Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why I Love Football

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From the moment it begins I am hooked
by the pomp and circumstance
by the over-the-top pageantry and larger-than-life
Bose-inspired, John Williams-infused
surround sound announcing:
"THIS IS IMPORTANT STUFF 
HAPPENING RIGHT HERE SO
YOU BETTER PAY CLOSE ATTENTION!"

It helps that I adore men in uniform
especially these gladiators tricked out in
modern-day versions of 
Roman Coliseum Fashion,
in uniforms that enhance the shape 
of broad shoulders and small waists,
muscular thighs and the outright
grab-ability of (some of) those asses.

I respect how undistracted and hyper-focused
these men are, deep inside the
Football Compartment of their group mind,
competitive and testosterone-laden,
aches and pains a mile away
covered by adrenaline and God knows what else
cooked in the Big Pharm Labs of 'Merica.

Caressed by the roar of the crowd, 
I love the backslapping, the pig piles,
that ridiculous and comical rooster dance
that's beautiful to watch no matter which
player's crowing and those celebratory leaps
to smash chests which you will never see
women do.

I deeply respect the lack of pity, self- or otherwise,
and how those tough-guy, black and white-garbed refs
wear their belts like construction workers
undisturbed and fearless, totally comfortable
on the field and in charge of all those crazy, 
doped up warrior dudes who run like banshees
smashing and grabbing, grunting and yelling,
thrilled to be alive.

I love the tattoos and long hair,
how there's a rule for everything, how mad
these men and boys get when they break one, 
and how everyone knows they did, and 
how those flags flutter in earnest and whistles shrill 
hard for both major and minor transgressions. 

I have even begun to understand the point of cheerleaders
who bounce up and down in their seductive little outfits
telling the world they are good for one thing and
one thing only and Lord knows it's not a conversation 
requiring brains, except the kind that ends in bed
and yeah, ok, I'm a little bit judge-y still but the truth is,
and I will deny I ever said this except under the worst kind
of torture, there is something primitively appealing
about beautiful, young, sexy women
who relish being beautiful and sexy
unabashedly cheering on those 
hardworking, young, and sweaty men
who relish hard work and sweat. 

So you see how I adore those warriors on the battlefield
enveloped by the roar of the crowd and
The Voice of the Announcer,
hands over patriotic hearts as they sing
Our National Anthem before heading into battle
with a few non-lethal weapons: 
determination and thick skin,
heavy bones and deep muscle,
youthfulness and vigor,
athleticism and teamwork,
the willingness to suffer for the larger goal
of beating the other guys, of killing them even, 
safe in the modern reality that
nobody actually
dies. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

On Men, Love and Politics

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Not so long ago I was having an issue with my car, some minor inconvenience I did not want to deal with, and said to my 30 year old son, mostly sarcastically, “Man, I sure wish I had a boyfriend who would deal with this shit.” 

And My Son Who I Adore stopped walking, came back to my car and leaned in, and with all the seriousness he could muster, looked me in the eye and said, “Ma, that boyfriend you’re wishing for would probably love a home cooked meal in exchange.”  And he gave me THAT LOOK.

I laughed at him and his comment, and at his knowledge of me as a non-happy chef/domestic goddess, but the truth of it filled me with dread.  I decided right then I am probably better off just staying single, because if that’s the bargain I have to make – a meal for some car repair - somebody’s going to get short changed (The Guy) and somebody else is going to cop a big fat resentment (me).  

But my little car dilemma has pointed out the fallacy in my thinking. I mean, I’m apparently walking around with the delusion that most men like to fix shit.  Not all of them do. I mean, I knew a man once who said his favorite tool was his cell phone because he could use it to fix anything – plumbing, electrical problems, auto repair.

And then there is the question I’ve been asked recently, right in the middle of a date, which proves that some men also walk around with delusional thinking.  And the question is this:

“So…do you like to cook?”

