A friend recently wrote: "It's been a less than stellar Lent."
I couldn't agree more: Although the more I think about it, the more I see that for me what that means is I can't remember the last time I've been so consistently less in control of my schedule, my time, my energy, my plans.
I've barely had time to write, and I don't think I've been to daily Mass more than once or twice during the whole of Lent. I even missed a Sunday Mass (for only the third time in eighteen years, though not through my own intention: I'd taken a red-eye to Honduras with Unbound and due to travel snafus, etc. the scheduled Mass was cancelled).
Anyway, this is what's interesting. I've only completely lost it a few times, and if to a person (as opposed to circumstances, the world, God), have made prompt amends.
I've HAD to surrender, because I simply would not have been able to proceed otherwise.
Still, the whole time I felt like I was rushing to an airport, typing a new address into the google maps search engine, charging my phone, dealing with spotty cell reception and/or wifi, hauling bags with snacks, work, retreat notes, and a travel mug of coffee, jamming a key to an unfamiliar room, inadvertently setting off the security alarm, figuring out how to buy a ferry ticket, forgetting my comb, my lipstick, my phone.
What's interesting as well is that never have I had so many people from so many quarters appealing to me for this or that. Will you pray for me, my husband is addicted to porn, my daughter has a degenerative disease and chronic pain. My best friend had a stroke, a heart attack, a relapse. My brother in law is dying of alcoholism. My kid left the Church. My daughter's engaged to a wastrel. I lost my job. I had an abortion. Will you pray for me, speak to my parish, read this poem, comment on this link, watch this youtube, blurb my book, tell me how to get an agent, listen to my story about the Little Flower? Will you feed my cat, move your plants, take over my jail commitment, come to my graduation, St. Patrick's Day party, or concert, go to the hospital to visit a sick friend, pay your storage bill.
The whole time I'd be thinking, Okay but could I just eat one single meal where I'm not hunched over a laptop, speeding down some freeway (or stuck in gridlock while people text me calling me to task for not responding earlier), or walking? I really tried to walk for at least an hour every day so as not to lose it completely and it was often the only hour I had to return phone calls and texts or to eat.
I'd also be thinking, I need to find a place to live!! I literally do not have an address at the moment! I have friends who bless their hearts will receive a letter or a package care/of.
The hardest thing about this sort of "crisis vortex" is that I can't write, or can't find the time and concentration to write. Which is usually my one consolation or I should say the activity that above all others calms my nervous system.
Every day a hundred stories to tell that are not getting told! I'm also very attached to "producing"; to giving "a good account" of myself at the end of the day. There's something good in that and there's something prideful and ego-based in that. Whatever's in it, it's been shattered to smithereens during Lent.
In the midst of all this, btw, I realized I had this huge lump on my left upper gum which I knew could only be Stage 4 mouth cancer or a severely problematic tooth. I was in Seattle at the time giving a retreat and could only pray the thing didn't blow before I got home. Which it didn't thank you God, probably because I was taking antibiotics, the procuring the prescription from Palm Springs and picking up before I felt for Seattle from my mom-and-pop druggist of which had been yet another...oh never mind).
Anyway, Tuesday morning, on my way across town for the first of what are to be several visits for a $1200 root canal I thought, There is only one real thing to "produce," ever, and that is love.
Can I love that I have the money to pay for my tooth, that it's a gorgeous sunny Southern California day, that the tulip trees are out, that I know where to park for free because I used to work as a lawyer two blocks away, that I no longer work as a lawyer, that I have legs with which to walk, that I'm sentient, upright, and breathing without difficulty?
Outside the building where the endodontist or whatever they're called was located, I saw a heavily plastic-surgeried woman in spike heels, a mini-skirt, a Chanel handbag, and bright red lipstick. Her expression was sullen and she was barking into a cell phone and smoking.
Of course when I got up to the sixth floor, went to the ladies' room, and returned to the guy's office, she turned out to be the receptionist. This cheered me no end. My heart was so with her, on every level.
And instead of acting all put-upon like I'm capable of doing, out of fear, at the dentist (where I have spenT way way more of my life than you want to know), I tried to be extra courteous and extra kind. "Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love." St. John of the Cross.
There's always love. The question at any given moment is whether there's any love in me.
Here's another strange thing that happened during Lent, in the midst of what seemed to me to be unrelenting destabilization and chaos. You know when you feel kind of possessive of a person and kind of jealous when he or she pays attention to someone else? Well I have a situation like that in my life. And I won't go into the details but a moment came up last week that held the potential for me to get jealous. Instead, I found myself just wanting the person to be happy and I saw that getting attention from this other person I'd often been jealous of would make him happy. And I was able in a small way to pave the way for this other person to be kind to him and to point it out and to rejoice FOR BOTH OF THEM.
