Thursday, January 27, 2011

Farewell to Youth

Dr. Kenneth Snyder, who served as my primary instructor in Church History while I studied theology, wrote on my Facebook wall on the eve of my thirtieth birthday, "I hope you took some time today to say farewell to your youth."

I read that comment just before turning off the lights and closing my eyes on the last day of my twenties.  I appreciated his humor and his good wishes, but I tossed and turned considering the fact that his comment had crystallized what I had been feeling in the days before my birthday.  Thirty is not old; I don't pretend to be aged and wise.  Yet, while young, thirty is really no longer youth.  That thought brought me to the verge of tears as a drifted off toward sleep.

I spent the days leading up to January 21 considering the manifold ways in which I had wasted my youth and had failed to accomplish so many things.  For instance, because I was afraid I couldn't do it or that I would not be good enough, I never really tried to be an athlete.  These days, I wish I would have.  I wish I could have overcome my insecurities, and just had the good sense to know that I would have had fun, but I was too worried that I might fail.  I wish I would have been less judgmental of my peers, and I wish I would have recognized then that the contempt I felt for them was just a mask for jealousy because they were doing things that I wanted to do, but that I knew were wrong.  I wish I would not have been jealous, held back as I was, by a noble but misguided ironclad moral code; I wish I would have recognized that a moral life made me truly free, and in that freedom, able to see in my peers the goodness with which and for which God had made them.  I wish I would have made them my friends as opposed to enemies to be defeated.

I wish I would not have been so proud.  I wish I would have been more willing to admit my ignorance and to seek help and advice.  Perhaps I would have learned to lift weights, or to use gym equipment.  I didn't want to look a fool.  Had I any humility then, perhaps I would have only appeared a fool whereas now, I find that I proved myself one.

I wish I would have learned more, and applied myself more.  School came easily, and all too often I coasted.

I wish that then I would have been willing to shoot, to hike, to fish, and to play.  These things seemed beneath me for some reason, the pastimes of rubes.  I wish I would have learned about cars and motors.  I wish I would have talked more about football and cheerleaders.  My pride insisted that because these were the interests of base men, they were beneath my dignity.  I wish I would not, for so long, have underestimated the dignity of manhood. 

I wish I would have dedicated more time to manual labor and work with my hands.

I wish I would have loved more.  I wish I would not have feared rejection.  I wish I would not have feared vulnerability.  I wish I would not have pretended to have it all together.  I wish I would not have wasted so much energy hiding my sins from others when I was really only trying to hide them from myself.  I wish I would not have been so afraid to be totally and radically honest.

In a word, I wish that when I was thirteen, eighteen, twenty-five, I had begun to understand the things about myself that only began to become clear in my twenty-ninth year.

So, it was a bitter pill to swallow as I realized that I would be saying farewell to a youth that I had seemingly squandered.  Thankfully, God's goodness is without bounds.  I can only recognize these things because of the clarity offered by hindsight whose expertise is limited to that which has already passed.  In other words, it is only because I have arrived at thirty that I can regret what I failed to do when I was eighteen.  Those things I wish I had done then, I realize, I can still do now but without the baggage (nor, of course, the same energy and physical prowess) of youth to accompany it.  More importantly, the pride which so hobbled my willingness to try then has been tempered.  At thirty (especially as a professed celibate) it is much easier to not give a damn about how foolish one appears. 

To not give a damn, I am coming to understand, is one of the richest graces of full-fledged adulthood.    

Friday, January 21, 2011

What Do They Mean by Choice

Today marks my thirtieth birthday.  I will have much more to say about that in a separate post.  Tomorrow marks the thirty-eighth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and throughout this nation, there are rallies being held to celebrate the freedom to "choose."  I am one of the lucky ones.  Rallies are being held to celebrate the fact that a full third of my generation and a full third of the generation behind me has perished at the abortionists' hands.  And the thing is, I know that I have mattered.  I have loved and been loved.  I have made a difference to people.  And I was a choice?  That is not pride speaking; it is a matter of fact common to all living people.  But, to NARAL and others, I was just a choice.  Maybe someday they can explain, what do they mean by choice . . .

Saturday, January 15, 2011

This and That

God is up to something.  I'm not sure what yet.  Several weeks ago, two separate women asked me to serve as their spiritual director.  I thought perhaps they had been told to do so by someone else.  Nope.  Apparently the Lord had put it on their hearts to do so.  A week ago, I received the same request from another woman.  Last weekend, I also served (for the first time) as a director for a silent retreat.  That particular experience was really good.  Being a director was almost like being on retreat myself.  I'm not sure why God has prompted all these people to come to me, but he has.  I suppose the reason will become clear eventually


My hatred of winter notwithstanding, I did find it rather amusing to join Deacon Nathan Sparks for an afternoon of ice fishing recently.  He caught one trout and let one get away.  I caught none.  Given the various ways in which one might go about catching a fish, ice fishing is likely to be the most uneventful while simultaneously demanding the most physical exertion.  I'm not sure I will make a habit of ice fishing, after discovering that it consists mainly in boring several holes in eight to ten inch thick ice only to stand around and occasionally prevent them from freezing over.


