculous to me, and to have no kids would have been even more ridiculous. I couldn’t even imagine….I mean I said to Frank We don’t even have a lot in common, what are we going to talk about every day? If we don’t have kids we’re in trouble. [laughing]. I mean let’s be realistic here.

And don’t get me wrong. Frank was happy. He loves his kids. We actually practiced natural family planning and that didn’t work. It didn’t work because we didn’t do it right and then we did an even more advanced method called the Creighton model. So here I am 43 years old and I have to try not to conceive and we had to go to these more advanced classes…but this is what I mean, this is part of the whole thing…I mean here’s this guy who’s lived on the streets for many years. For him, sex, drugs, back then they all went together. And now we’re talking about abstaining on certain days…I mean this was just completely foreign to him. So off his radar.


So it’s been a stretch for both of you.

Yes. And for the one person to try and understand the other…very difficult. But I think that he gradually started to embrace Catholicism because of CL. He started becoming more involved, going to weekly meetings, started to have people around him, not just me, families, men, who were living the kind of life that we were trying to live. He saw that it was possible. And that made it much easier. Community made it much, much easier.

But still it’s work.

Yes, I mean…the work for me, I don’t know what he would say about this, but the work for me was persevering in what I knew was true.

With respect to?...the teachings of the Church, you mean.

Yeah, in that way. Without blaming him for not understanding. And really hanging in there, that’s a difficult thing, and also loving.

And how do you find motherhood?

I love being a mother, but it is difficult…

Cause you don’t like to cook for one thing.

No, I don’t like to cook, as the Missionaries of Charity will attest.

The reason I ask is, marriage is basically ordered to children and therefore a marriage needs to be open to them….of course I’ve never had kids…but just as this there’s this kind of fairy-tale cultural overlay to marriage there’s a fairy-tale cultural overlay to motherhood. We just love our children to death and we cuddle and everything’s beautiful. It seems to me having children would also be a crucible, just like marriage.

I’ve met mothers who are a lot less stressed out than me and they have a lot more kids too... Just amazing.

Right. They seem to be born to it.

But also I’ve felt very keenly that the culture we live in does not welcome children. It’s a contraceptive mentality that dominates. If you have a child, it’s your choice, so you have to deal with all the problems that come with it, in spite of what Hilary Clinton said, “It takes a village.” I also started so late. So I lived so many years without kids that all of a sudden. Being older and the energy it takes to take care of kids, constantly.

Especially after having a life of your own.

And I also had a lot of religious training. I remember someone asked my friend Jonathan [who’s a father,] Jonathan, when do you have time for personal prayer? Jonathan said jokingly, Uh, between three and four in the morning.

So I was used to a life of silence where I prayed and I studied and I wrote my poetry…that was my life and all of sudden you can’t do that anymore. I mean now that they’re older and in school I’m starting to be able to. But when your kid’s hungry and wants to eat you can’t say…


Hold on, let me finish this stanza…

Or read my Office, or whatever it is. So it was an adjustment because I really believed my way of “holiness” was the best way but you have to adjust that and say No, feeding my child IS praying the Office. Taking care of my husband IS writing my poem. It was a huge adjustment in that sense.

Also I was used to going out to work every day. I mean I don’t miss that that much, but…


Just so people know, Frank works and he’s…

He’s a doorman.

In Manhattan.

Yes.

And he works the night shift.

Yes.

We were talking a couple of weeks ago about your anniversary. He wanted to go out, just the two of you, and…

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a husband and wife going out on their own. That’s a beautiful thing and I think husbands and wives should do that. I’m not against that at all. I just feel at this particular point in my life…but I guess I’ve always felt this…it’s consistent with the way I’ve always been. I just want my life to be a total gift. And I want it to be shared with everyone. So when we went out for our anniversary I said Let’s invite our family and friends. Who are able to be there with us. Because our marriage has a task. And it’s not just me and you staring at each other and getting what we can from each other to fulfill our needs. It’s something that I desire to live with others. And I enjoy the fact that people want to be with my husband, to be with him, to share their lives with him also. It’s not just me. I don’t have to possess every minute of his time; he doesn’t have to be paying attention every minute to me and the kids.

So that kind of grasping possession that ruins a lot of marriages, that we all hate, especially guys…

Right, has to go. And it’s not like I wasn’t insecure in the beginning, especially since…we got married, we came from two very different places. Just being married…I’d never been married before, I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t even know what emotions were going to come out of me. It was all very new for me.

How old were you when you got married?

39, almost 40. At first, I had moments of insecurity where I’d get jealous if he were talking to another woman. But as time rolled on, I saw people really love my husband. And they love him because they see Christ in him. I know how important it is…I desire for the world to meet Christ. And if the world can meet Christ through my husband, and I can facilitate that in some way, that makes me happy. I don’t need to possess him all for myself.

At the same time, of course, it’s not like you’re out cheating on each other. In another way, the boundary is very firm.

