By Rebecca Ruiz
Sometimes we feel God’s presence and closeness and may even feel favored or gifted by God. During these times, we may see all of our prayers answered in the ways in which we want them to be answered. At other times, God may seem far off. We pray and not only do we not see our requests fulfilled, we may even observe the opposite outcome of what we had asked for in prayer. During such [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
And when I think upon that night
My eyes are dim with tears.
From William Wordsworth
“Strange fits of passion I have known”
The death of Princess Diana was the first sad memory of my life. I saw my mother’s eyes dim with tears as we reclined to watch the Sunday evening news on August 31, 1997. A week later on September 6, we turned on the funeral march. The procession moved forward, but the eyes of Diana’s sons remained downcast, fixed on the ground below. The fairy tale life of the Princess of Wales had a decidedly unhappy ending.
Twenty years after the death of the the princess, the world is still grappling with the meaning of her death. ABC, National Geographic, HBO, and BBC have put out moving documentaries to commemorate Diana. Their presence and popularity tell us that her life and death have resonated profoundly with ours.
Before contemplating why the princess has touched our hearts in such a powerful way, let’s review her story. Born in 1961, Diana Spencer rapidly rose into the spotlight when she became engaged to Prince Charles of Wales, the oldest son of Queen Elizabeth II and apparent heir to the royal crown of the United Kingdom. Diana commanded public attention from the beginning of the marital announcement. She “showed an intrinsic talent for connection” and “won the people’s love even as she evolved into a global superstar.”
However, the marriage had its leaks and cracks resulting in a separation in 1992 and a divorce in 1996. Her split from the royal line had the strange effect of increasing her fame. She came to be seen as her own person, capable of shining independently. She did shine–until the abrupt car accident on that tragic summer night in Paris. A mere year after her divorce, she was dead at the age of 36. Thirty-two million people watched her funeral a week later. Then it was over.
Diana’s story is gut wrenching. It elicited an emotive response from millions in 1997, and the spectre of this milieu of feelings has resurfaced this year. It’s kind of strange. Our communal experience of the princess has conjured a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” in the words of the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth. Her charming warmth, regal discontent, and tragic end resonate with our romantic hearts. When we contemplate the life and death of Diana, we return to the basic fact that we humans are intensely emotional beings. So it was with the princess, and so it is with us.
Charm is an indescribably subtle force of emotional attraction, and Diana had it. National Geographic puts it well: “To the 750 million viewers who watched her 1981 wedding on television, Diana was a charming, down-to-earth princess.” Her smile was warm and knowable. Hers was a provincial beauty more than that of an actress or a model. At first, people wondered if she didn’t quite know what to do with herself. Her life had changed so dramatically, so quickly. In the typecast of Cinderella, she wasn’t stuffy or conceited. Rather, Diana used her newfound power to raise awareness and money for charities, becoming patroness of more than one hundred before her divorce.
Above all, the public loved her giggles. Her son Harry recalls, “All I can hear is her laughter in my head.” He steals the words from Wordsworth: “Her laughter light/Is ringing in my ears.” Remembering someone’s laughter is an emotional thing. Behind its sweet sound we perceive an individual soul overflowing with joy.
The princess bore both a charming smile and a pensive frown. Beneath her cheerful beauty dwelt the melancholic duo of anxiety and sadness. Time would reveal that there were flaws in the seemingly perfect narrative. She would speak publicly of “her troubled marriage, her struggle with bulimia, and her difficulty handling life in the public eye.” Depressing lows followed her romantic highs. Perfection was as unattainable for her as it is for us. The verse of the post-romantic poet Rubén Darío captures something of the heartrending, cryptic sorrow that haunted Diana:
The princess is sad. What is troubling the princess?
Sighs escape her strawberry mouth
That has lost its laughter, that has lost its hue.
The princess is pale in her chair of gold.
Whether a product of infidelity or not, bitterness and despondency entered her life. She had given herself over to the fairy tale, but it left her disillusioned. This emotion is all-too-human. Love and life involve risk. We occasionally experience heights that seem as marvellous as Diana’s princely wedding, but we know it is folly to cling to such a moment as if they were eternal. The princess was open about her struggles throughout her separation and divorce, and people could resonate. Through her, we see a glimpse of our own reality: there is no such thing as heaven on earth — even for royals.
Shortly after the painful divorce came the tragic car accident. It is incredibly agonizing to live through the death of a person taken before her time. Half of the world felt that it had come to know Diana in the sixteen years spanning her marriage and her funeral. The grieving process was universal. Diana’s death left everything in a state of chilling quiet that all our hearts can feel but only romantic poets can sound:
Thus Nature spake–The work was done–
How soon my Lucy’s race was run!
She died, and left to me
This heath, this calm, and quiet scene;
The memory of what has been,
And never more will be
For those of us who’ve reflected on these twenty years without Diana, the memories reopen our wounds. Emotions pour forth as we watch videos, gaze at photos, and read her story anew. It’s a distinctly human phenomenon. Her charming giggles have made us smile, her weighty tears have mingled with ours, and her tragic death has put us face-to-face with our own. She opened her heart to us with all of its feelings, and her memory invites us to do the same. May we listen to our hearts and share them with others in imitation of Diana, Princess of Wales, who in our memory rests yet nevermore shall be.
One of the oldest Benedictine monasteries of Southeast Asia is nestled in the lush highlands of central Vietnam. As we travelled on a small road surrounded by an extensive variety of fruits and vegetables through picturesque farmland, we glimpsed into the simplicity and serenity of monastic life. We were being taken to one of the holiest sites in their monastery: a crucifix standing at the far edge of the property. But now the large metal cross lay on the ground, the shattered pieces of the body of Jesus barely attached.
We listened to the story. The government and the monks, we were told, were in an intense debate over the ownership of the land. Things had heated up just a few weeks earlier. A mob broke into the monastery one night, harassing the monks and their property in the name of communism. The thugs tore down this symbol of Christianity and began breaking apart the body of Christ with hammers and clubs, scattering the pieces throughout the woods and river. As reported by UCA News, extensive damage was done to the property. Many of the monks were emotionally and physically assaulted, leaving several in need of medical attention. In the aftermath, the monks retrieved what they could from the desecrated cross, searching the property for the broken pieces of Jesus, and re-bound the body of Christ back on the cross. It remains there as a site of prayer.