Each time I’m asked this, I know it spells doom for any possibility of a budding relationship, and signals a deep divide between my worldview and his worldview. And just for the record, I would never ask a man while on a date, “So…do you like to fix shit?”

The question of my enjoyment of cooking seems harmless on the surface and a way to get to know me, but I dread this question.  I’m sure if I were a woman who actually liked to cook I might welcome it, anticipate it, and answer it with an enthusiastic yes, maybe even ask what his favorite dish is. But for someone like me who does not particularly enjoy it, who is mediocre at it at best, it’s a loaded question.  And it’s loaded not just because I am not at my best in the kitchen, or with anything related to domesticity, but because of what it says about the man asking it and what he might expect from me if something developed between us, and in truth, about how inadequate I feel in this area of life.  Domestic goddess I am not.  Cooking just takes so much time! And so does housecleaning! And food shopping!

I mean, really, I was raised with the idea that women have far better things to do with their time than cook and clean and shop. This belief is both a curse and a blessing.  It’s a blessing because I know I have value to offer the world and to other people beyond what I can do for them on a physical plane – I mean, I am more than a woman who has clean, folded towels at the ready, some yummy treat I’ve saved in the freezer just for your visit, or the proud owner of a clean floor you can walk on barefoot (full disclosure here: I am not now this person and probably never will be).

But it’s been a curse because when I am engaged in either of those activities, cooking or cleaning or food shopping, I feel slightly demeaned and resentful, because instead of being cooped up with domestic chores, I believe I should be out on a long hike, or ministering to some lost person’s soul, or you know, frolicking in some other way that women are now allowed and encouraged to go do.  And the additional aspect of this curse is the noticeable lack of clean towels for guests (which are few and far between anyway), the empty fridge, and the existence of that floor you should definitely not walk barefoot on.

The last guy who asked me the ‘Do you like to cook’ question was someone I was very attracted to, physically speaking, and I maybe wouldn’t have minded cooking for him once in a while if it ever came to that. And because of that attraction, I was initially willing to overlook a few things in the interest of, um, fun.  But this was a man who, as it turns out, defines himself as a ‘redneck.’  This is hard to fathom, since the man grew up in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, so how redneck could he truly be?  What’s a redneck, anyway? I looked it up:  Southern, white, and uneducated.   Yet when he told me this little tidbit about himself, my first question was, “OK…so does this mean you know how to use a chainsaw?”  

His answer was yes, of course he can use a chainsaw.  I confess I appreciate this skill in a man, on a visceral level, despite the fact that I don’t have any real need for it in my daily life - and as a side note, I think it would be wonderful if this was how men feel about women cooking.

And when he asked me while we were playing pool what I think about guns, I realized his ‘do you like to cook’ question and his self-definition as a redneck (and um, his Harley, did I mention the Harley?) was maybe part and parcel of something bigger going on.  Like maybe some kind of agenda for his potential lady friends, some big old hoops I was maybe going to be expected to jump through.  But my answer to him was, “Oh, I don’t have a problem with guns… as long as they’re not pointed at me.”

He just laughed.  

This was a new experience for me, dating a gun owner, a person with the worldview of a gun owner.  I mean, every Saturday morning I hang out with a stable and welcoming crew of truly wonderful people – mostly men, a couple of women.  These are bright, articulate, witty, gentle, kind, progressive, open-minded, affectionate, thoughtful people. We have a lot of laughs and give a lot of hugs and our conversations range from the truly mundane to the deeply spiritual.  So if any of them announced during our Saturday morning coffee time at Starbucks that they’d bought a gun, I would assume they’d suffered some recent trauma – a home invasion, a car jacking, a school shooting – that had twisted their worldview from one of relative safety and benevolence to one of danger and evil.  None of them would buy a gun simply to exercise their right to own one, or to ward off some impending doom.  It would be a reaction to something really, really bad and really, really scary that had already happened, not something really bad and scary that could happen at any moment because the world is a bad and scary place.  Do you see the difference? And I am pretty sure they are mostly not stuck on playing specific gender-based roles in their respective relationships, at least not in any conscious ‘this-is-how-it’s-supposed-to-be’ kind of way, as if any other way was wrong.   But my redneck friend is pretty much a walking cliché and owns a gun because ‘you never know what might come in the front door.’  I feel sort of sad for him, living life behind his armored heart (and that is a subject for another blog post).
 