When I went to Borders to use my holiday gift cards, I had hoped to find some material a little lighter and happier than what I generally read.  I failed.  Among my purchases were The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Idiot, and A Clockwork Orange.  By the end of the day I will have finished reading A Clockwork Orange.  I mentioned this to a parishioner recently who was horrified.  Apparently it was a very offensive film.  I can see why, the book is written in the first person, and the fifteen-year-old narrator (Alex) employs a fictional slang that anesthetizes the reader to the horror of the acts the narrator perpetrates.  One is never necessarily sure that what one thinks is happening is actually happening.  The second and third sections of the book beg important questions about the nature of freedom and its consequences.  It is definitely an interesting read, but not  necessarily bedtime reading for the faint of heart or squeamish.  It was my habit in major seminary to read some good old tedious Russian Literature as a way of coping with the winter.  Perhaps the same will work in Rapid City.  Next on the agenda: Dostoevsky's The Idiot.


Of all the hateful games in the world, Buck Euchre must be the worst.  I learned this game over the Christmas break, and I have played it at least once a week since then.  I don't especially like it, as it takes forever, and winning seems to have little to do with skill.  Moreover, it is the kind of game that requires the losers to pay the winner.  It is not gambling.  It is more like a tax on the stupid.  I commented to those with whom I played last night that playing the game leads me to believe that I have to buy my friends, as they seem uninterested in learning a different (cheaper) game.  To my own amazement, I finally won a game.  I am inclined to never play again.


A man at the hospital asked recently invited me to his Church so that I could "actually worship God."  Perhaps he was trying to be funny.  Had I not been there to pray over the body of his dead mother, I would likely have had some very interesting things to say to him.  I am left to wonder why they called a priest at all.  I don't expect to be asked to do the funeral.


As I was praying in the ER with this same family I mentioned above, the lullaby that announces the birth of a new baby throughout the hospital suddenly played.  The sun sets and the sun also rises.  Life goes on.


All things remaining equal, Monday will mark my final pheasant hunt of the season.  I am terribly excited to go, this time with the priests in my fraternity group.  I am a little concerned about the idea of all of us carrying a firearm, but after several trips hunting with teenage boys, it is not likely to be more frightening.  So long as Winter cooperates, it will be a glorious day.


My new chest waders arrived a few days ago, but with no boots.  I will need to purchase something that I can wear on my feet while wading.  Any suggestions?  Now all I need is for the snow to melt, and no trout will be safe from me.  I am certain of it.  It is going to be a great summer.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

I Hate Winter

I wrote previously about truly enjoying the freedom to celebrate Christmas and other holidays with my parish and then celebrating them with my family.  That remains true.  Winter, in her devious scheming*, however, seems to persistently attempt to derail my plans.  That is, at the root, the reason I hate winter and believe that it is an evil resulting from the fall of man.  Given that this is my blog, I shall now elaborate at some length defending this otherwise irrational position.

As I have noted, winter has a way of interrupting the most well-laid of plans.  The last three days serve as a prime illustration of this point.  My family, unable to gather for Christmas proper, finally agreed that we would gather for our own celebration December 31 and January 1.  For that reason, I was able to enjoy a glorious Christmas Day and several days thereafter.  Knowing how deceptive Winter might be, I kept an eye on the weather, but was thrilled to discover, as the time of our family gathering neared, that it appeared that the weather would cooperate.  Sunday predicted scattered snow flurries for Friday, as did Monday and, on the site I was checking, Tuesday.  Apparently the site I used is unreliable, though, because that same Tuesday my mother called to inform me that my youngest brother would not be able to come until later.  He was concerned about the until then unforeseen blizzard that was to arrive Thursday and continue howling through early Saturday morning.  I was, as one might imagine, unamused (my mother can offer a more detailed account of this fact).

As predicted, the wind and snow set in on Thursday.  At some point my mother called to tell me that my next younger brother and his family were braving the wind and snow and were making their way to the ranch.  I wanted to do the same, but thought it unwise.  I would hopefully still be able to get there on Saturday.  Trying to make the best of the situation, I went to Borders and bought some new books with Christmas gift cards, and then enjoyed the company of several seminarians and their parents who came to the rectory for dinner on Thursday evening.  This was followed by a ridiculously long evening of playing cards at the neighbors' house, and a lengthy excursion into one of the new books before going to sleep.  Setting my alarm clock for 10:00 AM, I relished the knowledge that I would get a full eight hours of sleep.