The worst part of all? This has happened three times.
It was a powerful experience to hear this story, but even more so to look upon the broken body of Christ re-bound on the cross. These communist attackers no doubt saw a powerful symbol standing in the way of state progress. And yet by tearing it down and destroying the crucifix, they made it an even more powerful symbol for the faithful. Christ remains on the cross, a reminder that through the cross comes new life: resurrection out of crucifixion. Looking upon this image with this context, I had a new awareness of just how deep the bond is between Christ and the Church.
Those thugs tore down Christ on the cross because they know Jesus is not a communist. But Jesus isn’t a capitalist, either. Jesus loves all with a love transcending every ideology. Unfortunately, some Vietnamese see the crucifix as a symbol of foreign influence: of the West and its capitalist democracy and its complicated colonial history, never mind the Vietnam War. But the Catholics of Vietnam are anything but foreign. The local Church in Vietnam is strong and distinct. Their faith is marked by sincerity, depth, and devotion. Cities and communities in Vietnam are enriched by the Church, for people are more generous with each other and with those in need because of their faith in Christ. The Vietnamese Catholics possess an inspiring hope in Christ and have the endurance to live it out, and they are no doubt a gift to the progress of their country.
We hope and pray for peace and cooperation for those involved as the Vietnamese work for the good of their people. But as I continue to reflect on that image of the broken body of Christ on the cross, I am challenged by this question: Do my politics shape my faith, or does my faith shape my politics? Which do I cling to when I am challenged? Being a Christian can feel quite comfortable in the US. Often, it’s easy to think that my politics and faith are simply the same thing. But this window into the life of the Vietnamese faithful challenged me to remember that the Christian vision can and does come into conflict with our political systems.
The Kingdom of God is unreachable through any secular policies or political and economic schemes. In living out the Christian life, however, our faith must still be marked by works of justice. Even after these attacks suffered by the monks in Vietnam, they continue to pray, to minister, to live out their faith. Their faith endures, and we know what the end of the story will be: resurrection.
Photo courtesy of author.
1. Start with Openness. When you get out of bed in the morning, stand up straight and extend your arms out to your sides, palms open and facing upward. Say, out loud or silently, “God, I receive the gift of this day, and I open my heart to your desires for my life and this world.” 2. Pause to Reflect and Regroup. In the middle of your day, take a few moments to get quiet [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
Two wheels and a slender frame make it hard to wrap, but I still marvel at the unexpected Christmas gift leaning on its kickstand. Santa came through big time this year. It’s 1994 in the urban sprawl of São Paulo, Brazil. The gear shift mounted on the stem between the handlebars looks like a speed boat throttle. In my head I hear the roar my new bicycle will make as my eyes shift the throttle from first up to fifth. Imagining myself on this bicycle with speed boat features summons the opening montage of Thunder in Paradise, a short-lived TV show that just premiered. And, with that, it reveals its name: Thunder.
I try to memorize the landmarks on the way to my buddy’s house. The payphone on the corner. The pizza shop on the long stretch. The point where the blacktop switches to a brick-paved road. It’s my first expedition of significant distance and I’m nervous I might get lost on the way home. Upon my return, I coast triumphantly down the last stretch before my house. Thunder facilitated my first taste of independence. Many more adventures would unfold.
The Peace Corps office demands that volunteers wear helmets when we take motorcycle taxis, but come on – I already stick out enough as the only American in my Dominican neighborhood. Passengers never wear helmets, and so I don’t. I’m self-conscious about how stupid I would look carrying it around town as I run errands. I don’t own a motorcycle. Breaking this rule adds to the thrill of a moto-taxi ride in Puerto Plata.
The moto-taxi drivers from my neighborhood know me well. When they see me approach the stop where they congregate, their eyes light up, they call out “Andrés!,” and their hands go up – a signal inquiring whether I’m riding or not.
I jump onto Roberto’s bike and we speed off. My knuckles are white as I hold onto the seat. The wind whips across my unhelmeted face as we accelerate down the only paved road in my barrio. Roberto’s yellow vest, indicating he’s registered and syndicated, flaps open and closed.
We pass a bicycle shop and I look longingly at their wares. They remind me of Thunder. I remember the freedom, and if I had a bike now, I could be more spontaneous with my errands. I could go for joy rides along the malecón. But the price tag is far too large, even considering how much I would save from moto-taxi fares.
Near the end of my 27-month service, a new Peace Corps volunteer is assigned to a project in my barrio. I greet him when he passes my place on his way home. One day, his return is not by foot or moto-taxi. His wide smile and his expressive eyes pierce through me as he rides his beautiful new bicycle past. I walk downstairs to my host-mom’s place to lament and express my jealousy.
“Andrés, estás loco. Every time those moto-taxi drivers pass by here, they don’t ask me how I’m doing. They say, ‘And Andrés?’ The new gringo isn’t gonna get to know people very well on that bicycle.”
Full-throttle. High gear. Intense pace. These are the descriptions I use with friends regarding my transition into my new teaching gig. Delicious moments of stillness are interrupted by dread about the lesson I haven’t quite planned, the stack of homework I haven’t graded, the unresponded emails that glare at me.
Please, slow down! I whisper to life, certain of its deafness to my plea. I fantasize about the day when I feel caught up; when I can coast. At the end of another long day, I climb on my bike. The early autumn sun is nearly set, and I hit a long stretch of road between the school and my house. I downshift into a gear that takes little effort to pedal. I relish the slow ride and am calmed by the cool air that caresses my face. Sometimes I even let go of the handlebars and sit up straight, hogging the empty street at an hour when traffic has dissipated.
I think about Thunder and our past adventures as I make my trek from work. And those memories are followed by discomfort as I remember my host-mom’s words. Some of my most fascinating conversations have been with strangers on public transportation. Some deep bonds have formed over carpooling and commiserating over traffic. And a distinct awareness of the resources I am blessed with in a religious community has come from mundane tasks like filling the gas tank. I forget how dependent I am on others when I savor the independence I feel when riding my bike.
But I have come to depend on this nightly ritual. I smile at the paradox of dependence on the one thing that has always made me feel independent. It dawns on me that my rides – whether by motor or pedal – have never been in solitude. They’ve always been in good company. My friendship with Roberto kept me loyal to the moto-taxi. A different friendship keeps me peddling on now.
