As my sister can attest, I have been on a poetry purchasing kick. There is something so lovely about flipping through books of poems and entering into the world of another–or seeing how easily they enter into mine.
“The Daily Poem” podcast has born another poem into my life; this one by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. As said before, I’m a melancholic, and the theme of the poem fits that mood as it presents a tale of sitting and talking about times that have passed and things that have been altered by time. I present to you: The Fire of Drift-wood.
We sat within the farm-house old, Whose windows, looking o’er the bay, Gave to the sea-breeze damp and cold, An easy entrance, night and day.
Not far away we saw the port, The strange, old-fashioned, silent town, The lighthouse, the dismantled fort, The wooden houses, quaint and brown.
We sat and talked until the night, Descending, filled the little room; Our faces faded from the sight, Our voices only broke the gloom.
We spake of many a vanished scene, Of what we once had thought and said, Of what had been, and might have been, And who was changed, and who was dead;
And all that fills the hearts of friends, When first they feel, with secret pain, Their lives thenceforth have separate ends, And never can be one again;
The first slight swerving of the heart, That words are powerless to express, And leave it still unsaid in part, Or say it in too great excess.
Anything near tears, I assumed, would come from the overwhelming joy of seeing a good friend get married. And while I was definitely happy, I was startled by the profound loneliness that pervaded my heart, even as I sat in a pew with beloved friends and was surrounded by many people I knew. Grateful that my friend was receiving that for which she had long prayed, I discovered a sorrow that I didn’t want to find at that time or in that place. The human heart frequently seems inconvenient, but I’ve found that leaning into that is more helpful than ignoring it.
Near the beginning of the liturgy, I heard the priest proclaim a single word in the midst of a longer prayer. He said “home” and I was immediately asking the Lord where my home was. Looking over the priest’s head, I saw the crucifix, arms stretched wide and side pierced, and within myself I heard Him say that my home was there. In His side, opened so that mercy could pour out, was my home, my refuge, the only place I belonged on either side of Heaven.
As my blog slowly moves from being thoroughly unread to something that people I know and don’t know read, I find myself hesitant to ever speak of being single. Some of my former students occasionally look at my blog as do co-workers, and it feels odd to share this particularly deep desire, even if it seems obvious or assumed or commonplace. Yet it also feels odd to share so many other parts of my heart and then withhold speaking of the vocation I feel called to, simply because God hasn’t fully answered that prayer.
I’m a melancholic and as such I am accustomed to longing. One of the most enduring longings has been for marriage and a family. It isn’t my only desire, but it is the one that seems the most fervent. This newly married friend is one I often spoke of this longing with, as we questioned when it would be fulfilled and wondered how it would happen. So I understand to a degree why this wedding also filled my heart with a bit of sadness. It was because my compatriot had what she longed for and I was still waiting, still hoping, still wondering when and if it would happen.
Nearly every Tuesday, I have “contemplative time” for my classes. Do they actually reach contemplation? Probably not, but I like to provide intentional time for silence and prayer. It is ten minutes where the only thing that is required of them is to be still. In a world overflowing with noise, arguments, ideas, and busyness, I try to offer them a brief respite from the long list of things they must do.
To help direct their prayer, I display a Scripture passage, a quote from a saint, or an excerpt from a spiritual read for the students to use as a starting point. A few weeks ago, near All Saints’ Day, I had them focus on Hebrews 12:1-2 for their time of prayer.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I had fifty minutes that day to reflect on these verses. Different portions stood out to me at various points in the day. Yet by the afternoon, one phrase continued to stir my heart. So much so that I wrote it out on a note card and affixed it to my desk organizer so I could continue to ponder it in the days to come.
Ben Rector came out with a song called “Old Friends” and it became a brief topic of conversation with a friend this summer. The song is catchy and provokes an immediate nostalgia within me. However, as I spoke with this friend, we talked about how we don’t have “old friends” and, as Ben Rector spends over four minutes articulating, you can’t make them now.
Granted, I have friends that I went to elementary, middle, and high school with, spending about twelve years in the same classrooms in my small rural public school in South Dakota. A few of them I even catch up with on occasion, but none of them know me through and through. I grew up out of town and my parents were careful not to play the chauffeur for my siblings and me. So I would see them at school, after school activities, and church if they were Catholic.
But we weren’t riding our bikes around town together in the summer or spending every waking minute swimming at the pool. For me, summers were spent at my parents’ farm, isolated from the rest of the town about five miles away. After school, I rode the bus home, preventing me from meeting someone up town at the popular hangout that served fried appetizers. Even when I did drive, I had a younger sister to provide transportation for and it was also generally assumed that I would head directly home after my extracurricular events concluded.
