Confession and Peace

Tonight my parents invited me to go to Confession with them, at their parish. We had dinner first.

I was very sincere in my Confession, as always. I even cried a little bit. It always feels good, that release.

And I admit, I was a bit disappointed in the priest’s response– he gave me a pretty standard penance and absolution. I wished he had been more specific, more personal and comforting. But priests are human– maybe that’s just not his strength.

He WAS a very good listener. He didn’t rush me along or interrupt me at all. I really appreciated that. That, in itself, is a skill.

But nonetheless, I’m glad I went. Confession has been a yearly tradition between my father and I. Diane went with us tonight, which was nice.

I found the most relief once I exited the Confessional and kneeled in the pew.

I realized that the interaction with the priest is only one PART of Confession.

The part I like best is just being there quietly with my family. And seeing all around me, other faithful Catholics who are penitent.

The humility, the quiet. People praying, eye closed, hands folded.

A lot of people identify Catholic, but don’t fully engage with it. Actually going to Confession indicates someone is more devout, more serious in their practice.

Yes, you can pray on your own. But the fact that you care enough to GO to Confession– that’s the point.

This is one of the best parts of being Catholic.

Just seeing other believers together in the same room.

Ohhh, MARIA! Celebrating Our Lady Today

I was earlier today delighted when my parents called and asked if I wanted to go with them to MY new parish for the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day of Obligation.

This is the first time they’ve ever volunteered to go where I wanted– usually I either go to theirs or I go alone. Compromise! What a blessing.

This year in particular I have really fallen in love with the Blessed Mother! I’ve seen her everywhere– her statues pop up in the oddest places, just when I need comfort. I know she’s reaching out to me.

But during Mass, I was thinking about this song. And then we sang it as the closing hymn! (The traditional version.)

Thinking of the Blessed Mother just brings me so much joy. Most people say us Catholics are boring and reserved. That’s not true! We are overflowing with a lively adoration and deep reverence. If you read the lyrics in some of our hymns, it’s impossible not to notice.

“Gentle mother, quiet light; morning star, so strong and bright; Gentle mother, peaceful dove, teach us wisdom, teach us love.”

But nothing captures the abundant love of The Virgin Mary quite like this song, from “Sister Act:”

I hope she brings the same to you! If you can, offer up a prayer to her.

She will protect you, guide you, and comfort you when you need it. Mary is everyone’s mother.

When I Held a Tarantula

At work today, I held my first spider. Twice!

A Rose Hair Tarantula.

Two different co-workers helped me. The first told me to be very gentle with it— to hold my hands flat and absolutely still, so as not to disturb it. I did that, and succeeded. I was a bit nervous, I thought I would be tempted to withdraw my hands or even drop it. But after just watching her with it, I knew I wouldn’t.

But I have to admit, it was pretty boring.

The second time was at the end of my shift. The first co-worker had left, so a different person helped me. They were more laid-back. This time I let the tarantula walk over my hands, and I felt very comfortable. It walked from one hand to the other, I turned my hand over, it climbed around. It was never apprehensive. Neither was I.

I held it for several minutes. My co-workers were impressed at my comfort level.

They kept saying I should buy it! One day, one day. But again, I live in a building prohibiting pets.

And I’m a “follow the rules” lady.

But today I conquered part of my fear of spiders! Now small ones, that’s different. I don’t think I could feel as calm with a regular spider– they move so fast. You can lose track of them. Plus, they blend in.

But it’s impossible to lose track of a tarantula. Plus, they are pretty chill. And beautiful.

Now I feel that spiders are just massively misunderstood. I’ll make an effort to be kinder to spiders.

Today, a spider was kind to me.

Uncle Donnie’s Last Thanksgiving : Saying Goodbye and the Power of Touch

*This is the speech I read today at his funeral, written last night.

HERE is his obituary, if you’d please take a moment to read about his life.

Regrettably, I didn’t spend much time with Uncle Donnie. But I was happy when he moved to Illinois circa six weeks ago to Brookdale Assisted Living.

I never knew my grandfathers– both died before I could meet them. I visited his room three times, and twice in the ICU at Presence Medical Center in Joliet. I didn’t know exactly what to say– I felt a bit intimidated. But he made and effort to make me comfortable as if it were his own home. I found I liked him, though he was a bit gruff. He sat in his leather chair and I sat on the bed, and we shared a companionable silence. We watched TV.