I think when…a Christian, Catholic, sacramental marriage, and maybe all marriages in some way, I don’t know, but I can speak from my own experience, we are at the service of the Church. Our lives together, I feel very strongly because I wouldn’t be happy any other way, our lives together have a task. We have a task as a couple. And that really is to live Christ. To build the kingdom of God. And you can’t do that if you are sucking the life blood out of the other person, and if you don’t trust the other person. But you don’t even think of that after awhile. What’s important is the task of the relationship.

Plus you have kids. And kids, as we were saying the other day, without kids you can bolt when conflict arises. But kids make it so you have to work it out.

Yeah. There’s a lot more at stake. You love these kids and that’s part of the task.

And when I say task, I want to say it in a positive sense. We’re thrown into the world and why the hell am I here? To have a task is a wonderful thing. To have a purpose. We need it. And it’s not enough for me to say, Oh, I have a really nice husband and really cute kids and we’re going to buy a house and…no, that’s not what I want. I want my whole family to be building the kingdom of God. I don’t know how that’s going to happen. I can’t predict that…I mean I hope and pray my children will love the Church and have the desire I have and that my husband has. But I don’t know that. Nonetheless it’s a wonderful thing to be able to give your life for another, for the greater good. I wouldn’t be happy any other way, I just wouldn’t. To make life about how much I can accumulate for myself and my family, that would be a real drag. I wouldn’t know what the point was. Because my heart, my desire is so great I just could never live like that.

That’s beautiful. You were saying the other day that feminism isn’t the way to come into our full womanhood; Christ is.

[long pause]. Something my husband told me, I don’t know if I’ve told you this, this is something new that he said to me recently. When we were struggling in our courtship if you can call it that, he gave me a really hard time. And he was going through a lot. Getting off drugs, trying to start his new life, and he had had many many relationships with women. And he did not trust women for anything. At all. And when we started dating, I was in a very vulnerable position. Because I was really scared. I thought I would never get married. And I would never have children. And that put me in a very vulnerable position. What the hell was I going to do with my life? I’d been ousted already…no, ousted isn’t the word: I’d failed already in two consecrated endeavors…and I really wanted a task, a vocation, like I was saying, a purpose, a direction. And so I was kind of nutty. Because the more he gave me a hard time and pulled away from me, the more crazy I got.

So after you started dating, he kind of disappeared.

Yeah, for awhile. And the other day he said As crazy as you were, I saw the humanity of Christ in you. He said Remember, I did not trust a single woman any more. But as crazy as you were, the humanity of Christ is what led me to trust.

So his heart was really open.

He said That’s how I encountered Christ. The person of Christ, in the flesh. So it didn’t even matter that you were nutty.

And what do you mean when you say nutty, you mean just kind of calling him and stalking him and stuff?

Yeah, like calling him all the time and crying like crazy every time I felt like he was rejecting me. But I was very very vulnerable. I couldn’t bear to be rejected. It was just so painful. This longing was real. I was longing for my vocation because I’d been trying so hard for so many years. I felt like I was finally going to be put where I belonged. And I had to have that answer. I couldn’t live without it. And it made me nuts, it made me crazy that I was so close to it and it felt like it was moving away from me. And he couldn’t understand that and at the same time he couldn’t get rid of me because there was something so true…He told me later that he was saying to himself, What am I doing with this woman, she’s so crazy. And then he said, But wait a minute, I’m crazy, too! He realized we were both extremely weak. And it was only Christ who was going to be able to pull us through. But it required that kind of surrender.

On both your parts.

Yeah. On my part more of a patience, more of a trust. I had to be patient and trust that sooner or later he was gonna marry me. And on his part he had to trust that he was going to marry me. That he wasn’t going to screw it up. Because Christ was going to sustain us. And he told me he’s very proud. That’s one of the things he’s most proud of in life, that he’s been married for nine years! And he’s got two children. He’s providing for them. I mean he is so happy about that! He always tells me that. And every time we have an anniversary he’ll say you know, however many years it is, Now we’ve been married seven, eight, nine years! Joy. It’s a victory. He's climbed Mt. Everest!

Our culture tells us that happiness lies in unbridled freedom, in license. So it’s interesting that it instead lies not in being chained to something, but as you say in having a task. Around which everything becomes ordered. And then…”My yoke is easy and my burden light.” Even though…it’s sacrifice.

Well, I think as Christians we are hard-wired to give of ourselves completely. We can’t help it.

As humans!

As humans but I think as Christians ontologically, by virtue of our baptism, a grain of seed…unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it remains alone. But if it dies it yields a rich harvest. So I think by virtue of our baptism, that is something we can’t help. We long to give of ourselves completely. To die to ourselves so that something new can be born. And for me it’s very real, the desire that I have to give of myself, to be a complete gift. You know yesterday when you were talking about Ruth Burrows, was it Ruth Burrows, that Carmelite?

Yes.