Anyway, during our last telephone conversation, my redneck friend with the completely divergent worldview began channeling Archie Bunker on steroids with a large dose of Rush Limbaugh thrown in for good measure. This was a very painful, disheartening experience for me [sniff] and told me everything I needed to know about him, to wit: that I would be much better off never allowing him to come through my front door again (the one and only time he did was to pick me up for our date). I mean, for a woman like me who is not domestically inclined and who is deeply progressive, a statement like this: “You know what’s wrong with this country, this disaster of a country? You know what fucked it up royally? Well, I’ll tell you:  The loss of the American housewife.” ….well, that kind of statement perfectly highlights without any ambiguity that he and I don’t even inhabit the same planet, never mind have a similar worldview. That kind of statement just simply spells….d-o-o-m.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Terminal

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The day I knew for sure 
I was going to die 
I lay myself down in the grass 
under a birch tree 
and watched the clouds 
drift across that color of sky 
that makes my throat ache. 

Oh, it's not that I discovered 
some terminal illness brewing inside 
some horror of a cancer 
I would conduct a losing battle with, no. 
 It was just this: 
Some day my life will end. 

I mean, it was just a moment 
of acceptance really, 
nothing dramatic or emotional 
just a willingness to let it in
to stop fighting this 
truer-than-anything reality 
that being human means 
being terminal and there is nothing
in the world 
I can do about it.

I would die 
and more importantly
I would not get to see and experience 
everything in the world 
I so deeply want 
to see and experience.




So I lay under the tree and 
felt the earth turn on its axis
just the two of us, the tree and I
hanging out on the grass 
out in the middle of space

out in the middle of nowhere special
out in the middle of the universe
or maybe on the outskirts of it
and watched the clouds
drift across the endless blue
of that amazingly beautiful sky
and let my heart break.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Woman at the Window

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...could see the blue of his eyes
from her second-story window and 
his long, dark eyelashes, how his salt-and-pepper hair
had that tousled yet within the bounds of conformity 
kind of look, a look that requires 'product'
which he used deliberately, she could tell,
even to go to work every day with the guys
he used it, tucked in his shirt to go haul asphalt and talk rag time, 
even then it was important to look good.

The woman at the window could tell he was totally
the alpha male amongst his peers
wherever he went, anytime there was a question he
was it, even as he lifted the hatch on the back of the truck to let
the slippery dark tar slide into his wheelbarrow,
his movements meant something, they said something,
I'm it, they said, you need never want another thing now, 
I'm here, even as he walked that wheelbarrow to just the right spot
and dumped it carefully, moving slowly and with the ease
of a dancer, the fluidity of his movements almost feminine,
in charge of himself and everything he touched
comfortable with the physical world,
on top of things.

He had the kind of body, she could tell,
that the Greeks built into statues, preserving forever
the lines and curves and planes in all the right places
and as the morning's work
warmed him up, he took off his long sleeved shirt to replace it
with the short-sleeved one he'd worn over it
and she softly breathed an "oh thank you" 
to all the gods that ever were for bringing her such 
a lovely, beautiful gift to begin her day.

Even the ink on his arms and on his back
was in all the right places and 
he took a while to put his shirt back on
draping it casually around his neck for a bit
as if he knew he was being watched and admired
as if he recognized out of the corner of his eye
and in that place in his belly that recognizes such things
the shape of an appreciative woman leaning into the window
with her arms raised and the sunlight streaming in and the ink
on her own arm feeling shiny and bright
like a beacon beaming out her attention. 