You might spend time outside on a sunny day, seeing the sunlight illuminating everything, feeling its warmth on your body, and imagining how God is creating and bathing you in love. Again, tell God what’s in your mind and heart. This kind of contemplation can lead us to want to love God with our whole mind and heart and soul, to become the friend God wants us to be. Ignatius suggests a prayer that may [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
To all our youthful readers: stay in your 20s as long as you can!
Ah, how fondly I remember that decade! It was filled with new experiences and opportunities for growth and adventure. But just as it did for me, the day will inevitably come for you: your 30th birthday.
Fear not! It doesn’t have to be a funeral for your 20s. Save the tears and find a way to celebrate. Here are 10 suggestions for how to commemorate this milestone.
- Go out for drinks! But don’t close down the bar.
This is 30, not 21. You don’t need another night that lasts until 2am and ends with a greasy chalupa at Taco Bell. You also don’t have to rip through Tequila shots or binge drink on Natty Light. This isn’t college. (Was that ever a good idea anyway?)
Go out for a sampling of craft beers instead. Turns out: bars are open in the early evening as well, so you can enjoy a cocktail or two and still get home by 10pm if you want. After all, it’s your birthday.
Better yet, how about brunch!
- Get a babysitter and have a date night.
Hey, you’re 30. It’s more likely that you’re married and raising children. While the kids are surely the love of your life, maybe this is a good excuse to take a night off for a romantic date night with your spouse. Remember what those are like?
If not, you can always take the kids with you for a night out at your local Applebee’s. (If it’s still open.)
- Sleep in: until 8am!
Remember when you used to sleep in until midday? Yeah, neither do I. We all know the maxim about early to bed…early to rise. Was that written to inspire a particular sleeping pattern? Or simply to justify natural changes that are unavoidable with aging?
But hey, it’s your birthday. Turn off the alarm, close the shades, and sleep as long as you want. Who knows: maybe you’ll make it to 9am??
- Get some exercise. Sign up for a race.
Life does not end at 30, and neither does good health. Heck, your early 30s are still part of your athletic peak. Think about it: LeBron James is still dominating the NBA as a healthy 30+ year old. New England Patriots QB Tom Brady just turned 40! (But let’s not jump that far ahead just yet.)
Okay, admittedly few of us thirtysomethings will lead a sports team to a league championship, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to spend your 30th on the couch all day. Get some exercise or go for a run. Better yet, register for a road race. Why not sign up for a 5K charity run? It will help others and help you feel better about yourself as you enter the next decade of life.
Want to reach for more? Try out a half marathon. Or maybe this is the decade you run a marathon. Remember: you are still in your athletic peak! (Repeat this line in the mirror as many times as necessary.)
- Photo booth!
Let’s face this reality together: at 30, parts of your body start moving the other direction. Hair might start to gray (or slowly disappear…your buzz cut is fooling no one!). Suddenly it takes you a couple of days to recover from a light game of beach volleyball. Wrinkles start to mark the face, like crow’s feet or unwelcome lines underneath the eyes.
This transition is unavoidable, but it doesn’t mean you lose your strength or beauty. Celebrate who you are and how you look. Visit a photo booth and bring your own costumes.
At a minimum, snap a selfie as the sun rises on your 30s.
- Check something off your bucket list.
Wait- you have a bucket list already? Guess it’s never too early to start. At 30, there are many adventures ahead of you. Plan something dramatic and exciting for your 30th birthday.
Never been skydiving? Today is the day!
Wavering about getting a tattoo? Time for the ink.
Want to learn the piano? Um…[cough] Okay, let’s keep this realistic.
- Take an international trip.
Whether it’s on your bucket list or not, this is a great occasion for an international trip. My older brother Eric was in India for his 30th birthday. He rose before dawn in Agra and was at the front of the line to enter the Taj Mahal when it opened at sunrise. When you’re among the first to enter the Taj, the wind passing through the temple whispers to you like voices from another world. It doesn’t take long for the space to fill up, and then the noise of visitors and tour guides drowns out the whispers.
My brother was able to soak in a good 10-15 minutes in the silence with the whispering wind. What a way to start a new decade!
So…what’s at the top of your travel list?
- Spend time with your family.
Whether it’s your spouse, kids, parents or siblings, spend time with the most important people in your life.
During the summer that I turned 30, I was helping at a Jesuit high school in my hometown of Denver. To celebrate my birthday, my family decided to go out for a dinner of Korean BBQ. The night went wrong in a collection of ways. There was confusion over making a reservation; we inadvertently stole the table for a different “Brian, party of 7”; eventually we had to give up the table to its rightful party and wait for our own. But hey, that’s family. Sometimes it’s messy, sometimes it doesn’t go according to plan.
In the end, we were all sitting around the table and sharing a meal together, including my three-month-old niece who was baptized a week later. That’s what I will remember most. Family matters.
- Say a prayer of thanks.
Maybe you’ve fallen away from your faith during a decade of exploration and independence where you had some fun, made some mistakes, and took important things for granted. No time like the present to pause and take stock. This could be just the occasion you need (or the reality check?) to re-evaluate your relationship with God. And gratitude is at the heart of a healthy faith life, so start with that.
After all, you have a lot to be thankful for – you survived your 20s! Take time to reflect on all the things you lived through and experienced in that decade. There is surely a lot to be grateful for, so offer up a prayer of thanks.
- Smile and look forward to what’s ahead!
I know what you’re going through. The transition can feel like a big one. It’s an important milestone. Use it as an opportunity to reflect on your life and where it’s taken you, but don’t let the weight of it get you down.
Given all you’re grateful for from your 20s, what do you want to do to make the most out of your 30s? How do you want to build and cultivate relationships? How will you contribute to a better community? How can you make your next 30 years better than the first?
A birthday isn’t just about looking back on a year (or decade) that has past, it’s about looking ahead too. So enjoy your birthday, whether it’s time with family or friends, a 5K run or an international trip. And then smile, because so many great things are yet to come.
Have your own ideas? Mention them in the comments!
