I lost my belief in so many beautiful traditions long ago.
I raised myself on movies of the week and Hallmark moments. As my parents rarely commented on life’s “bigger issues” or even had many conversations beyond “I like what you’ve done with the meatloaf” with each other in front of us, I’d turn to television to understand how people were, what a family was “supposed to be,” what it meant to be “good.”
Which is not to say I was entirely without guidance. I began my training for perfect moments, a charmed future home life, as many do, kneeling on a pew and staying silent for hourly meetings conducted 1 to 2 times a week. I feel like the church primed me for emotional bondage, restraint fostering an inner strength to resist my desires or at least delay them until appropriate. A series of orders were suggested by the movement of the assembly during mass. Assuming various positions. Maintaining silence at all costs.
The practice of remaining silent was a frequent exercise in my childhood – we’d often play “The Silent Game,” a contest played among my siblings in the car, a small prize at stake to be delivered to the winner upon arriving our final destination (not unlike avoiding sin and the rewards of the afterlife). I never won, though I tied a few times and split the prize with my brother, half of an orange, a half an apple. The key, I’d discovered, was carrying a pad of paper and a pen in my coat pocket.
But things never went as planned. I threw myself into my local Catholic youth community, volunteered as a lector, attended multiple youth retreats, even running a few icebreakers in my time. I studied scripture with a passion, attended weekly bible study classes with my grandmother, took copious notes. I was doing everything right – and yet, I was an outcast.
I had a habit of saying odd things. Nothing racy or offensive. More poetic, non sequitur, perhaps a bit outré, but my words, this behavior was nonconformist enough for my fellow church members to treat me like a pariah, regardless of how much service I performed or how devoted I was to the faith.
This sat distinctly at odds with what I was learning from my studies of scripture, what Jesus would have my fellow parishioners do.
And I couldn’t help but notice how the day after our Martha Stewart holidays, once the napkin rings and centerpieces had been stowed back in the hutch, that our family dynamics were once again tense, impersonal, even disdainful. That any felt joy was fleeting, illusory, something to be put away when it could once again be afforded.
I’m only now relearning to enjoy holidays.
On Thanksgiving Day 2011, Skyspook and I climbed a giant dune overlooking Lake Michigan, about 200 feet. It was incredibly difficult with a steep grade and how much we were sinking with each step, though I cheated a bit by following Skyspook and using his footsteps. By about halfway up, I wanted to quit climbing or die. My calves hated me. It was windy and cold, and I was sweaty. I didn’t want to take another step. But more than that, I didn’t want to give up. We eventually made it up there and were rewarded with an amazing view. It was beautiful. I wish we thought to bring a picnic lunch or something with us. I could have stayed up there for hours. I kissed him up there in the wind, up so high, my fear of the height thrumming in the emotional background but overpowered by exhilaration. That trip, I visited his childhood home, met his brothers, talked to his parents about healing, love, politics.
In December, we celebrated the entire span from Winter Solstice until January 3. We went to see a comedian, a concert, a handful of excellent parties, spent Christmas Day watching frozen Lake Erie, the Cleveland skyline, ruminating on the time I’ve spent here in Ohio. New Year’s Eve was spent surrounded by the bacchanalia of our chosen family.
I speak freely now, frankly. Things unfold based on the spirit of the moment rather than by appeal to tradition. And I’m in good company.
“Speech is silver. Silence is golden.”
Or is it actually the other way around?