She wondered for a moment, as she saw his shirt come off
as she watched him bend over the wheelbarrow
holding the handles to lift its fullness with ease
happy to be there and not anywhere else
his body just waiting to move wherever it needed to next
what it might be like to run her thumbs down that deep V
on either side of his belly button
to place her palms on the flat of his chest for just a moment
to run her fingers over his lats and his waist
to feel his perfect ass and the solidity of his thighs

and in a parallel universe
say twenty
OK maybe twenty-five
years ago
that woman at the window tousled her own hair
gave it that just-climbed-out-of-bed look, then
very deliberately and with forethought 
put on her most sparkly earrings, darkened her lips with a slick swipe,
slipped into her slinkiest nighty and only that and 
walking barefoot and
with clear intention
stepped out onto the porch.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bubbles

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I love the way 
you love me,
the way 
your words and
your touch
fill my heart
with frothy bubbles of
Fizzy Lifting Drink. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Batting a Thousand

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I have to tell you, I am not exactly batting a thousand in the online dating arena.

I mean, so far I’ve been propositioned by…mmm…maybe six 20-something year olds, all of whom expect me to take them seriously as candidates.  I mean, I know exactly what they think they’re auditioning for, but seriously, if that was all I wanted, I certainly wouldn’t be looking for it online.  And although they do strike me as brave souls, I have not encouraged them in any way.  One of these, ahem, ambitious young men spent some time via email trying to convince me that age doesn’t matter, but what he doesn’t know is that in his case his…ummm….. youthfulness would be the very reason I met him, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

I’ve also been approached by men who have absolutely no business approaching women, romantically or otherwise. They are just fucking creepy, and I’m sorry to be the one to say that, but they just are.  I don’t respond to them, ever. 

There have also been several who seem pretty normal, which has kept my hopes up of meeting a decent guy, but the conversations just kind of peter out, and they wander off, probably distracted by some shiny new object in the shape of a girl, and so I just sit tight and watch them go.  Gone are the days of me chasing men, waving my arms around saying, pick me, pick me!  I’m too old for that, and besides, who has that kind of time?  

And then there’s the guy I swear is someone I recently dated, whose profile sounded exactly like him – self-centered, disgruntled, kind of whiny and needy, annoyed at women and the world in general for not giving him what he wants, and full of little thoughts and anecdotes that sound like lies.  And when he emailed me to say how sexy he thinks I am and to ask if, P.S. could he send me a photo via text or email (he’d taken down the one of him in dark shades and a hoodie), I told him politely if formally that I’d read his profile and did not think we’re a match. I also said that even if we were, I wouldn’t want him to send me anything because I think a public photo is much more straightforward and honest.  He replied and said that I sounded  - get this - condescending and uppity. Uppity, I tell you!  Uppity.  As if I have stepped out of my defined role as, what, the Little Woman who does what she’s told?  Holy crap.  Uppity. Yeah, he so totally had the wrong girl.  Like I’m going to give my personal contact information to a guy whose hiding behind very dark glasses and looks like he carries extremely sharp knives?

I have been on a couple dates in the real world via this online dating thing, but alas, no sparks.  Not for me anyway, but in each case I was asked out again. And the atheist engineer guy who wore a tie to our coffee date (?!) who puts haiku in his software code notes was super disappointed when I turned him down for a second date.  Said stuff like drat, and dang and darn.  No really, he did.  Said if I changed my mind to give him a call.  But…first of all, the guy’s an atheist (what was I thinking?).  And worse, he had a porn collection he kept with his books, all of which were sorted by category. I mean, I know this because he had photos of his two very full, very tall bookcases online, and when I asked how they were sorted (because who collects that many books without lovingly caring for them?) he listed things like mystery, adventure, sci fi, computer books, etc. and porn.  Now, in a general sort of way, I have come to accept the fact that no American male anywhere has never watched porn, and in a general sort of way I have sort of mostly no problem with keeping your favorite flick on hand for…well, you know what I mean… but to have a collection? To have that collection sorted?  Um, yah, I’m sorry, but I’m just not that evolved. 

