Remember And Sing

Late last night I read yesterday’s Mass readings. The first was Acts 16: 22-34. It’s about when Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi. Verses 25-26 say, “about midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose.” I remembered that this had been the Scripture that initially inspired my song Nothing Else.

While Paul and Silas were hoping, questing, and teaching people about Jesus, they were imprisoned. In the middle of the night, though, they still prayed, and they still sang songs; they worshiped Him. I don’t remember what the “bad thing” was that compelled me to write this song. Lately I’ve had writer’s block. I tried for a few minutes, then just sang a few lines from the prayer I wrote five years ago.

You let us know you’re listening;
let us know you’re listening.
This is why we sing;
we sing.

You let us know you’re listening;
let us know you’re listening,
so in the dark we sing;
we sing to you.

You let us know you’re listening,
so we sing for joy.
Because you are good, Lord,
we sing.

This is a song to sing in the dark.
This is enough, a spark to start a fire.
This is a prayer you answer with love;
cause you are God, and you are with us.

I haven’t actually listened to a whole lot of Christian music lately. I’ve been trying to write my own original music, or blog posts, and I often find music distracting. The rest of Nothing Else is about wanting to be alone with God, especially when everything is falling apart, or at least seems like it is.

Paul and Silas were in a pretty bad situation, but at midnight, they sang; they hoped, and there was an earthquake. Acts continues the story and tells of how the jailer and his family were converted to Christianity after speaking to Paul and Silas.

This past Monday, the Governor of Massachusetts announced that we will start phase 1 of re-opening the state. Cardinal Sean O’Malley also announced that churches in the Archdiocese of Boston will begin re-opening. Around a year ago, I wrote my song Victory. The chorus goes: “You are my new dawn/ so here’s my hallelujah/ I sing your victory song/ the King of Heaven Come.” The news of churches re-opening, and Masses starting again really feels like I’m seeing the pale light just before dawn.

Being able to go back to church, for a lot of people, is going to feel like the end of “war.” For a lot of people, it isn’t. A lot of people are still sick, jobless, worrying about a family member, worrying about keeping their business afloat, or worse. We still have to be “social distancing.” This isn’t over. Remember that. Remember them. Remember too, though, that there are things to celebrate. Find that song to sing in the dark, look for the light just before the dawn, and sing “Hallelujah.”

A Beggar At Home

A few nights ago I had a nightmare. I don’t usually have them, but within the past couple of weeks I’ve had two. Boredom, bad news, and an over-active imagination are a bad combination. Saturday morning, I had a hilarious dream. The dream was that it was all over. We were done with the “plague.” My friend had an even bigger music studio, and as Barnes and Noble has Starbucks in the store, the studio had a Burger King, so I was eating chicken nuggets at the music studio.

My mom has invented what I call Apocalypse Pizza. To make Apocalypse pizza you use Naan bread, olive oil, mozzarella cheese, and whatever other toppings you like. For me, it’s peppers and onions. It’s really easy to make and everyone in my family likes it. The problem? We’ve been eating almost nothing but Apocalypse Pizza for several days, or maybe a week. When I finished doing my Morning Prayer yesterday, and went to the kitchen, she said, “Do you want pizza?” I couldn’t forget my dream, so we went to the Burger King drive through.

Since I ate lunch in the car, we took a little drive to see if anyone was out, what was still open, etc. There’s a small lake close to where I live in Massachusetts. It’s a little weird because it’s in the middle of the town and is surrounded by pavement and business. It’s a very popular place for people to take a walk. It’s so popular that the Mayor asked people to refrain from “walking the lake.” When we went over there yesterday, it was packed.

We are creatures of habit, and as Americans, we don’t like being told what to do. Furthermore, humans are social animals, and “social distancing” and “quarantining” can be downright stressful. We’ve been asked to make sacrifices. No one likes sacrificing because it means discomfort. What’s more is that there are many cases when one has Covid-19 and has no symptoms. In these cases, one might assume they are perfectly healthy, visit a friend, young nephew or niece, grandparent, or whoever who is vulnerable that person ends up getting it, and getting it bad. It is better to assume one has it.

I’m really bored. I can’t do a really significant part of my work because I can’t go to the studio. I sympathize with those who absolutely have to go out to go to work, but to those who see this as an accidental vacation, please; as of yesterday, we have 304,826 confirmed cases of this in the United States. Please don’t walk the lake. Please don’t bring your kids to the playground. Please don’t go to the beach. We’ve been asked to stay at home until the end of April. We will likely be asked to stay at home for longer than that. This “plague” will die out sooner than later if everyone would just stay home.

