Try, Try Again

Try, Try Again

One day, during the upheaval of school from home, I was helping my niece with her homework. While smart and a quick learner, she didn’t appreciate the corrections I was offering as I critiqued the direction of her 2s or her S. I encouraged her to try again, despite the initial frustration of getting it wrong.

As she was begrudgingly doing it again, I thought about how so much of a child’s life is learning how to do things. Naturally, that involves a lot of trial and error as they learn to walk, read, write, ride a bike, hit a softball, do a cartwheel, snap their fingers, and the list goes on and on. Children have to start so often from a place of humble acceptance of their inability to do something they want to do.

I think I could learn a lot from that disposition.

In my life, it is easy to stay safe and do the things I know how to do or think I can do well. When it comes to looking like a fool, I’ve never been much of a risk-taker. I much prefer to watch and see how others do it before attempting something on my own. Yet some things can only be learned by trying, failing, and trying again.

Continue reading “Try, Try Again”

When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On

When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On

Over three years ago, I filled a hiking backpack, flew to Europe, and walked El Camino de Santiago.  The first day on the Camino, though difficult, was exhilarating.  We walked from the beautiful little town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, over the Pyrenees, and into Roncesvalles in Spain.  The newness of the adventure combined with spectacular views made me excited nearly every step of the way.

The next morning, we were tired and sore, but eager to continue this 500-mile trek.  So we set out again, walking for hours, taking in gorgeous scenery, and dining at little cafes or from our packed lunches.

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Then we did that again.  And again.

Sleep, rise, walk, eat, walk, Mass, eat, sleep.  Repeat.

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The tiredness soon was eclipsed by pain.  My feet ached in a way they never had before.  Blisters developed in tender places.  The beginning of the day meant pressing my feet into my shoes and then starting the delicate process of walking.  After a while, the pain dulled and seemed to fade into my subconscious.  However, if we ever paused, my feet gave a fiery reminder to sit down or keep walking.

Yet even these blisters didn’t completely dampen my spirits.  I knew they could happen and it was, in a way, part of the Camino adventure.  Each day, I offered up my pain for different intentions and this made the journey a pilgrimage instead of a hiking trip.

One day, I no longer wanted to walk.  

The intense desires to sleep in, be in the same place for more than 15 hours, or watch a movie were things I hadn’t anticipated when I started walking.  There was a definite shift from “This is fun!” to “This is a pilgrimage.”  Internally resistant to another day of plodding along, I realized that this adventure would require work and an embracing of the daily struggle.

And then I realized, this is a lot like life. Continue reading “When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On”

Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small

Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small

Each Sister of Life wears a medal that has inscribed on it a fragment of poetry by Fr. John Duffy.  The line is from the poem “I Sing of a Maiden” and it speaks about the Annunciation.

“And nothing again would be casual and small.”

The author is speaking of the Blessed Mother conceiving Our Lord.  Yet the fact that the Sisters of Life carry this line near their hearts makes me think it must relate to their lives and my life, too.

Generally, though, my life feels casual and small.  Despite my desires for great and wonderful adventures and experiences, much of my life is composed of the ordinary and seemingly insignificant.  What does it mean that nothing is casual or small?

In a way, I think Jesus speaks to this when he remarks on the widow’s gift to the temple treasury.  Jesus and the apostles watch people come and give large gifts of money, but the poor widow puts only two small coins into the treasury.

Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.  

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In a simple comparison of amounts, is the widow’s gift small?  Yes.  What makes it stand out to Our Lord?  The fact that despite her poverty, she still gives everything.  

Most of us are comfortable giving generously when we know we will still have ample for ourselves.  And I’m not going to lie and tell you that I live any differently.  While I donate money, I do not “give until it hurts.”  I give when it is comfortable or when I feel like it or when I remember.  Generosity is not a hallmark of mine.  When I was in elementary school, my dad would give my younger sister and I an allowance.  Conservative in nature, I always pocketed my money and saved it for a future purchase, probably a book or something.  My younger sister would spend her money nearly immediately, stocking up on some candy or treat at the gas station convenience store.  Yet while she was quick to spend, she was also quick to share.  I, on the other hand, would primarily buy things for myself and was slow to share them with others.