Oh, I haven’t mentioned the Irishman who – oh never mind. It’s not worth it. Suffice it to say, when I disbelievingly read his texts to my ex-husband, he just shook his head slowly with his eyes closed and said, “He has no idea who he’s dealing with.”

I am not entirely sure how to take that, but in a weird way, it’s kind of encouraging.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sometimes it Is, and Sometimes it Ain't

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My first dance class this week was in a lovely location by a lake in the middle of the city, and I could hear geese calling as I arrived. The Elks Lodge itself was kind of shabby, but I wasn’t there to admire the décor. I was there to learn to dance. I suspect I will learn much more than West Coast Swing as time goes by, maybe far more than I really want to, but that is also why I am here. Because, OK, true story - I was also there to practice letting myself be led, specifically led by a man. Don’t laugh!!  Couples’ dancing is actually a recommended activity for women like me – independent, strong, opinionated, self-sufficient – who are trying to learn this death-defying feat. Phrases like “learning to swim underwater without an oxygen tank” come to mind, but I am doing this anyway. 

It’s taken me a few days to absorb my first lesson, and I don’t just mean all the dance moves. 

My friend assured me that there would be a good balance of male to female, and she was right.  Just as I suspected, of the men in the upstairs beginners’ room (vinyl floor, oldschool paneling, a tiny window), most of them bat for the other team, except for the few who were there with their wives or girlfriends.  I appreciated this, and knew it going in, because it meant I could focus on learning to dance and not any interpersonal dynamics.  We switched partners often and this is where the lesson came in. Frankly, I have switched partners…um…a few times in my life and I am sometimes left with the question, when all is said and done and the fat lady sings, “Is it me?”  And I think the answer is, well, sometimes it is, Sue, and sometimes it ain’t. Sometimes it’s both.


There was, for instance, the dapper old man in his smoking jacket and hat who greeted me with a gentlemanly smile and his blue eyes (who was no doubt a player in his younger days no matter which side he bats for), who encouraged me to keep my forearm parallel to the floor, among other helpful hints, in this formal, bossy, grandfatherly, older-man-to-younger-woman sort of way. I met his formality with my own and was glad he could lead me in the dance in a way that was masterful without being controlling. I could relax with him and let myself be led.

Then there was one of the married guys, who was clearly there because he loved his wife and wanted to have fun with her, but who was just as new at this as I am.  He couldn’t get the steps quite right, which he admitted out loud with a sense of humor, and so I found myself encouraging him to be nice to himself as he learned, telling him that he had the harder job of having to lead and that it was all OK.  With him, too, I could relax. It was a little awkward, but he was real and he was honest and could laugh about it, and so I could relax and let myself be led.  

And there was the skinny, white-haired guy with the big grin and the deliberately sticky-up hair and the spring in his step and the wedding band but no partner who called me “Giggles” whenever it was my turn to dance with him. He welcomed me with a big grin and complete acceptance and delight.  He was excited to get to dance with me and I felt free and comfortable in the glow of his cheerfulness and his ready willingness to give me a thumbs up and a big “Yeah, you got it!” during our last dance together, as if he were personally responsible for it. He didn’t expect anything from me except a sense of fun and adventure.  I could relax with him and let myself be led. 

And how about the young, bearded guy with no rhythm who just sort of galumphed his way through the moves, reeking of alcohol with bloodshot eyes?  I just kept hoping he shows up sober next time, and that his girlfriend wasn’t too embarrassed by him. I could relax because he was harmless, but I didn’t want to hang out with him and didn’t bother trying to let myself be led.

And then there was the guy who reminded me in a gazillion subtle ways of the last guy I dated steadily.  This guy has clearly been dancing for years – long waisted and lean with a chiseled jaw and those dancer thighs (oh my). He reminded me of Mikhail Baryshnikov, except younger and way taller.  But he had the posture of someone who was there reluctantly, like against his will, maybe because his mommy or his coach told him to be. My gut told me he was learning this particular dance the way a weight lifter might take up yoga, just to stay limber. In other words, he was not really that invested in being there, and was just going through the motions.  His attention was not fully in the room.  He was aloof with me and self-absorbed, avoiding my eyes and only taking my hand at the very last minute. 

