Monthly Archives: January 2011

I am reckoned as one in the tomb:
I have reached the end of my strength,
like one alone among the dead;
like the slain lying in their graves.

Friday night compline is a little gruesome. That’s only fitting, of course, that’s what Friday’s for, and it’s often helpful too. It’s been a long time, but I’ve felt what the Psalmist records here. At times like that, it’s good to know that your heartache is, so to speak, officially sanctioned.

On the other hand, how do you pray a Psalm like #88 when you feel great? The odd thing about depression is that, when it’s at its peak, you can’t imagine ever feeling any other way; but when it’s gone, you can’t even call up what it felt like. These past few weeks I’ve felt almost uninterruptedly peaceful and happy. It’s pretty nice! I could get used to this.

And I discovered something useful. You can say a Psalm like an intercessory prayer. No, I don’t feel like I’m lying dead in a grave somewhere, forgotten by God and man. But I know people who do, or have, or will. I can say the Psalm as if I’m them. Deeply depressed people sometimes don’t even have the strength to cry out, so I can do it for them. It’s nice to spend a Psalm on somebody besides myself.

Ever hear that story about the guy who gets to choose his cross? Wish I could find a link to it, but googling “man choose cross heavy Jesus” didn’t narrow it down much.

Anyway, so: a man is complaining about his lot in life, how his problems are worse than other people’s. He prays about it and has a vision: the Lord arrives and says Okay, let’s go, I’ll show you all the different crosses that people have, and you can pick the one you like the best.

So they go and look at all the crosses — I always imagine them wandering through some hangar-sized, dusty storage room, fluorescently lit maybe. The man looks at one cross after another: some of them are covered in spikes or barbed wire, one’s ten feet long and made of iron, one’s as hot as a stove. He can’t imagine carrying any of them around every day. Some of them he can’t imagine carrying for even one day. This goes on for hours, every cross he sees belonging to a real person, none of them seeming even close to bearable.

Finally he sees one that isn’t too bad, that he feels like he can handle. It’s got a few splinters but nothing that’ll really gouge; it’s pretty heavy but he can heft it. He says, I’ll take that one. And Jesus says, That’s the one you’ve already got.

I think it must be like that, no? I know a lot of people whose life I could never ever handle, and there are some people who think my life is terribly hard. I wish I could tell all the people who accuse the Church of laying heavy burdens on gay men how happy I am with my life. Although, on the occasions when I’ve done just that, they haven’t taken my word for it. They don’t seem to have heard me at all.

Some crosses truly are worse than others, but whatever yours is, you get to know it. You know the shape of it, how to balance it without tripping too often, where the biggest splinters are. It’s never going to be comfortable, but it won’t kill you, and it might save you.

I hitched a ride with a vending machine repairman
He said he’d been down that road more than twice
He was high on intellectualism
I’ve never been there, but the brochure looks nice.
—Sheryl Crow

I keep meaning to read some of those books on friendship that I keep hearing about, but I’m hesitant to read about friendship, for fear of disturbing what I know about it. I spent most of my life over-intellectualizing everything—especially everything having to do with my emotions—and now that I’ve more or less broken the habit, I’m sometimes scared to think about anything important at all, because I might fall off the bandwagon again. Seriously:

me : thinking :: a drunk : alcohol.

There’s a legitimate place for logical analysis just like there’s a legitimate place for gin, but certain people have trouble drawing those lines.

drunk on plato

Actually, this is partly responsible for my relatively recent, totally enthusiastic decision not to go to grad school. For a while I felt guilty about not wanting to go, because people kept telling me that I’d be shirking my duty by not going, like throwing away this incredible gift that I have or something. Burying my talents. I stopped listening when I realized that (1) somewhere towards the end of college, I stopped caring about litrachaw very much, and (2) even if I could get a job teaching at a university, that life sounds incredibly insular and confining to me. I still enjoy a good intellectual conversation if I’m in the mood, I still read good books, I still love to write.