Both of us had a hearing-loss, but he really struggled to hear me. I could see how much he struggled to communicate. Even speaking slowly and enunciating well, often I still failed to convey my words in a way he could understand. But he took an active role in our conversation and asked me questions when I was feeling shy.

In his mini-fridge, he had a few basics: green grapes, Cheesehead’s string cheese, Sprite and Hershey’s milk chocolate bars. Each time I visited, he would offer me anything available– he wanted to be hospitable. He ate the string cheese in bites, while I peeled it. Thought he possessed little, he was instinctively generous and wanted to share.

I regret that I waited till the tend of his life to cultivate a friendship with this gentle man. He wore a beautiful gold watch, and allowed me to clean it up for him. He trusted me so easily with what must have been a prized possession. He also wore two medals on a gold chain– St. Christopher, and St. Francis, I believe. He had a beautiful crucifix on his wall. Clearly, he was a devout Catholic man.

I never called him in Florida for the same reason I never reach out to many family members I wish I knew better- I don’t know what to say. But I learned while visiting that what we say does not matter-rather, it’s our gesture of reaching out that matters.

When my Dad told me he was in the ICU on Black Wednesday, I went to visit him. He had a breathing apparatus on, but recognized me when I touched his arm. A nurse came to draw blood and I held his opposite hand for support. I knew how much it can hurt. He didn’t fuss or complain as she did her job.

On Thanksgiving my parents and I went back, and I was able to see him one last time. He was less responsive, but still fighting. Breathing was hard for him. We watched TV.

Other family arrived. Uncle Donnie never spoke that day, but he responded immediately to touch. He would turn his face toward the person and it seemed to deeply relax him. I watched our family keep a vigil at his bedside- holding onto Uncle Donnie. Letting him known we were there, that he was loved. We took turns being alone and saying goodbye. We were sitting around his bed just talking normally, when I left for maybe 20 minutes. I came back and he had just been unhooked and passed. All of us cried. We prayed over him.

I’m grateful I was given this chance to know him. To have a few moments to experience what it must be like to have a grandfather. Our love for him brought us together on Thanksgiving and he made his peace with life, his beloved family, and departed.

Now I bet he’s up in Heaven, smoking his Pall Mall Menthol 100’s, eating a Hershey’s bar, and watching over us.

As my father said, our dear Uncle Donnie went home for Thanksgiving. Home to rest with our eternal Father.

Checking My Privilege at the Door

I can be selfish and narrow-minded. I need to admit that. I do my best to battle it, but it happens.

Sadly, we need to be selfish to a degree to survive. We’re raised to compete for resources. It’s the rat race.

Although my life has been hard in some aspects, in many others I have been privileged. I do my best to relate to others without judgement. I make a constant effort to view the world beyond my own narrow lens. I admit that I tend to focus on the negatives, what I need to do better. And while that may drive me to make changes in my life for the better, I need to balance it out with gratitude. Otherwise, you fall into self-pity.

Take a moment to consider your own privileges. How do they color your view of your peers, the world around you?

I’m glad when I meet people who challenge me to get out of myself. I like people who are fascinating.

So here is a list of things for which I realize I should never take for granted, and for which I’m thankful:

I was born white and Catholic, in the Midwest of America, to a professional family. My father has a Masters degree and was once the CEO of a hospital. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. My step-mother is the exact opposite: a woman who always worked. My parents have a solid work ethic and take care of their health.

I grew up in a sober home, without alcoholism or drug use. Or even smoking. My Dad smoked cigars when younger, but quit that. His father died smoking– the house caught on fire and he was burned in it. I’m sure that was a heavy influence on my father’s decision toward parenting.

I graduated college, even if I chose to leave my field. At least I had the opportunity to attend.

My parents and I may have yelled at each other, but at least we talked about things. Some families don’t.

I grew up in a world where adults were safe figures during my childhood. Some have neverexperienced that.

I grew up in safe neighborhoods, where we trusted our neighbors.

My father always provided for our family first, putting our needs ahead of his own.

I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never been beaten.

I’ve been threatened numerous times and had people pick on me because I was small. But I was able to escape and avoid escalating the situation. Being so short has been good in some ways– it’s forced me to learn conflict-resolution and diffusion.

