Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lately I've been Losing Sleep

Keep coming back to the last part of the play "Our Town," the horror and incredulity of the girl that people have no idea of what's going on.

I'm no stranger to shutting out. I shut down when I traveled East. Culture shock, feeling judged, fish out of water…definitely shrank a little bit. I found a group that was cool with hugs. That helped more than you could imagine. I'm naturally a huggy person. Surprised? Here's the other thing: incredibly sensitive. To the point that I've wondered what the hell is wrong with me. Goes well with my Myers-Briggs personality type…but given that it's the rarest of personality types, it's no surprise that the rest of the world would not feel compelled to accommodate the way I see the world. I don't expect it to. But man, it gets lonely, and it's hard to stay true to that identity when the world screams, "NO" at worst and "uh…wha?" at best. So it's easy to shut out. Because paralysis seems the other option. Being overwhelmed and unable to function. Let a little of life in and it all floods wondrously and horribly and overwhelmingly and how can you do anything?

But…how can you not? How can you not stop and just consider everything that's happening every nanosecond? The life that grows, the weather patterns shifting, the split-second thoughts and decisions and habits and evasions and attractions and daydreams and everything in the scope of human interaction? How can you not see the pure miracle of continuing to exist, and how can it not stop you dead in your tracks? How can you not consider the cosmos that twirls and glimmers, of the everything that's happening?

And how can you not be aware of what could be? Of what you could be? If you had the audacity to breathe? To fearlessly live into who you were called to be in spite of the things that stand in your way?

Because cognizance of it leads to being responsible for it, for being accountable to living into it. But what if we lived in a world that encouraged that? that called us out when we don't do that?

Jump headlong down the rabbit hole.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

On Self-Sacrifice

As I prepare to dive back into residence hall living, albeit in a very different setting from undergrad and in a different capacity, I find myself revisiting memories of college and high school that I did not anticipate revisiting. Better said, I am not surprised that I'm revisiting memories of groups and friends and experiences just mentioned, but I am surprised by what jumps to mind, what things catch my mind's focus.

Imaginary reader, when I first entered college, there was a drive that I couldn't quite explain. There was a stirring in my heart that arose from beautiful friendships in high school, a strong foundation in personal prayer, a healthy approach to introspection, and I can't even begin to guess what else. Nevertheless, this stirring served as my North, my compass, and it steered me into the group known as Esto Vir. 
Those in my imaginary audience from my college probably know about the group, but for the sake of exposition, bear with me. Esto Vir is a brotherhood of young Catholic men seeking to acquire and gain the tools to discern what it means to be a Catholic man, especially in a college environment. The name itself comes from St. Josemaría Escrivá's writing in The Way "Don't say, 'That's the way I am--it's my character.' It's your lack of character! Esto Vir! Be a man!"

Be warned: I like giving context. I appreciate the richness of the back story, and so I try to fill in the story as much as I can...perhaps it's a vain hope that others truly feel my experience through my verbal barrage. Perhaps it's just my thing. I just want to throw it out there that you may be entirely exhausted by the time you get to the point of this long entry, so skim ahead if you are.

The guys who started this group, 6 years ahead of me, had spent a lot of time hashing out what the guiding principles of this brotherhood would be. The first virtue that jumped out was obvious: Prayer. It was impossible to grow in being a Catholic man without encouraging both personal and communal prayer, liturgical and non-liturgical. Ultimately to be a Catholic man is to be a type of Catholic human, and that holds to the idea that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Learning to foster, cherish, and strive to develop that relationship with God is necessary in the midst of college's multiple questions and those that persist and appear after college is out.

The second virtue is also fairly obvious in hindsight: Brotherhood. I don't know how much strain went into whether Esto Vir would be called a Brotherhood or a Men's Group. I think that on one level, they took on the identity of Brotherhood to serve as the foil to the stereotypical Fraternity. While we did not live in the same house, we nevertheless assumed the title of brothers. We were committed to each other in recreation, in joy, in pain and difficulty, in prayer, at mealtime, physically and spiritually. I am sure that the group still continues to reflect on this, but to have brotherhood as a virtue and to strive to live by it is to deny the self-serving friendship, the microscopic view of oneself. It invited us to stretch our arms out to each other, both for support and to be supported. It was an invitation and a challenge to see what Christian relationships truly ought to look like. There's a plethora of Catholic Social Teaching extrapolation, but I don't have the words ready to do credit; I'd sound stuffy, academic, and boring. I do that plenty well already.