It does mean making at least some of your own food instead of getting takeout all the time. It means finding more ways to entertain yourself and your kids because you can only watch so much Netflix. It might mean making your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks. I get that it’s inconvenient. I completely get that it’s a little lonely. I’m not asking this of you from the outside. I am asking this of you as somebody who is doing these things, too. I am asking this of you as somebody who can’t see her friend, and can’t fully celebrate the most important holiday of her faith.

Sacrificing and discomfort does suck. Being told what to do sucks. You might not be a man or woman of faith, and you might believe that this life is all there is. I won’t try to persuade you otherwise here. Still, you are being forced to sacrifice; your gym is probably closed, the restaurants you like are probably closed, and you are probably working from home. For me, I can stay home and stay inside because I can offer that as a sacrifice to my God. If you don’t know, or don’t believe that God exists, I’m begging you to make that same sacrifice simply for the good of the rest of the world, or even just to make your life more enjoyable.

Please, consider the beggar.

Thanks.

How To Erase The Smudge

Redemption stories are popular, but they’re usually more obvious or straight forward in fiction than in real life, and naturally, the main character is the focus. Real life redemption stories are usually much more nuanced because real life people are more complicated than they are in fiction. If a person messes up or does something that hurts them or others, it can take a lot to make things right. Furthermore, redemption doesn’t look the same for or to everyone.

More often than not, redemption is more like a web than a ladder in the sense that one doesn’t simply climb out of a mess they’ve made. It takes the assistance, and sometimes invasion of other people. From a quick Google search, I found this definition for redemption: “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.” For a kid, this usually translates to having to say “I’m sorry” to a sibling or a friend they’ve wronged in some small way. A lot of times for adults, the thing being regained might be their reputation, or in worse cases, their freedom after committing a crime and spending some time in prison.

Sometimes, redemption looks like regaining right-standing with a specific person or group of people who have been wronged. In this case really, the focus of a person’s real life redemption story seems to actually be the person wronged. Everyone is part of a redemption story, whether it be their own or someone else’s. It is easy to assume that one’s redemption has to be earned, and to some degree, I think it does because it involves regaining a person’s trust; but redemption is only possible when forgiveness is offered. This means that it isn’t always possible, and why forgiveness is so important.

The person wronged has scars, sometimes really terrible ones, but whether they know it or not, the person in need of redemption also incurs them as a result of what they’ve done. If someone asks for forgiveness, and it isn’t granted, their wound will likely be made worse. This can often result in them doing something else that hurts them or another person, or adopting bad habits. Sometimes someone will realize they have done something wrong to a specific person or group of people, but will attempt to redeem themselves in a way that does not involve asking for forgiveness. The problem with this approach is that a particular problem (a wound) is not engaged with, and cannot be solved (healed).

Redemption is a relational matter. If a person attempts to redeem himself/herself without asking forgiveness, they are ultimately ignoring the real problem. This could be a simple matter of forgetting that they did something wrong, or they could not realize that there was a problem in the first place. In this case, it is a matter of perception. What might be a serious grievance to one person, might be trivial to another. Either way, the problem needs to be dealt with, and in that case, the person who has been hurt might need to be the one to initiate a conversation. Unfortunately, that means looking at old scars that don’t want to be looked at, and it might not mean that the person in need of forgiveness even asks for it.

Either way, forgiveness must be offered, and ultimately, regardless of whether the person in need of redemption asks for or even accepts it or not, for wounds to be healed, it needs to be granted. This is because, as already stated, redemption is a relational matter, and a person’s redemption story isn’t ultimately about them. A person’s redemption story is about the person wronged. When forgiveness is not granted, old wounds fester and remained unhealed. When it is granted, even if it takes a while, at least for the person wronged, the problem can be allowed to slip into the past, and no longer has to remain an ugly smudge on the present.

The Problem Of “Them”

My dad and I have been re-watching the Marvel movies leading up to “End Game” and the new Spider Man movie. We found a list that goes through them in an actual timeline that starts in the 1940’s with the first Captain America movie, and ends in the present day. I love super hero movies. In fact, I pretty much like any story that involves an obvious battle between good and evil. I like to see the “good guys” win.

It’s a really simple, but enjoyable story premise. We’re presented with it over and over, starting when we’re as young as five years old. At face value, that’s fine, and even good to an extent. Good and evil do exist; they are real things. The problem is when the lines between good and evil get blurred. The problem is when this story premise gets translated into “us” and “them” in our daily lives.