One of the great gifts of my life as an editor is the opportunity to meet and get to know the wise and compassionate people who write the books Loyola Press publishes. One of my “wise women”—also a good friend—is Elizabeth Kelly, author of one of our newest books, Jesus Approaches: What Contemporary Women Can Learn about Healing, Freedom & Joy from the Women of the New Testament. Elizabeth explores our relationship with Jesus by [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
In almost 500 pages, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new memoir What Happened says what many might say in two words: she lost. Her explanation nuances her own personal mistakes, her emails, Russian intervention, Bernie Sanders, sexism, and the intersection of race and class. But this is only a fraction of what makes the book so compelling and important to read. In her own words, Clinton says she’s letting her guard down.
Not unlike her political career, the book has received mixed reviews. Democrats aiming to rebuild the party after Clinton’s loss claim she and her subsequent Hillary Clinton Live book tour are a distraction. Others say presidential candidates don’t immediately write books explaining why they lost the election. And finally, there’s the obvious: we’ve been talking about what happened since that early November morning.
That being said, the book is more than an explanation of why Clinton lost the election and is worth the read for the following three reasons:
Her Prayer Life: Part of what Hillary Clinton recounts in What Happened is her inner spiritual life. She admits early on that many people won’t believe her discussion of her prayer life after the election. One of the reasons for this skepticism is that Rev. Bill Shillady plagiarized spiritual reflections he sent her. Although this may discount Shillady’s credibility, these reflections still shaped her personal prayer during the campaign.
Whether one is skeptical of her prayer life or not, there’s much more to be gained from taking her at her word. She describes how she reread The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen, a book that has guided her prayer for over twenty years. Seeing herself in the position of the older brother, she admits that the book challenges her to the discipline of gratitude:
To be grateful even for our flaws, because in the end, they make us stronger by giving us a chance to reach beyond our grasp. My task was to be grateful for the humbling experience of losing the presidential election… It’s because of our limitation and imperfections that we must reach out beyond ourselves, to God, and to one another.
In what must have been the most painful experience of her life, her experience of gratitude calls her out of her pain and propels her into the future. For each of us who have faced losses in our lives, her story urges us to not allow our hearts to grow bitter, but to continue to find God working on our lives and the lives of others.
The Need for Radical Empathy: During the campaign, Clinton herself admitted it was odd that a presidential candidate would speak about the need for more love and kindness. Her message might have appeared weak to some, but is now more important than ever. She’s calling us to move farther to radical empathy: to “try to walk in the shoes of people who don’t see the world we do.” That includes her. She acknowledges cultural change, lack of belonging, economic insecurity, and even abortion as reasons why someone would see the world differently than her.
While not excusing the unleashing of hate in America since the election, Hillary Clinton urges us to work to build bridges between persons who are different:
We have to fill the emotional and spiritual voids that have opened up within communities, within families, and within ourselves as individuals. That can be even more difficult, but it’s essential. There’s grace to be found in those relationships. Grace and meaning and that elusive sense that we’re all part of something bigger than ourselves.
As her prayer life demonstrates, she’s decided to let go of bitterness and try and build bridges. So too must we.
Embracing Her Own Mistakes, Flaws, and Failures: Many people see the Clintons as thinking they are “above the rules.” Perhaps one way this played out is her admitting throughout the book that she never expected she would lose the election. Furthermore, she’s apologized for not winning the election without blaming her campaign staff. But more than anything, she’s found grace in her mistakes and flaws.
Take one concrete example from the final pages of the book: returning to her alma mater Wellesley to give the 2017 commencement address, she hears the student speaker say that it is our flaws that make us who we are. Listening to the student, she reflects to the reader how she’s learned to see her own flaws as character marks of her own authenticity, something that many see her as hiding over her years in public office.
And perhaps that is why, despite the controversy, Hillary Rodham Clinton has written this book and re-emerged in the public sphere. Perhaps the whole process has been less of a desire to tell what happened that led us to November 8th, 2016. Maybe instead she’s showing us what happened next in her own acceptance of her flaws, mistakes, and public humiliation. Simply said, she’s found grace, gratitude, and healing there.
Her book invite us to do the same. She implicitly asks us for critical self-reflection that is more than just what happened last November. Like her, we’re invited to consider our limited perspectives so that we might stretch them and grow to be radically empathetic. And in the process, she subtly requests us to find what she found – how God is laboring beneath our flaws so that we might find ourselves good enough, strong enough, and ready to move onward together.
The cover photo is featured courtesy of Ali Shaker/VOA and can be found on the Wikimedia Creative Commons.
One might assume that a special release of a television show in IMAX would come with striking clarity and amazing special effects, but with ABC’s Marvel’s Inhumans I found myself struck not by the wonder and the ‘super’ but by the sheer humanity involved. While villains might exist in the series, the very person of the characters lies central to the conflicts and the underlying themes of the narrative.
Marvel’s Inhuman series follows a race of humans who possess extra genetic potential, making them “different” from humans and forcing them into exile as refugees. In exile in the city of Attilan, they create an entire society based on “potential”—it is so important that King Black Bolt, his wife Medusa, and the rest of the royal family personally supervise each individual as they undergo their transformation when they come of age. That genetic transformation might awaken “powers” within the person or it might not. A person’s “powers” may seem far afield in terms of fantasy and science fiction, but the attention to each person and their potential turns the story inward towards the humanity and pressures involved.
Maximus, the king’s brother who lacks superpowers, faces the challenge and frustration of being underestimated by all around him. The society continually highlights him as “just human,” which leads to the very human experience of jealousy and self-loathing. Maximus turns this jealousy and anger into a weapon which eventually motivates a coup d’état for the throne of Attilan. It’s painful to watch, as everyone around King Black Bolt can see the jealousy and manipulation of his brother Maximus building. Yet, in this escalating tension, Black Bolt remains silent. Even though Maximus seems evil, his brother cannot see it, and he cannot help but underestimate him.
Silence and inaction are important themes for Black Bolt. By comic standards, Black Bolt is perhaps one of the most powerful superhumans in the Marvel world. His voice—which is his weapon—excites the very atoms which stand in his way, disintegrating everything. A single word can demolish a city or an army, and if he raises his voice the scale of destruction would be limitless. The power and potential of his voice remains feared, but also silent: Black Bolt knows that with a single word he can defeat anyone and anything, but his potential scares him more than empowers him.