My phone rang at 7:30 AM.  "Both of your brothers are here," my mother announced to me cheerfully after I had scrambled around trying to find the damned phone and croaked a greeting.  "They said the roads were fine."  "That's nice," I responded.  "I am going back to bed.  My alarm is set for ten.  I will talk to you then," I assured her in a most pleasant way (again, for the details, consult my mother).  At ten, I arose, called home, and foolishly decided to make the trek to the ranch with assurances from my brothers that the roads had been good when they traveled them.

Locals can attest to the fact that Rapid City has a most ingenious snow removal system.  Apparently, each vehicle that passes over the snow filled streets necessarily takes a small quantity of snow with it when it passes, thus rendering actual snow removal equipment almost unnecessary.  This system works so well that I am inclined to visit the person responsible for the city's snow removal and punch him in the nose.  After being nearly killed in town, I finally made it to I90, and gave thanks to God that the highway was mostly clear.  That is one benefit of a strong northwest wind.  The snow never has a chance to accumulate on the interstate.  Occasional white-out conditions notwithstanding, the roads were pretty decent, and I arrived home to join the Christmas celebration already in progress.

Winter lost this battle, but it was only one of many in which we have engaged.  As it stands, the score is decidedly in winter's favor.  Last year's Christmas trip led to a most pleasant interlude wherein I patiently awaited the arrival of my father's four-wheel-drive pick-up to drag me from the ditch less than ten miles from home.  As I waited, I could not help but recall a similar experience from several years earlier on the entrance ramp leading to one of Minnesota's Rest Areas when I had to be winched out of the drifted snow by a tow-truck.  More than once, winter has forced me to cut short a school break so as to be sure to arrive back on campus ahead of the weather.  Likewise, winter regularly prevented my leaving school for vacations at the planned-upon time.  Moreover, winter and I have many shared memories of treacherous trips made from Wall to Red Owl along the Elm Springs road, a variety of cow related events in the bitter cold, and a truly dreadful day spent falling down at Terry Peak.  Winter has repeatedly placed me in the position of having to decide if an event should proceed as scheduled or not.  Rightly or wrongly, I would feel responsible for the accidents of a person coming from or going to an event I should have canceled. 

For me, fond memories of winter are hard to come by.  I can intellectually acknowledge that I had fun in the winter and in the snow as a child, but these memories conjure no wispy feelings of nostalgia as do others.  Instead, the season suggests manifold ways in which I might go careening to my death.  Even writing about winter, my stomach knots a little, my teeth clench, and when I stop typing to review what I have written, my hands clench.  With the lack of sun, the bitter cold, constant lethargy, a bleak world view, and the promise of doom always on the horizon, I simply cannot look out my window to a blanket of fresh snow and marvel at its beauty.  Instead, I swear.  That always seems to get the day off to a good start.

In the end, though, I hate winter because, when encountering her icy grip, I have no control.  I know that the notion of control is but a facade, but, as with so many other things, I am loathe to relinquish my knuckle whitening grip on a plan and its outcome.  Without control, I must give leave to God to do as he will, and even after many years of trying to do so, and after telling so many others in the confessional that they must do so, I find that I am frequently unwilling.  Usually God is polite and he asks us for things.  Winter, more than any other season, though, is a show of force on his part.  He stops asking us to abandon a false sense of control.  He just takes it.  It is a lesson as bitter to me as the winds that blew for the last three days, and the lesson becomes no less bitter with the passing of each winter.

At the end of a rant like this, one will doubtlessly ask, "Why are you in South Dakota?"  It is a fair question, and I have to admit that at this time of year, I find myself asking the same question sometimes.  Here, however, is home and the Devil you know is better than the one you don't.  And besides, when one hates winter as I do, there is nothing more glorious than Spring.  We are only 108 days from May 1.

* I have a rather bizarre friend who insists that he has the power to command the snow at will.  He apparently acquired this power after having his own vehicle problems on I90 during a terrifically cold winter's day and having walked a good distance for help.  He tells me that he "communed with Lady Winter" that day, and she has given him special powers which he is able to exercise by performing a ritual he calls the "snow dance."  He is only half- joking when he tells me these things.  Anyway, because he makes constant reference to "Lady Winter" (a lady in the same way that Typhoid Mary was a lady by my estimation), I find myself automatically assigning feminine pronouns to the season.