Thursday, March 24, 2016

Imperfect contrition

On Tuesday I had planned to go to confession after work, in honor of holy week. I was late leaving so I didn't get to the church until later than expected. There were about ten people ahead of me in line. If each person takes five minutes in the confessional, that's -- holy crap, I'm going to be here forever.

Waiting in line my mind was all over the place. I felt obnoxious and snarky.  I studied the stations of the cross illustrated on the wall, occasionally checking my phone when my back was turned, waiting to hear the latest in a family text exchange.  It was warm in the church and I could hear kids playing outside, dogs barking. I was tempted to leave. I saw people I recognized from church and entertained sarcastic and uncharitable thoughts. I thought about the stained glass windows and what I'm pretty sure was a mistake in their assembly.  And I counted the people ahead of me, over and over, wondering who was taking so long and what on earth they could be talking about in there, occasionally feeling abashed when priest or penitent would raise their voice and I could hear snatches of their conversation.

Inside the confessional I still felt disengaged. I went to reconciliation before Christmas and I didn't feel like I had accumulated a lot of big stuff to get rid of -- my soul didn't feel as thick and slovenly as before, this was a mere teeth-cleaning of a confession. The priest was a little more stern than I expected, offering me very direct suggestions for things I should be doing to be a better person. I suppose I deserved that. The conversation went in some unexpected directions but I still felt off -- my head just wasn't there. He asked if I had said a prayer of contrition while I was waiting in line (I hadn't). He asked me to pray for the others who had confessed, because he had asked them to pray for me. I felt a little cowed at this.

I don't know. I am still returning to the rhythms of a spiritual life. I have been drawn to the mercy and compassion expressed and lived by the pope. The prescriptive elements, the instructions on what to do in my life, in the bedroom, in the realm of my family and other people's -- I just don't know.


In the words of a colleague, it's been a day. I called L earlier in the morning for a pep talk. Her friend was in town and heard L's end of the line; she was surprised at our midday conference, but such is our egalitarian marriage. Later in the day L suggested we slip out early and meet on Solomons.  Driving over the bridge in the late afternoon I could feel my cares slough away from me as the bridge arced over the water.  The sun was shining, gulls were in the air.

After I parked and approached L and the kids on the boardwalk in front of the restaurant Alice started running towards me, spindly legs flying, backlit by the sun. Barrow started chugging along too. We went in and sat by the water in the shadow of the building itself. I took B for a walk to the dock, hoping to spark his interest with the water and the boats and the mallards, but he just wanted to go back to the table.  Alice waved from the deck.  The kids gave us the gift of a pleasant evening, eating their macs and cheese, letting us talk and then sitting on laps and playing with the baby. It was a really good evening, a harbinger of the summer nights to come.

I thanked L for the gift she had given me. Driving back over the bridge my mind returned to the cares of the day, but now I felt like I had some mental scaffolding to keep my worries in their proper place. This too shall pass.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A rough night at Chik-fil-A

I drove to Chik-fil-A right after work to meet the rest of the family.  I wanted to take advantage of spring break at work and the lingering spring daylight in the air to get some reading done.

There were dozens of other people ranging around the counter, desperate to order. I looked at my watch and decided to take a gamble: I ordered a milkshake to consume before the kids arrived and I would have to share. I sat down at a table and settled into a New Yorker article about teenage sex offenders (hard to focus on amidst the noise of kids yelling, people chewing, chairs scraping the ground). When the employee delivered my shake I hoped he wouldn't glance at my article and see an unfortunate word or phrase.

The restaurant filled with kids and families from one of the Christian schools down here.  Soon A and B came bounding in, with L hoisting J in her carrier just behind.  Shamelessly I pushed my empty milkshake cup away from me and got up to find a table for all of us. Reader, I littered.

We managed to secure a four-top such that I was sitting directly in the path of the sun.  A blade of light was stabbing into my eye as the thrum of people around us raged on. The kids were tired and fickle; B blocked the doors of the play area and A whimpered when it was time to eat.  My salad was virtuous but unpleasant on top of my hastily-consumed milkshake. I had succeeded in not sharing but I was paying a price.

A few minutes later -- after joylessly eating dinner, after the kids suffered around us, as the sun sat resolutely in my line of sight -- we left.  I went back to my previous table and retrieved my milkshake cup to throw away. I explained to the women sitting there why I had abandoned it and they laughed politely.

We staggered out into the Maryland evening. There are five of us now, L and me and three kids, the latest one, Josephine, born in November. She looks like Alice with Barrow's blue eyes. I walked L and the kids to the minivan -- also new; also, burgundy -- and packed them up and went back to my car. As I got closer to home I rolled down the window and listened to the music, work work work work work, the milkshake heavy in my gut, the money we spent on dinner frittered away. Inside the house the kids were fragile and irritated, always on the brink of crying or else fully over the cliff, but soon enough they would be asleep.  Three kids in a bedroom, the humidifier whirring, three warm bodies damp and restless in the night.