I have faced discrimination. I’ve faced rejection. I’ve had a hard time making ends meet.

I still do.

But never abject poverty.

I’ve never gone a day without healthcare. I have parents who were in a position to help me, and did. Even if I resented it at times, at least it was a possibility. My parents are healthy now, which I appreciate.

I’m not saying my family is perfect– we’re not. We depend on each other and because of that, we get in each other’s business. But that is rooted in caring. My step-mother can be very critical and we butt heads because of that. But at least she’s asking– and she’s learning to be more aware and kinder. Think of it this way– even if someone’s criticizing you, they’re still paying attention. We struggle to connect, but are getting better. After a lifetime of conversations, we are finding common ground at last, and mutual respect.

The worst thing is to feel invisible. Who hasn’t felt that way in life? I certainly have.

I avoided people. I just shut down. But once I realized the onus is on me, I did something about it. I worked to change myself so that I can communicate with people what I need, and how I feel. And that is helping!

I have people I can turn to, even if they’re busy or don’t always understand me. They try. And if they are unavailable, I write about it. I get it out of myself onto paper, or this blog. And that helps.

We all feel isolated at times.

But I acknowledge a lot of people have had it much harder than I did.

And that’s why we have to be careful about judgement. Because you never know what someone is battling.

They may be trapped in ways that are invisible to you. They may be great at projecting a facade.

Be kinder than necessary. Take the risk to be direct and confront people. You might be surprised how relieved they are that you cared enough to bring it up. Maybe they are just waiting for you say something first.

Some people don’t deal well with confrontation, or some don’t deal with it at all.

Some people are afraid, or even terrified, to raise their voice. Maybe they were raised to be afraid.

But if you ask, they might answer you. You may have to ask more than once… it takes time to build trust.

If you show that you notice them, maybe it’ll make a difference.

Thanks for reading this. And whatever struggles you have, I hope you keep fighting. It will get better.

Whatever life you’ve had, I’m glad you’re still with us. I’m glad you haven’t given up.

You’re not alone, even if you feel you are at this moment.

What I Like Best about My New Parish

is the structure.

Mass starts and ends on time. Every week the parking lot is packed and the service full.The church itself is small, but there are many parishioners. It feels cozy– like a big holiday in a family member’s living room.

The parish itself is humble, but full of love.

I can always hear the priest. I can see everything and always find a pew close up.

The bulletin is organized, in color and events, Mass times, and Reconciliation are clearly labeled. People are dressed with modesty, even teenagers. Today there was a Baptism, but we still did not go over an hour.

I do not yet know these people, but I feel at peace among them. I’m so glad my heart led me here.

On Discipline

I’m getting a lot done lately, and I love the feeling of accomplishment.

Re-organizing and prioritizing.

I’m realizing that as much as I admire minimalists, I’ll never be one of them! Yes, I’m a sap.

A friend just pointed out to me that I’ve invested a lot in my books. Good point! I got rid of the ones I bought but accepted I would never read, or on topics I’ve already absorbed. Let someone else enjoy them. I have more space now. I kept my favorites, including some from childhood. Now I get to buy MORE! Mwahahaha!

I love it! I can’t believe I got rid of probably 85% of my movie collection. But CD’s are harder. They are attached to a time period in your life, memories and emotions. I’ve never used digital music. I have no files on my computer or songs on my iPhone. I am a decidedly old-fashioned lady when it comes to technology. I still love my cassette tapes. I even have a few vinyl records. I don’t listen to music often at home, but always blast it in my car. At home I enjoy silence or watching TV and movies.

Being single, I’ve learned to appreciate quiet. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable.

And I’ve made an executive decision to keep my writing. Some poems and things that aren’t relevant, I’ve shredded. But I have notes and papers I wrote in college. Old newspaper articles. Old school assignments, they are mostly in binders. They are a record of my life. They show how much I’ve grown. What I felt back then.

Those, I’m keeping.

But what I’ve learned through this purging is that when you dispose of useless things, you leave room for something better. Something ELSE that will bring you joy.

If it doesn’t bring you joy, why keep it? Pitch it.

As I de-clutter and purge, I’m feeling more relaxed in my own space.

Can’t complain.