I helped to make them both look good in the eyes of the other, in other words. Or at least I wanted that. A very quiet, unobtrusive, unremarked-upon by the world (and for sure by them) kind of thing. But it was not for one second lost on me. That is love, man. When you truly take a back seat. When you truly just want the well-being of the other. That's St. Therese of Lisieux, praying for souls. Every so often I get a glimpse of what that would look like. Instead of constantly jockeying for status and position, just going through life thinking This person drives me crazy and also seems to be getting more love and attention than me, but God loves him (or her) so let me ask God to love him or her through me.
That kind of thinking gives you an incredible amount of courage and strength. You're not trying to work up a natural affection for the person you skeeve: that's not going to happen But you love God, and you know He loves the person and you want everyone to be happy because He wants everyone to be happy. So you make your policy love and courtesy and charity and kindness because it's easy to love Him.
Except when He's not finding you an apartment. Whoops!
|VAN GOGH THOUGHT YELLOW WAS THE COLOR OF RESURRECTION|
Seemingly unrelated but not really thought: I was in Honduras for a week in February and met this one woman who haunts me. She was a housekeeper, walked an hour and a half each way to work, 6 1/2 days a week. Had two small kids. Another was at a group home, another with the mother of the father (she had five altogether, from a variety of fathers). During coffee season, they all picked, including the five-year-old. She made fifty bucks a month and the room she was renting cost fifty bucks a month. So she had to move every month...She was always just one step away from being evicted. She had us to her immaculate room, her meager belongings neatly covered with cheap blankets. The kid playing with his one toy a dingy plastic truck. She was beautiful and had lost most of her teeth. But it was her eyes that haunted me.
I've thought of her a lot as I live out of a suitcase and look for an apartment.
"The Lord hears the cry of the poor." That is really the heart of existence, the longer I live and the more I think about it. We are all poor and if we follow Christ, we know we are poor and we are human enough and humble enough and vulnerable enough to cry out that we are poor.
I'm not in any way comparing myself--with a bank account, a job, etc--to that woman in Honduras. I'm saying that a large part of the world exists in that kind of anxiety THEIR WHOLE LIVES.
What is our response? We know what Christ's response was. But what is ours?...
Here's the single greatest moment I experienced during Lent.
Tuesday afternoon, after the root canal in the morning and a bunch of other things, I went to Confession. I'd tried to go during Advent and stood in line for an hour at a church where even though there are always long lines the penitent stays in there and the priest apparently counsels for ten or fifteen minutes. So a bunch of us who had waited for an hour didn't get to go to Confession. And I hadn't been back and was way overdue and we like to go to Confession before Easter.
It was down to Holy Week and I know the priests are busy so I had to look around a bit for a church that had Confession. I found a place in a neighborhood called Frogtown, St. Ann's, a Filipino parish that was having a communal 5:30 penance service. Dandy. So I found my way over and there were maybe ten of us. One of the priests made an announcement in Spanish and then, I think there were three priests altogether, one went up and sat to the side of the altar and two others each went to a side confessional.
I'm all about the grille so I went to one of the side boxes. Except when I got in there was a screen but the priest was sort of half behind it and half not. Right away he looked at me. Okay. We'll look at each other. He was maybe Filipino, maybe Asian of some kind, I couldn't really tell. A white vestment, a stole.Slender. Middle-aged. Serious but kind.
So I said my thing, head bowed, like you do.
And this was the moment.
I looked up and the afternoon sun was coming through a little side window and the light shone on his face. this really beautiful face, a face of long-suffering, of faith.
He looked out the window for a minute. He seemed to be gazing at a point that was far, far away.
I thought: He believes. This guy believes it, like I do.
That is really what we are looking for. Some tiny sign that someone believes. Doesn't have to be a priest, though of course that's a bonus. It was a bonus that day.
He said, "Pray for the courage and the strength to do God's will Jesus was always eager to do the Father's will."
I was crying but that's the phrase I remember: Jesus was eager to do God's will. Because, you know, it sounds good on paper, but it is kind of a daunting thing.
Look at him.
Here's something else, though. I have not once gone hungry. I have not gone one night without a roof, usually a pretty spectacular roof, over my head.
Everything gets done. Life lurches on.
I want to thank the many, many people who have shared their homes, lent me their homes, helped me move my stuff, fed me, sheltered me, welcomed me, consoled me, supported me, gone out of their way to come see me, given me beautiful gifts, paid me.
And I especially want to thank the people who have asked me for help. Because that is what we are here for.
If you asked me to pray for you--I did.
I have held each and every request in my heart, even, in fact maybe especially, the ones I had to say no to.
Christ is risen.
And now--let's eat.
|HIBISCUS--THESE ARE ALL FROM FRANKLIN AVE. IN HOLLYWOOD|
THE DAY BEFORE EASTER