I was aware of consciously choosing not to flirt with him to loosen him up, mostly because I didn’t want contribute to the size of his already inflated ego, and or to invite that kind of energy between us, especially in case he’s not batting for the other team (there was a little ambiguity there).  He was the only person I didn’t flirt with and I flirt with pretty much everybody.  He was stiff and led me as if I were…I don’t know, just a task he was trying to get through, a job he had to perform, an object he had to move across the floor so he could earn points with the Dancing Gods. His touch was impersonal and too hard, his steps were too big, and he left too much space between us. He was not thinking of me at all, or considering my comfort. I felt myself stiffen in response to him, and to pull back, unable to soften and just practice dancing.  I could not relax with him and let myself be led.

This all felt so familiar, so very much like my recent dating experience (and in case I haven’t made it clear, deeply uncomfortable).  And just so I am being totally, abundantly, see-through crystal clear, I am not referring to any physical intimacy with the dating thing, just the dance two people do when getting to know each other. 

And ironically, what the dancer dude said to me at the end of our second dance was pretty much word for word what that other guy had the audacity to say to me: “Maybe you should just try to relax.” 

I almost laughed in his face.  As in, Wow. Really? You are not fully here and present and you are treating me like a project, moving me around like a chess piece, and I'm supposed to relax and just trust you?  Hmmmm....not so much.

But then, being a good female, I went inward and asked myself: “Is it me?”

And as always, I suspect the answer is, ‘Sometimes it is, and sometimes it ain't. Sometimes, it's both.'  

In any event, what I did in that moment is to take the hand of the next guy in line who was fully present, happy to see me, and honored to join me in the dance.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

I Would Like to Give Up

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I would like to give up 
the constant noticing of what lies
beneath the surface
the awareness of the deep river
that flows beneath my soul
the pull of its weight a magnetic force
holding me fast to the earth and the
daily round of boxed in drudgery

I would like to give up
the secret brooding I engage in
when my feelings are hurt or
when I have lost someone I love,
that secret thing I do of falling into
a lovely, if temporary, 
morass of self-pity.

I would like to give up 
the fear that I will always be 
single, simply too much
for any rational man to take on:
too loud, too smart, too self-sufficient,
too messy, too deep and sometimes
too needy of reassurance and also, now,
too capable of telling you to just
knock it off already and stop being a dick.

I would like to give up
and I mean really give up,
the if-onlys, the yah-buts, the backward glances 
over my shoulder when I cannot be present
here in this moment, this one right here
and give up the wish that the past could be
any different.

I would like to give up
the eating of potato chips, especially
when I eat them with a sense of futility
the sense that I will forever be alone anyway
and cellulite is irrelevant when you are
fully clothed so screw it, 
just pass me the bag already. 

I would like to give up
the worry about my children and their future
about whether they will make it
to happy, successful and loved adulthood
and the worry that I have passed on the legacy
of single parenthood to my eldest and the fear
that he will never overcome it and find a nice girl
and just settle down some day. 

I would like to give up 
my ordinary every-dayness
my oh so pedestrian humanity
and just completely and forever
embrace my divinity and live constantly
in the Light of God's love and never again
experience loneliness or a feeling of separateness
all alone in the dark. 


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

“A Not-So-Silent Retreat, Reverb,*” or “Those Crazy Catholics”

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I signed up for a silent retreat several weeks before I finished my master’s degree, at a time when I was really stretching hard to get to the finish line.  I was mentally tired and looking forward to quiet and rest and time alone. I didn’t think I was all that concerned about it, however, until a few days before when I started getting a little skittish and jiggy heading into all that silence.  I’ve done a few silent retreats before – one at a place down in Cohasset and the other during a weekend at home while my two younger sons were at their dad’s.  The Cohasset gig was also by the ocean, and I went into it with no plan, but did a lot of walking, mindful eating, napping, meditating, making some art, praying, and enjoying the ocean and sunrises.   I came out of it with a couple of decent poems and the ability to really hear the clarity of my own voice for the first time in my life, and a closer walk with God.  Same result with the silent retreat at home – eating, walking, praying, writing, etc. but no ocean, just lots of getting comfortable with me and hanging out with God.