You were talking about how she says when we pray, it’s really God taking the initiative. It’s really Him. It’s not what we do, but what He does. And that really struck me and I was thinking about that and thinking about that. What is that, what is that? And I was thinking when I say to my husband or to anybody, I love you, I mean it. I, I, love you. And yet who is able to say that, really? Only Christ can say that. So then who is “I”?

I live now not I, but Christ lives in me…

Yeah, but it’s not like Christ jumps out of us. It’s not like he’s some energy that’s released from us.

It’s not like Invasion of the Body Snatchers…

No, he becomes one with our I. I love you and I really love you. Who loves you? It’s me, it’s Rita. But it’s also Christ.

It’s fascinating because we don’t lose our individuality. We’re not all squished into this amorphous faceless mass of humanity. Instead we’re actually brought to the height of our uniqueness through disappearing in Christ.

Yeah. He grows in us. He becomes the definition of our I. I don’t think it’s right when you say to someone Jesus loves you. No, I love you.

And we’re not the same. Rita is not Heather is not Frank is not Micah is not Martin.

No, but we’re part of the same thing. Because what Frank said, he saw Christ’s humanity in me, he saw the love Christ had for him in me. But it’s me that loves. And it’s Christ that he loves. I mean we are so entwined.

I think that’s a really great place to end. “We are so entwined.” That’s perfect.

FRANK SIMMONDS
GOOD FRIDAY PROCESSION, BROOKLYN BRIDGE, 2011

15 comments:

  1. Wow wow wow. This is just beautiful in so many ways- thank you Heather and thank you Rita. So much to ponder, to rejoice in, to be challenged by. This is great food for my journey at this time-God bless you both and your families!

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  2. Amazing. And terrifying, in a certain way - the way good art is :) If only we all had the idea to make our lives into beautiful art with the Lord...

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  3. thank you both for this beautiful witness. You are all in my prayers!

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  4. Oh, it had to be a can of tomatoes; green beans or peach slices just wouldn't have cut it. And tomatoes are usually four-chambered, like the heart . . . What a lovely account.

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  5. Beautiful! Having read it twice, I've printed it out, to pray and meditate over it -- thank you both for sharing!

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  6. This was very good company during my three hour bout of insomnia last night, umm, this morning.

    AMDG,
    Janet

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  7. Couldn't finish reading it after work. Got too tired. Will tomorrow. You're doing a great job Heather.

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  8. Fr Patrick of MontereyAugust 28, 2012 at 10:01 PM

    Hi Heather. You are an extraordinary interviewer and Rita is so frank & well spoken. I am considering asking my premarital couples to view this as part of their marriage prep. This is sacramental talk that makes sense...! Blessings & thanks!

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  9. Just read this now. Wow. What a fascinating conversation. You have such interesting friends! I agree that marriage is not about staring into each others eyes but has a "task" as Rita puts it. I like her communal outlook.

    Also what I like is that this account shows that "failure" from one angle is just part of the ongoing story of a life; there's so much more. Thanks Rita and Heather.

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  10. So glad you all responded to this--I did nothing but basically turn on the tape recorder but Rita, I agree, is a profound witness...Also, Frank, it turns out, is facing some serious health issues. So let's do remember them both, and their two kids,in prayer...

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  11. Okay, i hope it's not too late for my 2 cents. Face it Heather, you did a lot more than switch on the recorder for this thing. I don't really know how much you fret about what you call writing, or not writing as you seem to say it sometimes, but it seems to be a recurring theme. Well, this piece doesn't happen without you and all you have to do is scroll up the above responses to get a feel for how moved people were by it.

    She talks about feeding the kids being her praying or poetry. Maybe this blog and your other non-writing stuff is your writing sometimes. This is not a platitude or BS. When you told that screenwriter workshop guy who gave you a job about the inordinate time spent on you blog I told you that you do it for us. I wasn't blowing smoke about that. You are preparing meals for us and anybody who visits here on a semi-regular basis knows of the care you put into meals ...even if we don't care for tangerine glazed tofu, which your protest notwithstanding, I'm pretty sure I did see here several months ago, although I could possibly be mistaken about that.

    Best,
    Erin

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  12. Erin, stop it! I thought we had established I have NEVER run a recipe, eaten, nor touted any such dish as tangerine-glazed tofu. I have a reputation to uphold here, you know!

    No seriously, my talent, if any, is I am able to SPOT saintly people and then I draw them into my net--no, that's not true, then they put up with me, and/or see I desperately need help, and if I'm lucky, as I was with Rita, they talk...the hard part of that one was transcribing the conversation which did indeed take several hours. Though I kind of liked it actually...more stories to come and as always thanks for the kind words, support, and laughs. Tangerine-glazed tofu!...

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  13. This is a beautiful story and interview! I want to send this to so many people! So many things that Rita said are critical to married Catholics: that marriage is a work, that we need to continue to make our lives a gift, that we are blessed to have such a purpose, even with the struggles. Please do a follow-up!

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  14. Hi Heather, I've been thinking of this article a lot recently and also remembering that Rita's husband was very ill. I have been keeping them both in prayer - is there any news on her husband? God bless x

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