I can be really awful about this: I sometimes have to restrain myself from openly mocking my friends who are in grad school, and I’m sure I’m not as good at hiding my feelings as I think I am. It’s just that I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet, is all. I’m sure it’s perfect for some people. I’m sure it would be terrible if nobody went at all…

There are so many paradoxes in the way I grew up. I’m from a family of intellectuals, but part of the family culture is that we sneer at intellectuals. I mean the ivory-tower kind, of course, you know, the Princeton grads — nothing like us! We’re real people! You can tell because we don’t wear fancy clothes! …I guess we sneer at them because we’re afraid we are them. So it goes. I’m sure I’m still doing the same thing.

So, I’m on the run from intellectualism. I’m sure I’ll get over my current caginess on the issue, and maybe I’ll even find a way to be an intellectual without being the wrong kind. For now I’m content to wait for the pendulum to swing back on its own momentum, as it is bound to do.

Old MiltoniaI admit that I don’t like Christmas much. Part of it, I guess, is just the standard stuff about why single people don’t like the holidays. Part of it is that I never seem to be in sync with the liturgical year: I always feel penitential during feasts, and weirdly happy during Lent. A little masochism, maybe. Part is that I tend to spend too much time at my parents’ house. It’s a good home, and I mostly like spending time there, but it’s also kind of an island. There’s nobody in town that I’m really comfortable spending time with, so I hunker down, read a lot, waste time. It’s like traveling back in time, and that’s got good parts and bad parts.
No, there’s an exception, sort of: my old friend David. David and I were like brothers when we were 14, more like brothers than my brothers and I were at the time, but we drifted apart. I went to college and he didn’t, he got involved with women and I didn’t. He fell into the Milton pattern, which is a kind of musical chairs — every time I come home and see him, he’s got a new job, a new apartment, a new kid, and a new girlfriend. People move from partner to partner, occasionally leaving a child or two behind. My town, in this way, is like a big family where everybody’s always babysitting everybody else’s kids, only the parents aren’t coming back.
Anyway it was close to the end of my visit and I still hadn’t stopped by, thinking that maybe this was it, time to let the friendship die. Every time I see him, neither of us is particularly sure where we stand with the other. I went to Father T‘s house for some conversation — no, come to think of it, I went for confession, but stayed for scotch.
Two glasses in, I suddenly started talking about David. It wasn’t a segue or even a logical jump; it must have seemed quite out of the blue, but if Father T was surprised, he didn’t let on except maybe a slight raise to his eyebrows. I said how I didn’t know how to deal with the new girl (who I hadn’t met yet) or all the kids (who I love) or the upcoming maybe-invalid marriage (David has been married before, sort of). How I had been trying to make this friendship work but maybe it was time to stop.
And Father T didn’t ask about whether the friendship was helping me or healing me or making me happy. He said that maybe I should be a friend to David.
It wasn’t until I left that I realized what a jerk I was. Because I’m the one with problems, right? I’m the enforcedly-celibate one; David gets the women. I’m the one who needs friends; David’s normal, David’s fine. (‘cuz normal people don’t need friends?) I’m the one who needs and wants, and if this friendship is too hard, I’ll just have to get another one and start over. But Father T isn’t like that: he’s got friends all over Milton, many of them in chronic, self-inflicted trouble, poor rich drunk sober single divorced Miltonians. He makes new ones wherever he goes, and he doesn’t give up on them when they don’t live up to his standards.
So it was in a little bit of a scotchy haze that I pulled off my gloves and dialed David’s number, said I’d come over on Sunday after Mass. It was good to hear his voice.
On Sunday, we had several hours before his fiancee came home, and it was easy to talk to him, more like it used to be. When she did arrive, I liked her a lot. He’s been with a lot of crazies, but this one maybe will last, I hope. We all cooked dinner and watched a stupid, fun movie. I left his apartment happy, and knowing that I’d be back. Maybe I’ll make it less than a year this time.