This time, something was pulling at me, some question I was not sure I wanted the answer to. I didn’t consciously know what it was but some part of me knew.  I thought the question was this:  What if I got my degree in the wrong thing and this weekend will bring me up close and personal to that truth? But that was only the ON TOP question, and some part of me knew that, too. I have already asked and answered that question anyway, a question I knew I would ask no matter what degree I got.  That skittish feeling was strong enough, though, that I almost reached out to a friend for a chat over some grub, someone I admire very much who’s also confronted himself head on and tackled the voices in his head.  But I emailed for advice instead, and he helpfully reminded me to drop the stories and just be in the moment, which is nearly always the right answer no matter what the occasion. I think I might owe him a burger for that.

Surprisingly, my epiphany of sorts came before I even left the house. I was pulling back the shower curtain about to step onto the rug when I got the real question and it was this:  “But….what if God is displeased with me?”   I thought it was my inner seven year old asking this question inside my head because the quality of her voice was so…insecure.  But seven year olds don’t use words like ‘displeased,’ right? Uptight grownups do.  Turns out, it was my inner schoolmarm, the one who is always cautioning me not to do anything out of line, or call attention to myself, or I don’t know, fart in public or laugh too loud, which I often do – the laughing, not the farting - or actually be out-loud excited about something and show it, or head off the main path in any way. Needless to say, she’s a pain in the ass. I bet you have one, too. 

At any rate, she is a pretty tough taskmaster, because she thinks that life is all about being safe and getting it right, and being a good girl - whatever the hell that is - and thus cautions me often.  I know she is wrong on so many levels, and I have defied and ignored her advice many times (admittedly, sometimes when I maybe should have listened), but I know that for me, a life well lived is exactly the opposite of safe and right, that a life well lived is lived out loud in the light, and bravely and with lots and lots of mistakes and off-the-beaten-path journeys.

So when I heard the question in my head as I was getting out of the shower, it was like someone hit me in the solar plexus – what if God is displeased with me?  This brought tears to my eyes (I confess it doesn’t take much these days).  And so I cried, hard.  Because that is always my question, you know, which is kind of the only question I really care about and kind of a crazy question, too, because God is not a person. God is a kind of energy, or maybe God is just an idea, but in any case, God is not separate from me and cannot, in fact, by its very nature be displeased with me.  But the question made me cry anyway just for a moment, standing naked in the bathroom, until I pulled myself together and reminded myself what a bullshit kind of question that is, because of course God is pleased with me.  Part of me wants to write the list of all the ways God is likely to be pleased with me, or should be pleased with me because look at this! And this! And that! But it’s a completely unnecessary list, because in the end I’m totally awesome and all is fundamentally well.  I don’t have to prove anything, not to you or myself and certainly not to God.

And so the schoolmarm can take her cautionary little tales and bury them deep in a very dark place. I really don’t want to listen to her anymore (except when I really need to).  As for the inner seven-year-old…well, that’s another story.

***

This retreat, as it turns out, I was full to the brim with a general sense of contentment and ease now that the hard question was asked and answered.  There was no loneliness or longing or skittishness or wish to be elsewhere during my time alone, save for a few moments by the ocean when the wish for a partner broke through all the contentment and the tears came.  Mostly, I was totally grateful for the life I have, which allows me to take this kind of time away from it, and there was no wondering if I was OK or had done well, or had a good year, and no lingering questions about my degree. I was just totally hanging out with God in the moment, walking, meditating, writing, making a little art, eating mindfully, and exploring any path in the general vicinity I could find.   Some of them were pretty awesome.  

