Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Rest of Your Life

I was 'down the shore' this weekend and thinking about irreparablity (is that a word?). It started with me being self-conscious about taking my shirt off to swim because of my jacked-up shoulder.

You see, when I was hit by a police car while riding my bike a year and a half ago, I broke my hand and my collarbone. I had very good surgeons taking care of me, but I did not follow directions very well as far as after-care was concerned. I rarely wore by sling, but the kicker was when I attempted to move a (small) refrigerator by myself (my friend Gerbs was supposed to come by and help but he was late and I was impatient). My collarbone had a screw in it holding it down, you see, and when I put weight on the arm my shoulder kind of dropped, the screw came out a bit, and it never quite healed right, much to the consternation of my very stern doctor. It looks like my collarbone on that side is sticking out of the skin a little, and my shoulder is lower than it should be, and it feels...well, 'almost' right. But not quite right.

I was stupid to have done what I did, though in the scheme of things it's probably no big deal, a cosmetic thing. But its not often you make a mistake and have to live with the fallout for the rest of your life. My shoulder will always be jacked up, and it will always be a reminder to me, 'if only I would have listened.'

* * *

I dated a woman once who cheated on me with someone she met at a bar, and she got herpes, and now she has to live with that the rest of her life. I was upset at the cheating part, but mostly I felt bad for her because she would have to live the rest of her life too with this gross STD reminder of what happened to be irreparable damage done. I'm not bitter about what happened; but it does suck for her.

Adultery, STDs, broken collarbones that don't quite heal right. And tattoos.

I have been wanting to write about tattoos for a while, but never knew quite what it was that made them worth writing about. The aforementioned woman was covered head to toe in tattoos. I thought it was kind of sexy at the time, but now I think it is just so...permanent. Not stupid, not trendy, just permanent. I can't help imagining people with tattoos up their arms (as seems to be the hipster trend now) as an old person walking down the street in a tee shirt, still sporting those hipster tattoos at 70, 80, 90. It's like a mini marriage between your skin and the ink: "Till death do us part." But it's with you for the rest of your life. That's pretty big, bigger than a jacked up shoulder. Or maybe its no big deal at all.

I think people who have tattoos get really tired and annoyed when people point to them and say, "Ooo my, that certainly is interesting. What does that mean?" It's a double edged sword--you got inked because you wanted to stand out, but once you are standing out--even as an 80 year old--you have to account for it. Kind of like having a public blog, you're putting your body on display for the world to admire as a kind of work of art. And nobody really gets art. So it will always be annoying.

I'm not a good candidate for a tattoo (though I have entertained the idea). I change my mind too much about things, have too many interests and identities to stick with just one representative symbol or whatever or 'who I am.' I want to die sporting a clean canvas. I like the aesthetic.

* * *

I remember a kid in high school who's quote in the yearbook was:

Why write something now I'll only regret later?

I thought that was very smart that quote: half smart-ass, and half intellectually he knew himself very well, or knew the future, or both. We live with regrets, only some are bigger and more permanent than others. Tattoos can be a minor regret (or no regret at all, though if you have a tribal tattoo around your arm like Pamela Anderson, or the word "LOCO" inked across your forehead, or any Looney Toons character on your body, anywhere, well that you might be a good candidate for regret). But they are so fascinating to me because they represent a real aesthetic commitment to something...however goofy and trendy that aesthetic might be.

* * *

A priest told me one time that when we confess our sins to God, he throws them all in the middle of the ocean and plants a sign that says, "NO FISHING." I thought that was cute; I liked that, like we don't have to revisit our sordid past, doctor's orders. But what do you do when your stupid decisions stare back at you in the mirror every time you take your shirt off?

You learn to live with them, I suppose, and take them as lessons learned. We can't live this life without making mistakes, so mistakes, in a way, show that we are really living, living as if we know there are no second-takes, as if we are writing on the wall in permanent marker, that is, as long as we really know it, are fully informed that this is not a dress rehearsal. When we get to Heaven God will ask, 'where are your scars?' I hope I will have a few to sport that aren't the result of mere stupidity.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Great take on G.K. Chesterton and Catholic converts from The New Yorker (esp. the part about the post office):

"Jewish converts to Christianity are relieved to get out from under all those strange Levitical laws on animal hooves. The newly adapted faith, they imagine, is a shining, perfectly balanced system, an intricately worked clock where the cosmos turns to tell the time, and the cuckoo comes out singing every Sunday. An outsider sees the church as a dreamy compound of incense and impossibility, and over-glamorizing its pretensions, underrates its adaptability. A Frenchman or an Italian, even a devout one, can see the Catholic Church as a normally bureaucratic human institution, the way patriotic Americans see the post office, recognizing the frailty and even the occasional psychosis of its employees without doubting its necessity or its ability to deliver the message. Chesterton writing about the church is like someone who has just made his first trip to the post office. Look, it delivers letters for the tiny price of a stamp! You write an address on the label, and they will send it anywhere, literally anywhere you like, across a continent and an ocean, in any weather! The fact that the post office attracts time servers, or has produced an occasional gun massacre, is only proof of the mystical enthusiasm that the post office alone provides! Glorifying the postman beyond what the postman can bear is what you do only if you are new to mail."

- from the column, “Critic at Large,” titled, “The Back of the World,” subtitled, “The Troubling genius of G.K. Chesterton,” by Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker, July 7 & 14, 2008, p58, par 1.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Hard Heart

As a young Catholic Worker, my mentor Bruce (who ran the St. Martin de Porres CW in Harrisburg) confessed to me one day as we were sitting outside, "Rob, my biggest fear is that my heart will harden." He was referring to the work of aiding the poor in an inner-city neighborhood. I have a lot of good memories of those days, but that one line stood out for me as a reality of doing God's work.

Bruce left the Worker suddenly amidst some scandal (allegations of sexual impropriety) and I had lost a mentor. There was no closure; just a gaping hole in the CW community. I missed Bruce, and left the community shortly thereafter. Had his heart finally gone cold, and was he just looking for an out? We'll never know. But I do remember the feelings of pain and betrayal that comes with someone you love and respect leaving you.

I think my own heart has hardened as of late, towards God, specifically, and towards all things Christian. I confessed this to my friend Andy today, and that I didn't know quite how to articulate it. I do remember reading in his Confessions that Augustine was initially turned off from the scriptures because they were not at all eloquent. I feel that way with Christian radio, literature, etc. It feels so superstitious or something, using the Bible to justify things, or people constantly talking about "God wants you to do this," or "this or that is God's will" like they know what they are talking about. I do know people of faith that I admire, whose faith I admire. But their explanations for why things happen or for what is going on in life feels so...I don't know...childish.

I have not been praying; that should have been my first red flag. I have my excuses, but in the back of my mind I'm really thinking, 'what good does it do to pray? I'd rather go to bed.' I feel like I'm in a stale marriage with God, where there are no new surprises; all the former professions of love seem childish in retrospect. I feel childish myself, refusing the pray out of spite, almost, for being in such a seemingly loveless relationship. My Invisible Spouse feels more like an imaginary friend. I'm embarrassed at my lack of faith and devotion, but don't know how to get it back. I could pray, but when I pray it is like my heart is constipated, and nothing comes out. How do you heal a hardened heart?