As I’ve mentioned before, Last fall I joined the Carmelite community in Danvers MA as an aspirant. It means I’m a newbie. For months, when talking about things we do, I would say “they” do X, Y, or Z. I’ve consciously had to train myself to say “us” and “we.” Our other members have been fabulous in making me feel welcome, and that I am part of the community, even though, as an aspirant, I’m not yet officially a member.

Last week my family got a letter from Social Security. It was vague at best, and said  they had detected something that might affect my disability stipend. It said if we had any questions to call the number they provided. We gave them a call, and no one answered. We gave them another call today because the letter said if they didn’t hear from us, they would call us today at 10:30, but they didn’t. Finally someone answered, and said that they would call us back before 3:30, but they didn’t. I mentioned in my last post that I am prideful, and don’t like to be helped. I particularly don’t like getting a disability payment. My mom took care of the phone calls today. It’s a good thing she did because if it had been me, things would have got ugly. I don’t normally have a foul mouth, but I told my mom to “tell them to cut the shit… Gimme the phone.” She didn’t.

So I went to the next option. I posted on Facebook, “Our government is run by idiots.” A minute later, I deleted it. I realized that I fell into the problem of “us” and “them.” I used to think I wasn’t allowed to be angry when I pray. That mentality, luckily, is long gone. After deleting my post I said, “Sorry, Lord, I’m just pissed off and looking for someone to blame.” I was looking for “the bad guy.” The real problem is in the system itself. It’s a system that fosters apathy, and it’s no one’s fault in particular. On the same token, though, it’s a system that fosters the “us” vs “them” mentality. I, and I imagine many others on disability have a tendency to see those working for the social security system as “the enemy,” while those same workers see us as, in a sense, “enemies” because we’re at best, inconvenient.

No individual within this messed up system is my “enemy.” What is it that I really want? I want to be left alone. What do the people in the office likely want? Me out of their hair. I recently went to confession because I was having trouble forgiving. I know that, in confession, I’m meant to talk with the priest as if I’m talking directly to Jesus, so I said, “I’m not sure I totally get forgiveness. I feel like I can forgive, but it’s more than a feeling, right?” He said, through the priest, “Yeah, it’s about letting it go. If you feel like you can do that, you can leave it in this room.” It seemed simple, and in that moment, I was able to leave it behind. The trouble is that it’s just as easy to pick it back up. It’s easy to pick it up because blame can evolve and mutate, and it’s easy to pick someone out as “the bad guy.”

The “us” vs “them” mentality; the idea of good vs evil is built into human nature. It’s a survival instinct. We weren’t always at the top of the food chain. That’s fine. God created us to be like Him, though. He built us with a consciousness that can understand right and wrong. He knew that we would eventually get to the top of the food chain, and on a human-to-human level, we’re not supposed to have enemies. The spiritual always trumps the natural, but our survival instinct is still there, and it causes us to be jealous of colleagues or friends; it causes us to categorize people where we shouldn’t; it causes us to see people who support certain political positions, religious beliefs, or whatever else, as “the bad guy.” It can cause us to see ourselves as “outsiders,” even when this is completely irrational, only because we’re new to a community, club, group, school, job, or even family.

Normally I don’t try to write my posts really as “advice” because mostly I just think too much. I think I do have actual advice this time, though. 1) Try to use “us” and “we” more than “They” when referring to a group of people you’re involved in, whether it’s your church, your workplace, your school, or another community. 2) Figure out who you haven’t forgiven, or who you see as an “enemy,” and figure out how to “let it go.” It can help to find a place to leave it, but it’s not necessary. It can be super helpful, though not always necessary, to leave it in confession (if you’re Catholic). 3) Pray for those perceived “enemies.” It can be a bit difficult to get started, but it can eventually feel really relieving.

The Messenger

I recently came across a story about a girl who fell into deep depression while at school in New York. One day she decided to write a letter. It was addressed to no one in particular, and it wasn’t about the girl writing; it was about whoever would find the letter. She told the finder of the letter that they were wonderful and beautiful, and that she hoped they would have lovely times to come. She noticed that writing the letter, and leaving it for someone to find made her feel better, so she kept writing and anonymously leaving letters.

Eventually, though, she started a blog about it, and the idea caught on. People started writing letters and leaving them on the bus, on park benches, on restaurant seats, and sticking out of books in libraries. People would comment on the blog posts of the girl who started the phenomenon, personally requesting letters of encouragement, and she would write and send letters to them. This is actually what inspired me to find a pen pal, but yesterday morning I dreamed that I found a group of boys who were doing it. The dream was so real that I took it as a sign from God that I should get a move on and start leaving love notes.

