The Imperfect Match

With several friends and a sibling graduating college this year, I’m left rather blown away by how fast the time goes. This May marks my three year anniversary of receiving my Bachelor’s degree and that sentence makes me feel even older than I actually am.

I’d actually known the college I wanted to go to since my sophomore year of high school and I was so excited when I got my acceptance letter. My decision was semi-controversial because a lot of people wondered why I didn’t attend the prestigious college nestled in the heart of my hometown and almost felt it an act of disloyalty.

The answer was because my now alma mater was a basically perfect fit for my personality as well as my academic needs. However, part of the answer was also because many of the elitist people I went to high school with would be attending the hometown college, and I was tired of having classes with them. I bear them no ill will, I just found everything they did remarkably homogenous and it exhausted me. They dressed the same, talked the same, thought the same, had the same political views, attended the same country club (literally), had the same hobbies, played the same sports, and no one was brave enough to break the mold because they were so proud of fitting into it in the first place.

And when I visited the campus, which is classically beautiful and full of southern charm, I stopped inside the bookstore and before my eyes was a giant Clinique counter like the kind that is usually reserved for the mall. And in that moment, I knew I’d made the right decision not to attend because while their academics are impressive and they take care of their own, ultimately their core values and mine do not match up. This was abundantly clear to me as I saw that giant make-up counter next to a sea of Vera Bradley everything. Because while Vera Bradley might be universal in campus bookstores, why prominently feature a giant make-up counter?

Granted, most people let these types of things go, but I’m not most people. To me it just cemented the unspoken ideals of the school, and unspoken values are just as important as the spoken values outlined by any organization because I would argue they play a greater role in determining the environment in which you will be participating. And the unspoken values of this school was the pursuit of worldly perfection. A school for the elite, not simply those who want to become that way but those who were born that way and have been bred to perpetuate it. The girls at that school would need their expensive, high-quality make-up because they are expected to play their part of the genteel lady who is educated and groomed for the ivy leagues and who never has so much as a hair out of place. Not everyone at the school fits that mold obviously but they as a university greatly prefer those who do.

And I am certain I don’t fit this mold. I was certainly not raised to, because my parents were not interested in whether or not I was a perfect and elite person who only spent time with other perfect and elite people. Their primary concern was that I should always strive to be a good person, especially good to other people no matter their circumstances. And I had no interest in stepping on the assembly line of this university so that I could walk out impressive and perfect in the sight of the world, because I was worried I would lose my center. That I would get so caught up in being the type of person they wanted I would forget who I was or worse start to believe that I truly was perfect and elite like them. It was a risk I was not willing to take. As I said, I went to high school with this type of person and in my opinion as they live in their refinement they lose the one of the finest gifts life has to offer: gratitude. Because the trap of that sort of pride is that every gift becomes an expectation, something that you grow accustomed to or feel you deserve and you lose the joy of receiving it. You become like those people who can go on a weeklong, five-star vacation and opt to make fun of the one bad meal they had rather than discuss the amazing views of the ocean they saw every day. I think that’s why Americans are so agnostic/atheistic, because when there is nothing to be thankful for it is more difficult to believe that there is someone to thank.

And with these observations in mind, I attended my alma mater and enjoyed most every day with my imperfect match.

Advertisements

Those People Who Call Everything an Adventure

Recently I read something somewhere that was complaining about people who call everything an adventure. The tone from the author was a sort of mocking and directed towards, “those people who call everything an adventure and by that they mean going to get ice cream at 1 am”

I don’t know what the rest of the world was doing while in college, but that is an accurate description of many of my Friday night adventures with friends and I loved every minute of it. Moreover, I still fail to see the problem or why she felt the need to address this in the first place. I could tell her words were meant as a sort of loving critique but I feel like critiques are baseless if the alternative is not something better but something worse.

One of my favorite writers, G.K. Chesterton, once said,

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

Chesterton defied his realist, naturalist, and materialist contemporaries by seeing adventure everywhere, even in the most mundane moments that strike others as insignificant, and his reward for living with the adventurous enthusiasm and curiosity of a child was a wisdom and a joy that far surpassed that of his contemporaries.

The fruits of the seeds planted in Chesterton’s age, the turn of the twentieth century, are fully grown and blossoming now and despite the pleasant picture such a metaphor may conjure I do not necessarily mean that as a positive thing.

The problem of realism, naturalism, and materialism is not that they are inherently bad but that when practiced to such a narrow and exulted degree they are confining. I know this to be true because their more zealous subscribers lose the very thing Chesterton had and the very thing I seek to have also: the mysterious and sublime adventure that can be discovered veiled amid the ordinary routine of everyday living. And the charm of the adventure comes not from knowing all the answers but seeking them and discovering them more profoundly as one goes about his ordinary life. The sense that there is more to the eye than what you can see with your eye.

And it almost saddens me that we live in a world that discourages silliness and imagination in favor of “growing up” into people who see but don’t see, hear but don’t listen, and live without living.

That One Time A Vegan Tried to Eat My Head Off

Incredibly, the title of this blog post is based on true events. One afternoon I was innocently eating copious amounts of cake, as I’m liable to do at office birthday parties,  and trying very hard not to fall asleep because I get sleepy after eating anything anymore it seems. I’m not sure if I should see a doctor or if it’s just adulthood.

Anyway, the birthday girl and her vegan friend were sitting across from me and having a conversation about cow milk versus the million other types of “milk” that exist these days. They made the mistake of thinking that I was listening to them when in fact I was, as I just admitted, eating copious amounts of cake and trying not to fall asleep.