We see a glimpse of his power in a single moment when Black Bolt it punched. He releases an insignificant grunt, but that sound—no louder than a whisper or exhale—crushes and flips a police car hundreds of feet. This accidental manifestation of power brings him to his knees. Ashamed and afraid, he surrenders. His power and potential remain self-silenced by the shame he has for those mistakes he has made in his past and his fear of future destruction.
As a result, Bolt remains silent. He sits within the very human tension of holding potential and not knowing what to do with it. His fear of destruction, much like the human fear of failure, ties his hands and his actions. He is the most powerful, rendered powerless… a feeling not inhuman at all.
ABC’s Inhumans pits two opposing human experiences against one another: the frustration of being underestimated, and the fear of your past mistakes and future potential.
The two human experiences come to a moment of pregnant tension at the close of the series premier. Maximus sits upon his brother’s throne, having proven himself so much more than just a human. As he sits, he receives a call from Medusa who says, “the king will have words for you.” Her statement of course implies the use of Black Bolt’s power, but more importantly it indicates that Bolt is going to move beyond silence and inaction. Maximus though, unwilling to be underestimated again, replies that he is looking forward to it.
The closing conversation captures the tension which will unfold not in superhuman or inhuman terms, but in terms of the underestimated and unrealized potentials of the person. The superpowers, the inhuman capabilities, and the special effects all fall into the backdrop of a distinctly human tale. We may be entertained by the superpowers and special effects, but we are fundamentally drawn to the way a super-tale allows us insight into our own human experience.
The cover image is courtesy of Jamie of the Flickr Creative Commons.
By Tim Muldoon
Somewhere nearby—perhaps a co-worker in the next cubicle; a friend across the room; a stranger in the chair next to you; a spouse beside you in bed; a child clawing at your leg for attention—there, now, is an opportunity for love. Before you is God’s invitation to know him. Do not delay; do not postpone love. Reach for it; give your whole self to it. Use your imagination, for love is not for the sluggish. [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
I spend time each week in a pod at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center – the JDC. Each pod is visible through thick panels of glass which, sadly, makes it feel like looking into an exhibit at the Lincoln Park zoo. But instead of animals, there are 14 to 18-year-old boys awaiting trial, sentencing, or transport to prison. Each pod has a bathroom area on one end and a TV room on the other. Roughly 15 cells line the back wall with heavy grey doors and a mesh-wired window. Usually when I arrive some of the boys are either playing cards or watching TV. Others are already locked up until morning.
One evening a young man named Kevin, about 18 years old, sat down to talk. He was a Chicago boy and grew up in a tough neighborhood. He had been a leader in a gang, but now wanted to leave that life behind after having seen the suffering it brought him.
Kevin was a talented writer, and in a later conversations he would share a poem he authored about his past life. It was filled with loving companions, painful losses, hope, anger, and fear. He had not graduated high school, but he wanted to earn his G.E.D. Beyond that I don’t remember specifics, but I do know that he had a strong desire to help other young people like himself.
After speaking for some time, I asked him how he was feeling. He paused for a moment, his eyes glancing away from mine. When he finally spoke, he slowly grasped his chest with his hand, as if trying to massage a chronic ache or feel an old wound that could possibly crack open again. He was trying to indicate something palpable within him that he couldn’t quite describe.
“Yeah, I just…I have this feeling in my chest like a weight or… like something in me that feels like even though I want to do this, I can’t.”
It was normal for me to speak to the boys about the difficulties they would face when leaving. But Kevin was expressing something much more profound than a lack of social or psychological resources. He recognized that there was a more fundamental mystery of weakness that resided deep within him. A weakness beyond external difficulties that he feared might keep him from being able to do what he truly hoped to do.
I am very different from Kevin. I am a 27-year-old white man from South Dakota who took vows in a Catholic religious order. I have the freedom open and close my bedroom door as I please, eat what I want, and freely talk to the people I love.
But, there are also things in my life that keep me locked down, chained, unable to move. A year ago, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which I have struggled with for years. It’s not that I hoard things, or have to wash my hands every five minutes. Instead, I will obsessively ruminate for hours over whether I hurt someone, spoke poorly of them, or did something “wrong.” This rumination is accompanied by gnawing anxiety wherein I can’t focus, my stomach becomes a knot, and I feel like there’s a fire alarm going off, even though nothing is burning.
I know these fears are unreasonable, but I can’t let them go. And I cannot keep myself from getting anxious, no matter how badly I want to, or how much I can see that I don’t need to be. My mind is locked up, and I feel powerless against it.
As Kevin and I talked, I sensed that the fear and powerlessness he now felt – and that I felt with my OCD – though born from different places, were the same. A fundamentally human fear of being helpless against a force that pulls away from life and toward imprisonment, sin, pain, and despair. A weakness that is not artificially created by some abstract ideal he or I hold up for ourselves, but an undeniably real experience – a part of simply existing. In this way, whether held captive in the JDC or by OCD, I saw that Kevin and I both understood what it means to be truly weak.
Yet almost immediately in the midst of this recognition, I was moved to something else I’ve come to know: that it’s precisely in these places where my own power and self-sufficiency wear out that God meets me. And as I remembered this, I thought Kevin could meet God in the same way.
So I asked if he would like to pray, and he said yes. I didn’t plan what I spoke. All I could speak of was what I knew to be true in my own heart: that there is a gift of grace that transforms even the deepest despair and fear into life and hope. I prayed that Kevin would experience this in his own way.
As I prayed, I could feel this power with us – palpable, real, and liberating. I sensed light breaking through darkness and the birth of confidence born of faith in something larger than ourselves. I ended, and we both sat in the echo of a message I believe we both understood. It was us two with God, being reminded of this hope we can truly claim and hold on to.
The last time I was in a hurricane, I was four years old and remember a few things. We hid in a closet with the glow of a flashlight while wind howled outside. The next day I still remember seeing palm trees that had blown over and knew that it was a miracle, even though I didn’t know that word, that our house wasn’t hit.
My experience of Hurricane Harvey, was not boring in the least, despite being stuck in my house for nearly five full days. At first, there was the excitement that school had been cancelled and we were getting a long weekend. Plus, I’ve always enjoyed storms when in the safety of a home. Once the initial excitement passed and I had a day to catch up on work, I realized that this was going to be a lot longer, and more boring, than expected. But then… Jesuit community! We rode out the storm while playing board games, cooking, and eating together. We were comfortable and happy, but certainly aware that a dangerous amount of water was coming down.