My mom and I went out to lunch yesterday, and the Paper Store was in the same plaza, so I scurried over there and found two stacks of sparkly cards with different designs on them. Last night my mom and I finished listening to an audiobook about a girl who converted from Islam to Christianity, called “Hiding in the Light.” I highly recommend it. The story was absolutely crazy. The point is, at various points, the girl quotes from Scripture. Towards the end of the book, she quoted the entirety of Psalm 29, so I looked it up to read it for myself. The last two verses really stuck with me: “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace.” Psalm 29:10-11

Today I wrote two love notes and went to the chapel where they have adoration most weekdays until midnight. I left one of the notes in an empty chair, but decided I’d keep the other with me to leave somewhere else. I ended up spending just over an hour in the chapel. I hadn’t really expected to, but almost as soon as I showed up, I started crying. I’ve been a bit of an emotional train wreck lately. I need to stop watching the news. Too much bad is happening. It just doesn’t seem like enough, or to be honest, really anything is being done about the abuse crisis in the Church, and that really bothers me. People are angry at God, and leaving the Church, and that’s no answer, and He doesn’t deserve that. There is other bad news, too though. I’m tired of violence and natural disasters. On top of all that, some people I know are having some weird relationship issues. All of this is just really weighing me down, and it seems to be causing me a fair amount of writer’s block, which isn’t helping matters.

While I was in the chapel, though, Jesus reminded me of two things. I wear a necklace with three treasures on it. One is a Miraculous Medal of Mary, the other is a medal of Saint Faustina with the Divine Mercy image on it, and the third is a tiny silver Sacred Heart. In particular, Jesus brought to my mind His Sacred Heart. He seemed to be saying, “I know. My Heart hurts, too.” He also brought to my mind a hymn that’s occasionally used in Church. It’s called “You Are Mine” by David Hass. I had my phone with me, so I looked up the lyrics. I couldn’t listen to it because I didn’t have my ear buds with me, but the song is written from Jesus’ point of view, and it was like He was silently singing to me. The Chorus of the song is: “Do not be afraid I am with you/ I have called you each by name/ Come and follow me/ I will lead you home/ I love you and you are mine.” I find that very comforting.

What I’m really struggling with right now is that it’s not my own problems that are causing me all this emotional trouble. It’s other people’s problems. It’s the problems of people I don’t even know. I realized while I was praying, though, that this must have been exactly what Gethsemane must have felt like. The whole thing just feels awkward and disjointed. On a strictly personal level, my life is going great right now. I can’t think of life on a strictly personal level any more, though. Life is always, and always has to be shared. On a scientific level, it’s just a fact; humans are social animals, but on a spiritual level, it’s even more weighty. We have to love because Jesus loved us first, and love can seriously hurt.

The ironic thing is that giving love in a real, tangible way seems to be the remedy for that hurt. Leaving the anonymous love note in the chapel felt good. Just writing the love notes feels good. I hope I can make people marginally happier with the love notes. I like the fact that it’s anonymous. It’s kind of nice to have it be a secret. I prayed over the two love notes I’ve written, so I like the idea that they’re really God’s love notes and I’m just the messenger. The note I left in the chapel was actually just the quote from Psalm 29. I’ve memorized it because, like the hymn, I find the finality of it comforting. “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood. The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” No matter how insane the world gets, God is in control. God is over the flood. God is king forever. God is a good king and that will never change. I know that, and I can trust that.

The Lady At The Bank

On Friday I had to go to the bank with my brother and mom. My mom was helping my brother get a credit card, and I just happened to be there because we had just got lunch. An employee took my peeps to his office while I hung out in the waiting area. Admittedly, I have a habit of going off on wild adventures in my head when I’m bored, and I can go very far away given enough time.

While I wasn’t on a wild mind quest this time, I was sort of staring into space and making patterns with the tiles on the floor. There was another man sitting in the waiting area, and another employee came over to help him with something. She took him to her office, but had to come back out to do something. When she noticed me, she asked my mother in the nearby office, “Is she with you?” The employee was standing right in front of me. I didn’t hear her, but my mom answered in the affirmative. Then the employee looked at me and said, “Just checking. Hi.” I said, “Hi,” and she walked off.

What I wanted to say, and what I should have said, is that when you see someone in a wheelchair, regardless of where they are or how odd it might appear they are acting, you don’t ask someone in another room if that person is “with them.” By doing so, you are making assumptions about a person you don’t know, you are being rude, and most importantly, you are stripping that person of a degree of dignity. It is exactly like seeing a dog and asking a person nearby if that dog is “with” them; if that animal belongs to them.