Suddenly the vegan proceeded to put all these judgmental words in my mouth as she narrated what she supposed I was thinking as I sat eating my cake and hearing the two of them speak. It was hardly accurate, but I let it pass with a smile and opted not to say anything.

But she was not to be ignored. The conversation somehow transitioned to a discussion of doing laundry in the homes of exes and binge drinking. And the process repeated itself.

It was certainly something to behold because over the course of our conversation she spoke of her restrictive diet, daily life, and love of getting drunk and assumed I would judge her on all counts.

And it struck me as ironic because even though this girl struck me as comfortable in who she is, it was an almost frightening process watching all of these insecurities come to light as she laid all this judgment on herself in my name. She assumed that I had been silent because I had nothing nice to say and that if I had chosen to speak I would have been as harsh to her as she had just been to herself. And her eyes glistened with this reverse condemnation as she kept trying to bait me into saying something to prove her theory right.

It was a crazy moment for me because I knew that this outburst was not a result of anything I have ever said to this woman but rather a direct result of how I choose to live my life. That’s right, this person was offended by how I choose to live my life because my actionscheese conflict with her worldview and belief systems. She assumed that I’ve never done laundry at an ex’s house because she assumed that I lead a chaste life. She assumed that I don’t spend my evenings getting drunk or going to trendy clubs. She also assumed (incorrectly) that I would mock her diet choices because she knows I eat cheese and have an affinity for most dairy products. In short, she was mad at me for being me because she read my decline of a more stereotypical twentysomething existence as a judgment and rejection of herself. She saw me as a living embodiment of total condemnation and she was absolutely defiant in the face of this perception. I could see it in her eyes.

Believe it or not, I run into these kinds of attitudes a lot. I try to lead a holy life because I love God and I really would like to be a Saint when I die because I really want the beatific vision. Most people think that’s nothing short of crazy, especially for someone my age who is expected to be as shallow and aimless as the pervading millennial stereotype would suggest. However, this desire affects how I choose to live my life and sometimes it makes me stick out like a sore thumb. Especially when I am around people with no discernable religion who think that I act this way because I somehow think I am better than them. That I decline to partake in these actions just so I can arrogantly lord it over those who do as a way to feel good about myself.

This saddens me on many levels. The first level being that I really don’t have any ill will towards others even those whose lifestyles are vastly different from my own and it upsets me when people assume I do, not because of anything I’ve ever done, but because they don’t understand the love or belief system that motivates me and instead simplify it to a belief system they do understand: elitism and condescension. The second being that my generation is truly one that revels in bad behavior to a large degree because it is the cultural norm and fitting in is a huge temptation, especially for those who feel lost and/or long for a purpose. Even though society paints the glittering road to partying, hookups, and careers (wealth) as the road to success, fulfillment, and happiness I have come to believe through my experience that most who subscribe to that model do so as a distraction from a deeper pain or because they are still in the cycle of believing that once they finally attain those elusive things they will achieve the success, fulfilment, and happiness promised. And that makes me sad too because I believe that promise to be absolutely empty, a bold faced lie that leads to dissatisfaction if not total ruin.

Furthermore, I’ve never understood the general defensiveness of the worldly model. This girl puts on a cool and content demeanor but the words she used to judge herself were not mine they were her own. She had cooked up all these accusations against herself and dared me to step in to play the part of her accuser. In other words, beneath all of that bravado she was angry at herself and while she was not expressly happy with her life choices she was at least comforted in the fact that they are common and therefore, according to the world, excusable choices. But my presence stood in the way of that. My presence was a threat because it made those choices less common and consequently less acceptable, and she proceeded to get as defensive as you might expect.

People often don’t believe me when I say that my Catholic faith is very freeing because they see morality as “restrictive” and “repressive” to every “natural” urge and not nearly as exciting as the freedom to do whatever the heck you want whenever you feel like it. However, I would argue that one of the biggest freedoms of morality is that the process I described above does not happen in reverse. People don’t chastity-shame me (not for lack of trying!) but because it is a decision that does not cause me inward shame and I don’t ever regret practicing it. It does not cause me shame because I believe it to be right and I believe it to be a fundamentally good thing whereas when I experience shame it is typically because I believed myself to be in the wrong but went and did it anyway because I’m a weak and sinful person. And I choose chastity, for example, not because I feel like I have to or because God would send me straight to hell if I didn’t, but because honestly I like to practice the presence of God in each moment and the more I do that the less other pleasures of a more earthly variety appeal to me. It’s true. So it is hardly a personal victory when I turn down things that are no longer appealing to me in the first place. No one congratulates me when I opt to drink craft beer over Natural Light…

People often incorrectly assume that you have to be good and then God comes to you, but I have always done it in reverse, by virtue of my profound neediness, by inviting God to love me however He finds me in a given moment and letting Him love me to perfection. Because sometimes in my weakness the only thing I have to offer is a desire to be better (or even a desire to desire to be better). And the Trinitarian Christian God is so loving that even the smallest desires of this nature prove enough every time.

And my continuing down this path is not something I do to be “prudish” or something that stems from a desire to be superior to everyone else in the room, it is a choice I make because once you take the leap and invite God into your life He really will give you His healing and His love. And I persist in this endeavor for the very human reason that this simple yet profound love makes me happier and more joyful than all the other things of Earth combined. And that includes all those things the world insists you MUST HAVE in order to be happy such as material wealth, multiple sexual partners, nights of binge drinking in trendy clubs and yes, even cheese. And therein lies the freedom. Because if you believe you must have wealth, for example, to be happy then you become something of a slave to it because to lose your wealth would be to lose your happiness. But having God as my happiness is secure because not only is He faithful, He is the only thing in life or death that I can never lose.