A couple days in, news started turning from what might happen, to what actually was happening. We lounged around a television, watching the water rising around Houston. It began pouring into people’s homes and the mood shifted from conviviality to seriousness, then gravity, then shock.
I vividly recall watching a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers explain that they were going to be releasing water from the dams to prevent them from breaking. The amount of water in the reservoir was pushing it beyond the Corp’s capacity to keep it under control. It was surreal to think that our city had to systematically flood more homes to prevent unknown, but likely much worse, damage. An ethical analysis would be incredibly complex, but the bottom line is that everyone seemed to understand the necessity. The Army Corps of Engineers has not been excoriated for making that difficult decision.
Five days after it began, Hurricane Harvey moved north, leaving a sopping wet community in its wake. We’ve spent all the time since then trying to assess the extent of the damage and letting the realization sink in of how much time recovery will take. It has been terrible, wonderful and in my better moments, awe-inspiring to see the aftermath. The destruction is terrible; the goodwill and energy among volunteers is wonderful; both of them are awe-inspiring.
The rivers have run through our city and carried with them our security. No one could have predicted who was going to be hit and how badly. There’s fear in that recognition, yet the response by people has overwhelmingly been one of optimism and energy as resources are mobilized. People are working industriously and with hope already. Even people who are in need of aid are making efforts to give back at the same time. As one lady said to me on a visit, “This is just another storm. Storms come and go. New life comes after every storm. We are going to come back stronger.”
It’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there and a lot of help from each other. From what I’ve seen, there is no reason to doubt she’s right.
To read Marc Fryer, SJ’s account of praying for his hometown of Houston, click here.
Cover image courtesy National Museum of the U.S. Navy, found here.
As a Houstonian, the past few weeks have been a struggle. As a Houstonian living away from home, rather than dealing with flood damage and other chaos, I have struggled with being away from family and friends when they most needed help. As a Jesuit with a vow of obedience, I go where I’m told. Currently, I’m assigned as the assistant pastor in Albuquerque, New Mexico. From nearly 900 miles away, I watched on the news and on social media as the city I love was torn apart. I saw desperate posts from friends and co-workers at Strake Jesuit High School (my alma mater and former employer) who watched as the water rose higher and higher in the streets outside of their homes and eventually came inside. I watched as co-workers from the fire department I worked at prior to my life in the Jesuits struggled to respond to the sheer volume of calls and rescues necessary during such a tragedy. I felt, and was, helpless to do anything about the suffering. For more moments than I would care to count, I even considered that I may have had a mis-fire on my vocation – perhaps I should have been a diocesan priest? At least then I would be able to serve God in the midst of the people I know and love in my hometown while they cope with tragedy.
On the Wednesday before the storm hit, I celebrated Mass for the parochial school at our parish. That morning I asked the students to pray in a special way for all of those in the path of the storm. As we prayed and offered petitions for Texas, I reminded the students that they should keep the soon-to-be-impacted areas in their prayers with their families before meals and prior to falling asleep at night. Later in the day I went over to the school to spend time with the younger students in their classes. One of the first graders raised his hand as I entered the classroom. He said to me, “Father Marc, do you think other people are praying for us like we prayed for the children who are about to get hit by the hurricane this morning at Mass?” My immediate response was, “Well, yes, of course! I’m sure they are.”
As I returned to the church, I stopped for a moment, gripped by the question the young student had asked. Kids have a great way of getting to the point. Catholics spend a lot of time praying FOR things. We pray for the ill, for our families, for support during natural disasters and tragedies. I had sent countless texts and messages to friends on the Gulf Coast, reassuring them of my prayers for them. How often, though, do I stop and think about people praying FOR me? What do those prayers do? What does the knowledge of other’s petitions on my behalf do for me and my relationship with God? It is comforting to know that somewhere out there someone else is praying for me. But is my comfort the point?
Perhaps the point lies in the connections and bonds built among the faithful as we weave this web of prayers. When we’re suffering, we are united with others through their prayers for us. We come together as the faithful, strengthening the Body of Christ, when we offer prayers for others and are the subject of the prayers of others. While our prayers may not directly result in the cessation of flood waters or the rescue of a loved one, they do result directly in the fortification of the bonds we all share as Christian disciples. The Holy Spirit is alive and well, present and accounted for, when we offer and receive prayers. So, as the hashtag on Twitter said, #PrayForHouston, as Florida faces Irma, #PrayForFlorida, and know that somewhere, someone is #PrayingForYou.
To read Juan Ruiz, SJ’s firsthand account of Hurricane Harvey, click here.
Cover image courtesy NOAA Satellites, found here.
By Marina McCoy
In his ministry, Jesus often asks others what they want. For example, he asks the blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51) On another occasion, James and John approach Jesus, and he asks them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36) Both in his healing ministry and with his friends, Jesus displays a kind of openness and curiosity toward others. Until recently, I had [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
By now most readers have heard about Steve Bannon’s disgusting comments on DACA. The bishops’ support for DACA, Bannon argues, can only stem from their crass self-interest:
The bishops have been terrible about this. By the way, you know why? Because unable to really – to come to grips with the problems in the church. They need illegal aliens. They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. That’s – it’s obvious on the face of it. They have an economic interest. They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration.
To be fair to Bannon, such self-interest is precisely what drives immigration debates in Washington: both political parties have benefitted from avoiding meaningful solutions to immigration. So it is little wonder Bannon can’t imagine the bishops playing any other kind of game.
But given that Bannon is Catholic, it is sad that the Church has not challenged him to see a vision of something better. And so I actually agree with Bannon: the Church has not “come to grips” with many of its problems, including its poor catechesis of Catholics like Bannon. But speaking out for the dignity of all persons is not one of those problems.
Bannon’s screed shows the difficulty of being Catholic and Republican: the Gospel call to serve the poor isn’t even on his radar. You can argue that Bannon does not represent the GOP, and there’s no confusing him with John McCain or George W. Bush. But his vitriol arises from some of the worst tendencies of the Republican party, especially the new, ascendant parts. That is a problem for Catholics, particularly when we see care for the poor and the marginalized in the crosshairs.
Thank goodness Catholics have another party.