That employee was ignorant, and I can forgive ignorance. I want to make an attempt now to correct some of that ignorance. Only about fifteen percent of the world’s population has some form of disability. These range from anything from psychological to physical. Obviously physical disabilities are much more noticeable, and unfortunately, physical disabilities often do come with issues like Downs Syndrome. That means that people sometimes automatically assume that this is the case, and assume that people with physical disabilities will not be able to communicate with or understand them.

I want to touch on another issue, too, however. A huge mistake people often make is essentially doing one of two things to people with intellectual disabilities: things like Downs, Autism, etc. They either have a tendency to treat the vast majority of them as though they were less than human, or if someone with one of these issues does something that seems “normal,” they are turned into a hero. At worst, people with intellectual disabilities are often the victims of cruel humor. Though we preach that this is wrong, our society still accepts it because many assume that the people being mocked don’t know they are being mocked.

In any situation when interacting with someone with any kind of disability, start by assuming the best. Recognize that the person in front of you is firstly, a stranger whom you know nothing about, and secondly, they are likely capable of much more than you might assume. Understand, too, however, that every human being perceives the world in their own individual way. I, for example, do not like crowded areas because I am always sitting and I can get somewhat claustrophobic if I have many people standing around me. This is also due to the fact that I’m simply introverted. Another person in an almost identical situation as me might love crowds and large parties simply because they are extroverted.

Lastly, I have noticed from time to time, that disabilities can put people on edge. I can only attest to this from personal experience, and it happened more when I was younger. I think people were sometimes afraid that they would offend me if they said the wrong thing or asked the wrong question. Again, this is a subjective issue, but I am not offended by questions about my wheelchair, or my disabilities. I’m not offended when people point out that I’m “driving” badly, because sometimes I’m not paying attention, and I know I drive badly. Lastly, and this is particularly for parents: don’t pull your kids away when they’re curious about a wheelchair. It’s good for kids to be curious, and it’s good for someone like me to be able to assure them that I’m just a regular human trying to survive like everyone else. I would like to emphasize that. I am weird and quirky, but that’s because I’m a writer, not because I use a wheelchair.

Whirlwind Weekend

I haven’t given an update on our house in Naples in quite some time. Construction is well underway at this point. Ironically, that means it’s currently very inaccessible, but that doesn’t really matter because there isn’t much to see except for the beginnings of what will eventually become rooms, and the outline of what will soon be the beginnings of a two-car garage.

We spent some time there yesterday because my dad was installing a security camera so no rotten potatoes decide to do anything stupid while we’re away. There are work people there most of the time anyway, and it’s a pretty rural area, so the chances of that happening, in my mind, at least, are slim.

We took a break from that for a little while and went to church with my godparents who live up there, then to dinner at one of our favorite places, which was once a gas station. You can still fill up your car there, too, which is kind of an interesting idea. I don’t know how often people use the station and stop for food, but if it gets the owner a little extra business, then good for him. We’ve met him a couple of times, actually. He’s nice.

After all of that, my godfather helped my dad, and my godmother and I made inane talk about music and cute animals while we waited for them to finish. It took them a while. My mom and my brother had gone with my aunt and cousin, and several of my mom’s cousins down the Saco River on tubes. apparently it was cold, and there was no flow in the river because there hadn’t been enough rain, so they had to swim quite a bit.

Tonight, my parents, brother and I are going to see Beck in Boston. Because Beck does everything under the moon, I have no idea what to expect. I slept really late today because I felt like it, and spent the remainder of the afternoon in my yard, praying, and hanging out with my bird. It was lovely.

Something I realized, which I have heard priests say, is that I actually am happiest when I’m just spending time with God. I am happy when I’m working on my book (which often involves praying, anyway), or when I’m watching a movie or show with my dad, but I actually am happiest when I’m just staring into space, talking to the Lord. I think I’ve just never taken the time to actually think about it. It’s a different kind of happiness. I think I sort of realized it, but didn’t know how to express it in words when I took communion yesterday.

There’s this phrase that comes up in a lot of Christian hymns and songs: “I am yours and you are mine.” That confused me for a long time. How could He be mine? I’m a language geek, and I find myself reflecting on the fact that, when talking about God, we rightly use the possessive pronoun, and say that he’s my God; my Father; my Savior. God made Himself known to us, and He wants a relationship with us. He’s with me while I’m praying, and if I let Him be, He’ll be with me at the show tonight, because that’s what Jesus was like. He went to the Wedding at Cana. He had dinners with sinners–so, ordinary people. He had fun, and he probably enjoyed awkward, but fun conversations. Tonight we’re going to eat burgers and enjoy very weird music.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!