However, I spent the weekend with about 40 Catholics who did not, it seems, sign up for the same silent retreat I did. They were lovely people – I have yet to meet a practicing Catholic I don’t like – but many of them used their cell phones or ipads, or whispered to each other in the hallway, and person after person would say ‘excuse me’ or ‘thank you’ right out loud, in a whispery sort of way as we passed in the narrow hallways or held the door for each other.  I was often shocked by my own internal reaction, which was to silently scream at them to please shut the fuck up already, don’t you know what silence is?!  I confess this is not a very nice part of myself, but this mean, judgmental thought would come unbidden before I could stop it, even as I smiled at them with my mouth closed.  I eventually learned to keep my head and gaze down, but it was an effort, because I look everybody in the eye these days, I hold my head high and I smile at people.   This old posture – head down, gaze averted - felt foreign and old and heavy but deeply necessary, so I did it.  

Clearly I had expectations of what my weekend was supposed to look like, at least in terms of communication with other people.  It took me a full day to realize that these folks had a totally different agenda than I did.  Every few hours, it seemed, those crazy Catholics, as I fondly began to call them, would have another liturgy or a mass or some ceremony to celebrate a saint and gather ‘round the hearth, which was in a room right in the middle of the many joined buildings.  More than once, I would lose track of their next gathering time, head to the other side of the building, usually just before a meal, and be confronted by the barrier of their group gathered in that middle room, talking and praying and sharing stories.  “Next time,” I promised myself, “I’m going where the Buddhists are, or maybe the Quakers. They know how to be silent. Or maybe I’ll just take myself to the middle of the woods somewhere and pitch a tent.”  

On the last night, I’m ashamed to admit, I walked right through the middle of mass, which was not in a formal chapel or I could never have done it.  Or maybe I should say, I tiptoed around the outside of the group, trying to be invisible because I didn’t want to go around this time - it was dark and rainy outside, I wasn’t dressed to be outdoors, I was carrying a dirty plate, it was after the start of dinner time, I was hungry and wasn’t this supposed to be a silent retreat, for God’s sake?!?   I cringed for an hour after that tiptoe episode, and almost got up to make a public apology the next day at lunch – a group affair not at all silent with the clanking of dishes and silverware and those surreptitious and sporadic whispers to the chef and his helper, and sometimes to each other - because I felt so uncomfortable about nearly disrupting their religious ritual.  I imagined my poor grandmother turning in her grave (she was a devout Catholic) and I am deeply respectful of other people’s religious rituals (from all religions). But I realized nobody really noticed me, and I hadn’t hurt them in any way as I tiptoed by. I mean, communion went on as usual, and as a person who takes communion fairly regularly, and fairly seriously, I know that people are internally focused during that time and don’t notice much around them anyway so I…well, I… I…uh…just…kept…silent….and just kept eating my lunch. 

Now don’t get me wrong. Under different circumstances, i.e. if I had signed up for the same retreat they had, I would have participated in those crazy Catholics’ ceremonies and sermons and chats without a problem. I was raised Catholic and have no quarrel with the faith. I’m a Jesus fan myself, and also a bit of a Sufi and a Buddhist, and enjoy a good Hindu kirtan now and then.  I mean, at their core, most religions have the same basic message –  love God, be kind to other people, and don’t be an asshole.  It’s only on the outside that religions look different, but dig deep enough and that’s the basic message, so I feel no need to pick one and claim it as my own.  So my point is not that Catholics are crazy – they’re not – it’s just that MY work was to be present for what was, which was not at all what I expected. And that, I think, is what life really is all about - being present for and fierce with reality, no matter what the cost…and staying silent when necessary.

* Reverberation is the persistence of sound in a particular space after the original sound is produced. A reverberation, or reverb, is created when a sound is produced in an enclosed space causing a large number of echoes to build up and then slowly decay as the sound is absorbed by the walls and air.