Oh, about that.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior U.S. senator from California, recently questioned a prospective federal judge’s fitness for office. It turns out the nominee, Amy Barrett, is just a little too Catholic for the senator’s taste:
Whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.
This is sad coming from Senator Feinstein. I doubt she has any problem with the Gospel call to serve the poor, and she is known for the strength of her own convictions, convictions that she is generally happy to force on others. But the minute a truth comes up that she dislikes, in this case arguments against abortion, then suddenly conviction becomes “dogma” and the truth loses its right to a public voice.
As if working in tandem, Senator Dick Durbin, himself Catholic, asked Barrett directly, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” When did the Democrats start requiring religious tests for public office?
Again, you can argue that these senator’s views don’t represent their party. But at its worst, the Democratic party is deeply skeptical of any claims to truth or authority. And that is bad for Catholics who recognize the salvific truth of the authority of Jesus Christ, and indeed want to assert it on behalf of the poor, vulnerable and marginalized, including the unborn.
You can’t make this stuff up. Completely unplanned, two figures as different as Steve Bannon and Dianne Feinstein – a Trump-supporting Breitbart writer and a progressive California hero – inadvertently teamed up to remind Catholics that anti-Catholic bigotry is alive and well in both political parties.
Every day Catholics argue about which party represents better the Gospel. Have that argument if you like, but don’t forget the bigger picture, a point that we desperately need to remember: neither party can be the home of the Catholic voter. You might vote with a party, you might support parts of its plank, you might donate money and time to it: but you are never really home there. It can never be where you belong, where you discover who you are, what you most deeply care about and what you should do with your gifts for the world.
If you want to object that one party is better than the other for Catholics, you are missing the point. Even if one party were better, the fact remains that neither party is a good source of values and teachings for Catholics engaged in politics. If you are going to be selective about the values and policy preferences you hold within the party, you cannot learn that from the party itself. And you won’t bother to anyway if you find yourself more invested in partisan politics than in the Gospel.
But what bothers me the most about Bannon’s and Feinstein’s comments is that I fear that many Catholics are not so different from them. I fear that many of us disregard Church teachings because we fundamentally don’t believe that the Gospel is calling us to fight for the Kingdom. I fear that many of us don’t really think our faith should have a public voice because we fundamentally don’t believe that the truth will set us and others free.
Instead, we preach our own political beliefs. Sure, we invoke the Gospel when it conveniently aligns with what we already believe, when we can use the Gospel as a weapon against our enemies. But what if the Gospel is challenging us, too? Is that what we are running away from?
Today is 9/11, and TJP could have run something about the tragic events of 2001. But 9/11 is actually the perfect time to meditate on this bigotry. 9/11 reminded us, albeit in a most unwelcome way, that life and death are bigger than politics. Yet Bannon and Feinstein are asking us to sacrifice what we hold most dear for political expediency.
We can fall into their trap by joining in the ideological warfare that plagues our society, refusing to recognize the humanity of others. Or we might surrender to our frustrated apathy with politics, vaguely accepting that our private selves will never find meaningfully public expression.
But maybe, on this day when so many lost their lives, we can ask what life is, and what makes it worth living. Rather than be discouraged or embittered by hate and violence, we can remember what we hold dear, and feel gratitude for all the people who give us hope that goodness is still possible in the world. Because it is.
As a “PS,” I invite readers to weigh in on two questions:
How do you maintain hope today?
Do you identify with a political party? If so, how do you maintain spiritual freedom from the beliefs and practices of that party?
The direction of an authentic life is always one that serves others. It may be a life of contemplative prayer in a cloister, in a service profession, parenting, or entrepreneurship that lifts people out of poverty. It may be solitary or familial. It may be some kind of engagement in politics or social activism. It may be in medicine, academia, business, entertainment, public service, law, or any number of other fields. But in the end, [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
Tomorrow our Church celebrates St. Peter Claver (1580-1654), patron saint of, among others things, African-Americans.
But for me, and I suspect for not a few Black Catholics, Mass on September 9th has the same unsettling feel of the first day of Black History Month. At best, the tip of the iceberg of our history will be briefly revisited. At worst, this history will be inaccurately presented.
Researching the life of St. Peter Claver gives me the same feeling. Many sources rightfully laud his tireless efforts among African peoples in Colombia. Called “slave of the slaves,” he did the work that few or none wanted to do. But though Claver did much for the Africans he encountered, he never worked to end the system that held them in bondage nor was he a pioneer for racial justice or equality.
Despite that, Claver’s life is often revisited as a model for addressing our contemporary racial tensions. But trying to mold him (consciously or not) into fitting that narrative is problematic because this is not what Claver’s life and work was about. Though his efforts should not be ignored, we have an obligation to also learn the full story of what happened, who was involved, and what legacies remain. Only in such a spirit of truth can we hope for healing today.
St. Peter Claver’s story in context
African enslavement had existed in South America for over a century before Claver’s arrival. One of the earliest advocates of the institution was Bartolomé de las Casas. Las Casas had taken part in atrocities committed against Native peoples but would later reverse his position and push for Native rights and freedom. He advocated instead for Black enslavement as a replacement for their labor. Las Casas eventually entered the Dominicans and there wrote that he’d “repented” of the mistake of supporting Black enslavement as well and realized that the enslavement of any group was wrong.
This raises an interesting question: Was enslavement a universally accepted way of life of the era? De las Casas’ conversions, as well as the long history of enslaved resistance and the abolitionist movement, seem to indicate the answer to be no. Still, as las Casas had done, many continued to interpret Just War Theory 1 and the “curse of Ham” 2 is taken from the Biblical story of Noah cursing his son Ham’s descendents with servitude to his other two sons, see Genesis 9:20-27. Though the text didn’t mention skin color, the text was at times used to explain that Ham was a common ancestor of Black Africans and that darker skin was a continual marking by God to indicate that their enslavement was part of, or at least condoned by, Divine Will.] as reasons enough to legitimize African enslavement.