These aren’t bad things, per se, I just offer them to point to the fact that much of what Ben Rector sings about felt impossible for me to have experienced based on my situation. Most of my youthful memories are filled with my siblings. The past couple weeks were filled with pretty intense and intentional family togetherness time and when it ended, it caused me to feel that wave of nostalgia that reminded me of “Old Friends.”
My two older sisters are in religious life and the older one has an annual home visit for two weeks. As far as religious communities go, that is a generous amount of time yet it also constitutes the bulk of what our relationship looks like for the year. Short occasional phone calls and letters (which were non-existent on my part this year) aren’t the best ways to sustain a vibrant relationship. My other sister is a cloistered nun, meaning that she has answered God’s call to live as a hermit within community, essentially. My family visits her annually on a weekend when my other sister returns from the convent. While it varies year-to-year, this year I was able to have two hours alone with her to visit. As with the other sister, the bulk of my relationship is found in those brief moments.
After we had left the cloistered monastery and my other sister was dropped off at the airport, I felt a nostalgia for the past closeness of my youth. Naturally, as time passes, the family changes through new additions, losses, moves, and the like. When my brother married, his wife became an integral part of the family and my nephews and niece also changed the family dynamic. The vocation my older sisters have to religious life likewise shifts the family dynamic. While I am thankful for their vocations and the joy accompanying them, I still miss what could have been. Continue reading “Nostalgia”→
It was a childish expression of frustration and the reprisal was one that kept that outburst of violence to a one-time event. In general, I am a fairly patient person, I believe, and while I might get annoyed or angry, I am often slow to act on those emotions.
Yet I’ve always wanted to be viewed as strong. I’m not tall and I probably don’t look very intimidating. Despite that, it is a desire of mine to be seen as fiery. The punch I threw in my youth didn’t end well, but I sought to prove my strength in other areas. In an elementary school gym class, we were challenged to do as many push-ups as possible. Due to my slight frame and sheer grit, I completed push-up after push-up until my arms quaked each time I neared the floor. When I finally stopped, only one other person was still going.
As kids, my dad would challenge us to completely unfair wrestling matches. Being six or seven and taking on a fully grown man did not present balanced odds. However, I clearly remember wrestling matches where my dad only needed to use one arm or a leg to pin me down as I relentlessly squirmed to get away. Finally, I would concede defeat, but only with flushed face and worn out limbs.
This desire to be strong was evident from my youth and yet it found expression in various ways as I got older. Physical prowess was never going to be my gift and so I exercised strength in witty replies and intellectual knowledge. But I still wanted to be viewed as strong and I had this indomitable longing to be a soldier. I have a fight in me that needs to be revealed in some way. It means that while I “hit like a girl,” I still punch my dad in the shoulder every time I see him. And while I’m not a fan of conflict, I enjoy a good argument or discussion when I’m in the mood.
At my nephews’ wrestling tournament the other day, I saw a woman in army fatigues. The strength that her outfit symbolized was something I desired for myself. Which, naturally, means I went home that night and casually perused the Army National Guard website. I imagined what it would be like to join the military and how that could impact my life. I don’t really want to fight someone, but I want to fight for something. Continue reading “There is a Strength in Faithfulness”→
“I guess I don’t like the argument from desire because I’ve never felt a desire for something that can’t be satisfied on earth.”
As a melancholic who has nearly always longed for something beyond this world, I was a bit surprised by this admission. My class was reviewing arguments for God’s existence and as we went over each one, I would ask a few students to share if they liked or disliked the argument. Then they needed to voice why, perhaps the most difficult part of it all for them.
I wanted them to reflect on the arguments and see which ones they found personally compelling. Each person is different and so I wasn’t too concerned if they liked all of the arguments or not. Yet it is always interesting to me which ones they dislike and why. Some other students voiced a dislike for the desire argument, but the declaration that they had never desired something beyond this world seemed foreign to me.
Melancholic that I am, I have always longed for perfection. Ever since high school and college, that has translated into a longing for Heaven. So as my students were voicing that they have never experienced this unfulfilled desire for something beyond this world, I was left wondering why they don’t have a longing that I never remember being without.
In my first year of teaching, I prayed frequently for death. Not in a morbid way, but in a longing-for-home-and-yet-knowing-everything-around-me-is-temporary way. The more I battled with my students over Church teaching, the more I wanted to be in a place of eternal Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Yet that was far from the first time that I had felt an unfulfilled desire. Why are my students not experiencing this also? Continue reading “The Deepest Longing of Our Hearts”→