Jesus is commending the poor widow’s generosity with her finances, but I think there are deeper truths we can discover here.  Things that might point to how nothing is casual or small.  Several weeks ago, this was the Gospel at Mass and I left identifying myself largely with the widow.  Not because of her generosity, but because of her apparent littleness. Continue reading “Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small”

Being the Adventure

“Someday, I want to be the adventure someone chooses.”

The words resonate in my heart, even though I’ve never quite thought of it like that.  My friend is telling me that she has encouraged men she was interested in to pursue their dreams.  Yet what she really wants is to be the adventure they choose to pursue.  I hear her ache and I feel a similar one in my own heart.

We are millennials.  In many ways, I do not believe I fit into my generation.  However, in this regard, I do: I desire greatness.  I do not mean that I long to be recognized or praised in front of all.  Nor do I want empty words of admiration or platitudes repeated just to satisfy a longing to be great.

No.

I want to contribute, in some meaningful way, to society.  I want to leave an impression.  I want to fill a need.  I want to embrace adventure and travel and see new sights.  I want to feel the exhilarating rush of being absolutely, irrevocably alive.  I don’t want to do this by getting high, imbibing too much alcohol, or living a way that is less than I am.  I want to live fully my humanity.

At times I feel like I haven’t done much in my twenty-something years of living.  And by some standards, I haven’t.

I have:
-graduated from high school
-graduated from college (and completed English and Theology theses at 20 pages each)
-studied abroad
-gone on three mission trips, leading one of them
-been a small part in saving at least one child from abortion during my time sidewalk counseling
-been a Confirmation sponsor for two people and godmother to two others
-been published in two newspapers and a college student publication
-traveled to: Mexico, Canada, Honduras, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, France, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, Vatican City, and 32 of the states in the US
-successfully taught high school for 3.5 years
-walked El Camino de Santiago

 

Yet despite these “accomplishments” I am left longing for more adventures.  Namely, the adventure of marriage and family.  The person I immediately turn to when thinking of marriage as an adventure is the ever-endearing G.K. Chesterton.

The supreme adventure is being born.  There we do walk suddenly into a splendid startling trap.  There we do see something of which we have not dreamed before.  Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush.  Our uncle is a surprise.  Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue.  When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made.  In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.

So my dear Chesterton would tell me that I am already living the supreme adventure: I have been born into it.  I would argue with him (since it is often my nature to be non-compliant) that my current life is not the familial adventure he speaks of since I am in the “in between” time.  I have a house but it is rented.  I live with friends and not a family of my own.  It is good, but not what I long for.  Perhaps he would agree with me in these points.  In this hypothetical argument, he might remind me that marriage, for all my silly idealism, is not perfection.  He might say this:

When we defend the family we do not mean it is always a peaceful family; when we maintain the thesis of marriage we do not mean that it is always a happy marriage.  We mean that it is the theatre of the spiritual drama, the place where things happen, especially the things that matter.  It is not so much the place where a man kills his wife as the place where he can take the equally sensational step of not killing his wife.

I remember the look of confusion and a bit of shock on my mom’s face when I read her that quote once.  But isn’t it true?  Sometimes the more sensational thing is two human beings, undeniably different even if undeniably in love, not killing each other.  Clearly, Chesterton was a married man.

However, I do not wish to simply quote Chesterton all day, though I love his writings even if I haven’t read many of them.  Rooted deep in the hearts of modern man, I believe, is the desire to give entirely of oneself, wholly and without reserve or end.  This is the longing for marriage.  The desire we have to be the adventure that someone else undertakes.  What adventure (apart from that of pursuing God) could be greater than looking at another human being and saying, “You.  I choose you and only you forever.  I choose to journey through life with you, come what may.  I choose your heart to pursue and cherish always.  And I know time will change us.  In ten years, you will not be the same person I married.  But I will still choose you.

It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.

As much as this millennial longs to do all kinds of things and pursue all sorts of adventures (pilgrimage to the Holy Land, run a half marathon, go to jail for a night*, or fly a plane), I long for the simple adventure of a home and a family.  In many ways, my desires are not so adventurous or dramatic after all.  They are little things, daily things.  The adventure of simply being the adventure.

The old-fashioned Englishman, like my father, sold houses for his living but filled his own house with his life.

*Naturally, when I say I wish to go to jail for a night, it is with the idea that I went standing up for something I deeply believe in.