Thirdly, the virtue of chastity appeared. This was a tough one for a lot of guys, myself included. Oh, not because we necessarily disagreed with it in principle, but because the challenge issued by chastity is one of much more than simply refraining from certain actions or adopting different actions when in an interaction with somebody of the opposite sex. Changing behavior, adding behavior, cutting behavior, was plenty difficult, and we certainly did strive to change in that regard. The idea of chastity being the way in which we embody and express love by virtue of sexuality (which is so much more expansive than sex!), to change the way we thought...what better place to work on this than with brothers in the fight, seeking and striving to live holy lives, to be good men to their friends, their future wives, to be good models for their children and whatever people watch them as role models? My friend Matt writes prolifically and beautifully on this without overwhelming the other elements of the human person. For his writing, look here:

The fourth virtue is what I want to examine, as the title shows. Self-sacrifice. When I first examined this virtue with some energy, I entered into it with the same disposition that I might have entered into a Lenten fast when I was younger, i.e., without a very deep understanding of what was going on. I trained myself to wake up at 6 AM, to go running, to come back and stretch, get my butt over to Mass at kneel without kneelers as a small act of penance. I went vegetarian for a stretch to train for an "Advent penance," which was going meat, fish, and gluten free. I was exuberant, threw myself into it whole-heartedly, and spent most of that first semester sophomore year half asleep. 

I don't say that to disparage what I did! Gosh, I hope to have that spiritual gumption again...and I'm going to work toward it. The problem that kept coming up, that keeps coming up, that will never STOP coming up as long as I'm living and long after I've passed away, is that the bigger offering is HARD. I was happy to offer that smaller sacrifice up to God for any number of good reasons (and some less advisable ones, like, say, trying to pay Jesus back for salvation). The discomfort of kneeling on the floor was genuine, but I could manage because it was only half an hour plus however much other time I spent praying near a tabernacle that day. Then came the whammy: would doing this ultimately wear my cartilage away faster? Was I setting myself up for knee surgery? Was I hurting my running by doing this? It may seem stupid, hypochondriacal, hyperbolical, but when the greater question came to bear, I was either like, "Whoa, shoot, gotta stop that," or dismissive, "Nah, that'll never happen."

The great blessing and curse of living is advancing in age. I'm hardly old, but accruing more years to my tally brings with it scars, illness, injuries, etc., and I've gotten a greater appreciation of my finiteness and fragility through experience. I can't dismiss things quite as off-handedly as I could even 7 years ago, and there will be more that I can't dismiss when I get to double my current age. 

The problem that I think I began to see, and now see far more clearly in myself, is that when those questions arise and I can't dismiss, I don't have an alternative to "Gotta stop that!" There is less decision and more instinctive reaction, which is...well, as it's instinctive, it's natural. The challenge that Esto Vir's virtue of self-sacrifice tries to grasp more fully is to ask the question of whether to continue on deeper into the sacrifice by the route one's been taking when one reaches that critical moment. It invariably happens. There comes the moment in the small sacrifice that the invitation is made to make a greater sacrifice. Perhaps the greater sacrifice is one of magnitude of short-term discomfort. Many times, though, the greater sacrifices ask something long-term. To accept this kind of invitation is to accept a death. It means foregoing a behavior, a lifestyle, an attitude, a habit of being, a guiding principle, a means of transportation through life, a key to process things. Dive into the invitation, and the world may end up looking a whole lot different through the new key or lens it offers. 

To mindlessly jump in is not laudable. To recognize it for what it is insofar as one can, to discern it as a sacrifice worth making and perhaps even necessary to make, and to commit to it unreservedly--that's where virtue lies, I think. 

And here's why I am reflecting on this: because honestly, something in me for a bit less than a year has been amiss, and I have not had anything other than that instinctive withdrawal from that which represents a death to myself. I was never, ever great at choosing the sacrifice if the discerning really came up, granted. But in the face of the unknown, of the lack of control, I've somehow managed to become so insulated as to lose the wild instinct of trust, of adventure...and the last great and true adventure is fidelity to the vocation to become who I'm called to be...In the midst of looking at Christ crucified as the semi-final result of fidelity to God--even knowing that the Resurrection will follow--belief can be so difficult.

So I pray as I reflect on the fourth virtue that I can indeed conform myself to Christ in order to embark on this adventure. I pray for the desire to resume the adventure, because it lies dormant, or perhaps drowned by other noises and calls and clamors and claims for my attention in life. 

