Thursday, April 21, 2011

catalyst/catullus and i

There are people and situations we encounter in life that challenge us, enhance us, transform us. Whether knowingly or unaware, they serve as a catalyst to forever change our outlook, our perceptions, our locations, and even our character DNA. Our hope in life is that we can impact at least one other in such a significant way for the better.

Those who touch us and those we touch are not necessarily one in the same. When they are, magic happens. Not Disney magic, but ancient magic, deep and strong. The kind that pushes us out of the armchair and catapults us into the unknown.

Sometimes we fly together. When that happens, it takes our breath away. It awes us that someone who isn't a parent can care that much about us, is willing to invest in us, and wants to walk beside us. Even when it is messy and inconvenient. Maybe especially then.

Sometimes the catalyst sees us off, stays behind, becomes a memory instead of a companion. And is best left there in the past, in peace. It has served a purpose. Maybe it was a nice experience. Maybe it was a devastation. Either way, it opened a door, a window, a portal, or shoved us out of the way and onto another road. One that made all the difference.

But sometimes we mix the two up. We try to drag people or things or scenarios forward with us in our heads as well as our hearts, instead of leaving them in their proper place and perspective. The "what ifs" haunt us and taint our present. While we would not be in our present state without them, it is often difficult to leave the past behind. A dead Roman dude named Catullus described it as an inability to "put away a long love".  Even when that "love" is actually something pretty ugly, it's familiar. The whole "devil you know..." conundrum.

I'm not sure how or when I found this poem, but it has stuck with me. It reminds me that, as Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, "What's past is prologue." Letting something in the past hold us back - either regret or guilt or longing for what has gone before - keeps us from living into the fullness of what is before us. In the vernacular, it keeps us in a rut. Which, according to my dad, is just a grave with both ends knocked out. Don't know about you, but I don't want to live there.

POEM 76
If there is any pleasure in remembering past good deeds
for a man, when he believes that he is dutiful,
nor he has violated any sacred trust, nor in any pact
of the gods to have abused divine power to deceive men,
then much joy remains to you in your long life, Catullus,
prepared from this thankless love.
For anything that a man is able to do or say well to another
these have been done and said by you
all of which things have died entrusted to this ungrateful mind
So why do you keep torturing yourself further?
Why not be firm in the mind, and lead yourself out from there
and stop being miserable with the gods unwilling
It is difficult to suddenly put away a long love
It is difficult, but you must do it in some way or other
it is the one safety, this must be conquered by you
Just do it! Whether it is impossible or possible
Oh gods, if it is in you to pity, or if ever
you have saved someone in the nick of time in death itself
Look upon pathetic me! And, if I have lived life purely
take away from me this poison and pest
which creeping down to my inner most self like a paralysis
takes away happiness from my whole heart
Now I do not seek, that she loves me in return
or, (that which is impossible), that she chooses to be chaste
I wish myself to be well, and to put down this foul disease
Oh Gods! return this to me in return for my piety.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

conscientious or contentious?

In his sermon last week, I thought I heard The Right Reverend Dr AK say we needed to be "contentious Christians". It was challenging and unexpected, but made sense. I mean, Jesus didn't exactly present a meek brown-nosing example of living the Way.  The apostles and disciples weren't martyred because they were nice and accommodating, living their faith out "in private". So, being "contentious"Christians makes sense.

Well, that was at the 9:00 service. At the 10:45 service, I realized I'd misunderstood that lilting African English. He had not said "contentious." He had said "courageous." Be courageous Christians. The message still made sense, was good, was sound. But now I had "contentious" stuck in my head.

It reminded me of a good friend who recently had an annual job review. Her new supervisor gave her an excellent review. Unfortunately, automatic spell check played a trick and changed one crucial word in her review before it was submitted. Instead of describing my friend as a "conscientious" employee - which she is - the printed review described her as a "contentious" one.

The truth is, she can be contentious. And that isn't a bad thing. She knows her stuff. She stands her ground. She gets things done. But her supervisor was appalled at the mistake. No one wants THAT on their permanent record. That is not a glowing term. The entire review was invalidated and had to be resubmitted (gubment work, you know).

Which brings me back to that word. I don't like being around contentious people. They make me uncomfortable. Yet I don't think twice about being contentious with my loved ones. They know me and they love me anyway, right?  I'm starting to think that isn't fair. These are the people I should treat the best. However, I don't like being contentious with other people. After all, they might not agree with me, or worse, might not like me. Heavens to murgatroy, not being liked is a fate worse than death, right? Right....?