Like many Europeans of his time, Claver functioned within these beliefs. According to a biography, it was thought that Claver felt, for Africans, “that it was better to die a Christian slave in Cartagena [Colombia’s major port] than a native chieftain in the Congo.”3
By Claver’s time, the Spanish Jesuits had taken the lead in evangelizing enslaved Africans in South America. The Africans were in terrible conditions as about 40% died between initial capture and arrival in the Americas. Thus, not only were theirs spiritual needs, but also physical ones. The ministry was intense work. In his efforts, and with the critical help of Black translators, Claver baptized over 300,000 people. He was also noted for his unique compassion and his singular ability among the Europeans to endure work in the deplorable cargo holds of the ships that enslaved people were forced to live in for months. By his death, from his contracting one of the many diseases common among the enslaved people he ministered to, Claver’s dedication had become well known as many flocked to the house where he died.
And for his work, Claver is worthy of a certain degree of veneration and imitation. He was a man who was deeply moved by the conditions endured by Africans, the poorest of the poor. Yet his good intentions were never turned towards ending the cruel system that fueled Black suffering. It would not be until 1839, almost two centuries after Claver’s death, that Pope Gregory XVI would condemn the trade of enslaved Africans.
“Don’t call me a saint [yet]”
Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, is often quoted as saying “don’t call me a saint, I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” I think that when she said this, she was sensing the focus wrongfully shifting from the unjust poverty in which she was immersed to herself.
This tends to happen with Claver. It’s tempting to gloss over truths of his life and era to instead move on quickly to something else because we get uneasy talking about racism. It’s another temptation to insinuate that his work excuses the injustices of his era or ours.4 It’s easier to venerate Claver’s work and leave it at that.
Yet promoting his charitable actions while ignoring his (or the larger Church’s) inaction in ending the institution of slavery can condone such silence. By extension, it can encourage a similar silence in us. But silence in the face of systemic evil is the same as consent, no matter how much good we may do. Unfortunately, many popular versions of St. Peter Claver’s life can make it seem that praising good deeds in our saints, our Church, or ourselves is enough for moving forward. It’s not.
Was St. Peter Claver morally right for what he did or didn’t do? The debate continues. But right now perhaps the more pressing issue is how do we face and use his legacy today. Making him into something he wasn’t, or focusing only on one aspect of his life over another, confuses the truth and is troubling enough. But what would be worse is if we allow such narratives to unjustly excuse us from our call to work for justice today. This would not only disrespect the actual good work Claver did but is also a roadblock to much-needed progress and reconciliation.5
By Jane Knuth
An extraordinarily beautiful donation came into the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop once. A woman gave us a box of over 100 silk scarves, all colors and sizes, for all seasons of the year. Each one unique and in perfect condition, they were laundered, pressed, and folded. We volunteers spent an afternoon admiring each one as we priced them all. We also spent a lot of time wondering why anyone on earth would need [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
At night, when the world was sleeping, I would don an orange mask and take a shortcut to St. Matthew School. I’d quietly slide a heavy metal grate from one of the storm drains and, nunchuks in hand, leap into the darkness. The battle for my school was about to begin again.
When I was in first grade, I thought that I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – a crooked-smiled, cowabunga-shouting Michelangelo, to be exact. It’s not that I dreamed of being a Turtle – I was a Turtle who, by day, took the form of Eric Immel. As a Turtle, I felt the real threat of the Foot Clan and the Shredder who sought to destroy the place I loved most. I took the council of Master Splinter, heeding sage words and making them my mantras. I moved in the shadows, three thick green fingers gripping the rough-hewn handle of an ancient ninjitsu weapon. I kept our school safe. And I told everyone as such.
At recess one day, I was regaling my classmates with tales from the previous night’s tangle. Two boys – John and Mike – called out my deception. “You’re definitely NOT a Ninja Turtle,” they said. We argued back and forth for a moment. What about the nunchuks? A cheap, plastic set my mom bought me at Toys-R-Us. My orange mask? A bandana with two janky eye-holes. My three-fingered turtle-hands? Five-fingered, like everyone else I knew.
Until that moment, I thought I had everyone convinced. I had convinced myself. But in an instant, I realized that my whole life was a lie.
I haven’t been to the dentist in three years. And, I don’t really floss. And, on some Saturday mornings, if I don’t have much going on, I’ll drink three cups of coffee, eat breakfast, go to church, and go to the gym before I brush my teeth. At the risk of making myself seem like a failed member of the hygienic community, I should tell you what I see in the mirror.
I see teeth that are white enough and clean enough. I see a bright and ready smile. I see a man who is busy with work and prayer and all the other things Jesuits are busy with. I see someone who thinks, almost daily, that he should make an appointment to go see the dentist. I see someone who disappoints Dr. Martin and Sandy, my childhood dentist and hygienist. I see someone who is afraid to fail people, and who fears being found out for my three-year hiatus. And then, I see someone who has, in his mind, actually gone to the dentist.
When I stop staring at myself in the mirror and the topic of dentists comes up, I gloss over my failure to floss and act like everyone else who visits the dentist every six months.
Almost as soon as these fictions fabricate themselves, they become a sort of truth – a truth that isn’t true at all.
If someone asked me in first grade whether I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, I would have said yes. If someone asks me tomorrow whether I’d been to the dentist recently, I’d say yes. I’m convinced that I should, so I say I do. But eventually I’d get caught, and the truth would come out.
What else have I convinced myself of? What lies do I continue to tell myself? I’m no ninja, and I’m certainly not on top of taking care of my teeth. Do I simply say that I want to eradicate racism, or do I actually work to eradicate racism? Do I want people to know I stand with DACA recipients, or do I actually stand with DACA recipients?
When I was in first grade, I thought people needed me to be a hero. I wanted to be a hero. And so, I fashioned myself into one, even though my pretending made me something of the opposite. Adults go to the dentist, and so I “go to the dentist,” even though I don’t go to the dentist.
I spend a lot of time guessing at who I think others want me to be – others who I want to impress or attract, who have what I don’t have, who are something I’m not. If I become what I think others want me to be, I’ll be right with the world. An advocate for justice, a writer, a ninja, a committed patient of dentistry.
But then it becomes clear that if these things are not truly who I am, then this effort is nothing more than a subtle and toxic way of telling myself I’m not good enough. If the world doesn’t know I feel that way about myself, I can keep up the lie. As Master Splinter says: “The path that leads to what we truly desire is long and difficult.” The harder way – the right way – is to become who I am called to be – a person who is nothing more than himself.
And, a person who makes a dentist appointment as soon as I finish typing these words.