And I pray for the other necessary virtue Esto Vir found so important: Fortitude. Without it, one doesn't get very far at all. I could write more, but it's time to sleep.

It's comforting to know that Esto Vir is still so pertinent to my life, even if I never consciously thought it wasn't. I'm just embarrassed by my colossal fall from these virtues and from disciplined striving in brotherhood. Please keep me in your prayers. I don't plan on giving up. Or to stop praying for you.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


This blog hasn't been unused, though the long lapse between thoughts might lead you to think otherwise. It's been a drawing board for any number of incomplete strands of thought. I discarded most of them. Something has been off. Something's been lacking. This something wasn't anything solely external, not anything I could point to or that would magically appear and make everything better once I had it in my life.

I'm used to injury. After several bad burns and any number of sprains and a couple of bouts with crutches, I've gotten used it. I was a sick kid. I don't like it. I can take it, though.

Well, so I thought.

In October, a sneaking suspicion of mine was confirmed: I had mononucleosis. In the great scheme of things, this is nothing. I get that. People deal with so much worse. People have had it hit harder and at much less opportune times. I won't defend how I acted or if I blew it out of proportion, but perspective was not something I was receptive to while it was happening. I was bewildered by my total lack of control. Pain, difficulty breathing, zero control over energy levels, and all learned healthy diet patterns shattered to pieces. The acute throat swelling and fever subsided after a week and change. The aftermath of this lovely illness, as anyone who's suffered it can tell you, is one that endures for months. To describe the experience, it was like there was a destination circled on my map, a place I needed to reach by some period of time, and my only mode of transportation to this already tough-to-reach location was a car whose tachometer and gas gauge were broken and misleading. I could burn through my energy on a given day in 45 minutes and then have to get through the rest of the day on the meanest of fumes. It left me exhausted. It left me short-tempered and emotionally unhinged. It left me empty.

I think that was my first experience feeling powerless to such a degree and so internally. I had little energy to muster toward positive thinking, charitable thinking and a kind sense of humor.

To be honest, I am walking out of that experience with an overwhelming feeling of failure. I am ashamed of how many friendships I put on hold, how many people I hurt either directly or indirectly, how sloppily I did my job, how unintentional I've been toward the activities and habits that will help me feel more and more myself. I'm saddened that there's an element of myself that came to light that was not one of patient suffering and honest dialogue, but of irascibility, impatience with all things, and ugliness. I'm left shaken by the imperfections thrown into such strong relief by that negative experience. 

I won't bore you with any more of my inner turmoil; that's for my prayer life and my personal reflection that finds its way into writings outside the blogosphere. In lieu of that, I offer you something else, hopefully of some meaning.

This will seem a very strange thing, perhaps...but here are some memories.

Firstly, I remember a time when people used AIM.
I remember ridiculous and intense conversations held over AIM.
Like the time my mom walked in and read the chatroom convo with one of my friends repeating something vulgar over and over again.
Or the time I had a conversation that would establish my best and closest friendship certainly for the duration of high school, though extending beyond it, too.
Or the times we would have "away message fights" because we had no delusions about being cool.
I remember how much those conversations have meant to me by virtue of their establishing and/or augmenting formational and foundational relationships in my life.

I remember the countless long walks, coffee dates, conversations held with dear friends, whether I communicate with them or not.
I remember the powerful sense of having people truly like brothers and sisters.
I remember how thinking of them still wrenches my heart in gratitude and joy, if not sadness that drifting has happened.
I remember hanging on friends' words. I remember being awed by their spontaneity, their humor, their selflessness.
As I start being a grown-up, my face remembers the smiles and the immense amount of laughter in its pre-wrinkles and dimples.
I remember the humbled awe that I have had such wonderful friends.
I remember you.

I don't say this as an appeal to pathos. I'm too poor a writer to successfully do that, anyway. I like writing far too long-windedly and with flourishes to be effective. The point is rather...quite simply, while communication might be sparse, and despite my failings made all the more apparent to me throughout this past year, I hold you all dearly in my thoughts and my prayers. Some days it's an interiorly tearful and mangled nonverbal utterance of gratitude. Other days it's more profound. Some days, good and bad, I'm conflicted as to whether to pay it forward or to live it through calling somebody up. I don't do either enough. Regardless, though, for whatever it's're remembered.

If it's agreeable to you, in some little way, please remember me, too...perhaps I don't deserve it, but I need it. And whatever good qualities you've had the grace to see (because I generally don't see them), please pay those forward.

That was fairly self-indulgent even by blog standards...