Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ordinary.

My wife worries that I might leave her for another woman.   

I suppose I've given her reason…I have been aloof, working many hours overtime, moody and unapproachable.  I work primarily with women, and the reality of work means that there are times when I'm with them far more than with my own family; that concerns her.  Fortunately for my soul and our marriage, there is little chance of that. 

I try to convince her that it couldn't happen with snarky remarks; "Oh, yes, they take a good long look at me and say, 'ooooh, nine kids…what a catch'"; reality is I am not very attractive at this point in my life.  To be sure, there seems to be no shortage of infidelity, and the homely are no exception (spend one hour with Jerry Springer)…but my lack of allure is deeper.  I have not been a happy person. 

I adore my wife, and the mere thought of our separation by any means produces waves of anxiety and grief; she has remained loving when in many ways I am rather unlovable.  She has had grief of her own when our spiritual lives diverged some two years ago -- she remained a missionary…but me?  I'm not quite sure even now.  She loves when I am unlovable, is patient when I am unreasonable and gruff, shows compassion even when I am unmerciful to those who mean most.  To leave her would be my undoing. 

Perhaps I am in a mid-life crisis of sorts.  I feel separated from my youth more than ever.  I am beginning to realize that time is limited; ambition loses relevance in such consideration.  The things that I considered peripheral have begun to weigh heavily on my heart: my relationship with my children, my wife, friends, how and for what I would be remembered.   

Up to this point I had definite ideas of what success is and how it is measured; now I am not as sure.  I have always believed that each of us is called to great things and that I had the potential to be a force of change; isn't that what we teach our children?  Now I consider that more likely most of us are called to be ordinary and small in the estimation of the world.  Mother Teresa said we are not called to be successful, just faithful.  That always seemed quaint to me, pithy enough to print on a card or wall-hanging; now it hovers in my thoughts, almost accusingly. 

I don't pretend to be a failure; I have succeeded in some things, done well in my career and still have some potential…but much of my life is rather ordinary, and at this moment in my life I feel comforted by that.  I have left it behind for greater pursuits, but now feel called to re-learn what ordinary life is all about.  And the most important part of ordinary life I need to re-discover is my faith. 

I have read the stories of wonder and miracles and have heard of the grandeur of God through the words of those who have seen it first-hand…but most of us won't see the Red Sea part or follow a column of fire through a desert; we won't see the dead raised and the blind restored to sight.  For you and me, God comes to us in the ordinary -- the cry of a baby, the love of a woman, the bonds of friendship, the grass under our feet, the sun on our backs.  The grandeur of God's love appears ordinary precisely because it surrounds and envelopes us day-in and day-out.  It is quite nearly routine…and in that routine I have become indifferent, even bored -- because I didn't see it. 

I have always struggled to believe that God loves me.  I feel a need to earn it, prove my worth before deserving it, which is so contrary to what I have been taught.  I expected His love to be shown in some magnanimous, extraordinary way.  Now I am beginning to see that in its constant, abiding presence God's love for me is just…ordinary.  Perhaps that is the most extraordinary thing of all.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pretending.

If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.   John 15:19 
I am a bi-annual visitor to New York City and fashion myself as somewhat of an expert on all things Gotham.  I am more than eager to share my experiences and recommendations to anyone, asked or not; yet if I were placed among a room-full of life-long New Yorkers I'm sure I would draw a few eye rolls or perchance a Bronx cheer.  They have a condescending tolerance of the tourist...we do grease the wheel a bit, but how annoying.  I admire and emulate them, their little over-priced apartments, yellow cabs and frenetic pace -- but after a few days I am fastening my seatbelt as the plane points home.  

I am not a New Yorker, and make no claim; but I point with pride that in a very small way I have succeeded in disguising my tourist status with one of the more ubiquitous residents of the City: the hand-bill hawkers.   

They are on every corner; "Want to see a comedy show?"  "Would you like to try a tour bus?"  "Are you going up the Empire State Building?"  They try their best to lure us to venues well-suited to remove tourist dollars from their owners, and most of us are fairly easy to spot with our glazed eyes pointed skyward and cameras clutched firmly in hand...but not I.  I have carefully observed the natives walk by unscathed, and have adopted their mannerisms and style.  Eyes straight forward, a look of disinterest with a touch of malaise, and nary a map or camera in sight...nine times out of ten, I walk by unmolested.  While I am not a native, for fleeting moments I feel that way every time I fail to draw their attention. 

It is a ruse, a well-executed act by a yokel from the streets of Buffalo trying to be something he admires but is not.  I love New York, but it is not my home, and when there I am but a tourist.  I work with a lovely lady who lived much of her life in New York and recently moved to the area, and when I pontificate on the lure of the City she says in no uncertain terms, "Nice place to visit.  To live there?  Not so much."   

Mel Torme sang, "There's a Broken Heart for Every Light on Broadway", and I am sure he was probably right.  Many come to New York with dreams in hand and find success, but many more do not.  It is a hard place, I am told, one that does not show mercy.  Art Garfunkel pined "New York, you've got money on your mind...and my words won't make a dime worth's of difference..."  As Manhattan continues to gentrify one thing is abundantly clear: money means welcome.  Those who have not are welcome...to leave.   

I have done a yeoman's job of convincing myself that I would fit right in and find success. I am in no position to live in New York, and am quite sure such an attempt would end in disaster; yet I consider and plan.  There isn't any truth to it, and down deep I know that.  My wife is firmly grounded in reality, but I have an uncanny ability to fabricate reality when it suits my fancy.   

As Advent begins I have been gifted with a realization that fabricated reality for me is not limited to New York City.  I have been playing a part, and the ruse is falling apart. 

When the plane lifts off the ground in Buffalo on route to the Big Apple I become something different, but something apart from reality.  Almost two years ago I left my faith for the world, for many varied reasons.  I have tried to fit in, fit the bill...but I have failed.  I am paralyzed by anxiety and angst.  I suffer bouts of sleeplessness and anger.  I have lost compassion, patience and mercy.  I drink too much, weigh too much, and am away from home too much.  I tried to become something...but it was not reality; it has beaten me.  I have discovered that living to survive means nothing; living to succeed is self-perpetuating defeat and empty of meaning.  I cannot dedicate my days to obtaining the comforts of existence.  I need to hope in the reality of eternal life. 

I have not divorced myself from the Church completely.  When in New York I attend daily Mass at St. Patrick's, an hour in 24 of play and adventure; in my life I have kept my Sunday observance, kept appearances...but it has been a grain of sand, really.  For so long my faith defined me; now it is window-dressing, nothing more.  A hard reality to swallow. 

I am not a native of the Earthly city; that has become increasingly clear.  It has rejected me as it has rejected the hopes and dreams of many before me and many to come.  I am not at home with continuous self-promotion.  I am not at ease with hardness of heart.  The world knows that, and in some ways mocks me because of it; unlike the ruse I have prefected for the hand-bill hawkers of the streets of New York, at every turn I am recognized for who I am...I can no longer pretend.  I see that now. 

I throw myself upon the mercy of my God and ask your prayers.  I need to come home.