Crossing Guard

I saw you
today
as you guided
your little man across that busy street.

You were wearing some
big man boots
and
watching cars and lights.

Your little man had on
black sneakers and
a Mickey Mouse hat
that bounced
as he walked.

He wasn't watching nothing but
your big man boots
and
the white stripes of the crosswalk.

Just before
he got to the sidewalk again,
his step bounced a bit
- he hopped over
a spot where the asphalt broke.

You turned to look,
holding out a hand to
your little man.
Not rushed or angry,
just making sure
he got up
on that sidewalk.

Then you walked on,
in your big man boots,
face into a cold Michigan wind,
with the little man behind,
his hat bouncing.

A Perfect Mess

Perfect Mess, artist Beth Munro
I've said here before: I'm a recovering perfectionist. Since my young teens, I've wanted everything planned, thought out, well-executed and: perfect. Yes, it's an unattainable goal, but dammit, I was up for the challenge.

That meant never giving my parents a moment of worry. Striving for the Dean's List and making it. Having that paper done weeks in advance. Making sure my kids were not only dressed well, but well-mannered.

What I never bargained for was that the Universe is not geared toward "perfect." It's geared toward "good enough," "survival of the fittest," "natural disasters," but not "perfect."

I was always missing the mark. And I was always unhappy with myself. Why, God, did you make me crave "perfect?"

This week, I got what I wanted. And it is really, really painful.

I took a job a few months ago because I really needed a job. I told myself that the place I worked would balance out the fact that I didn't really like the work. I've ended up sitting in a cubicle, with walls so high I cannot see anyone else, doing data entry. Two days this past week, I realized no one even spoke to me except to address a work-issue.

As a gregarious, out-going Irish girl, this is a fresh Hell.

To make matters worse, I'm lousy at this job. I've tried to be super-careful, watch the details and learn, but I...suck.

Now, I've come to realize that my brain doesn't work as well as it used to. With depression, anxiety and trauma a big part of my life for the past 15 years or so, my brain isn't always as precise and careful as it used to be. I've had to compensate, work around and make do. I've gotten much more comfortable with "good enough."

But "good enough" is not good enough for this job. And my boss told me this week that my work was "disappointing." I had to sign a piece of paper that said my work would be "error free" in two weeks or I'd be done.

"Error free" is humanly impossible, so it's pretty easy to guess where I'll be in a few days.

Isn't God funny? I prayed for years to be free of the burden of trying to be perfect, and here I am, a perfect mess. I no longer worry about keeping up appearances and showing everyone that I was above the fray. Now that I've clearly achieved that, I am horrified.

Every day this week, I've wanted to hide in the women's bathroom and cry. I want to go back in time and worry myself sick over perfection. But I can't. There just isn't space in my brain anymore.

I'm hoping to find a new job before I get canned. We'll see. If nothing else, I'm going to be more clear with myself and my new employer.  I cannot be error-free. I'll do my very best, but what you see is what you get: a perfect mess.

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

"A Heavy Heart" ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

People say that when they don't know what else to say.

"It's always darkest before the dawn."
"There's a light at the end of the tunnel."
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

It's not true.

Your heart is shattered into a million pieces. Your grief overwhelms you. You can't eat or sleep. Everything you know about your life now seems wrong.

But, hey! Perk up! In a little while you'll be stronger.

This has not been my experience.

When you are grief-stricken, down on you knees and weeping, you are not getting stronger.

You may be getting more empathetic.
You may be getting more faithful.
You may be getting clarity on what really matters in this world.
You may be getting bitter and angry.

You are not getting stronger.

No one handles tragedy well. Some of us crumble, some of us remain resolute. But stronger?

When you drop a piece of china, you do not make it stronger. It breaks.

You can do one of two things. You can sweep up the pieces carefully, and throw them away. Or you can gather the pieces together, and in a few months, when you are ready, you can takes those pieces and transform them into a mosaic - maybe a wall hanging or a garden stepping stone.

Those pieces are not stronger. They are renewed.

Just before Mass today, our pastor announced that a family in our parish lost their 23 year old son in an early morning car accident. I have no doubt their faith will sustain them, but they won't be stronger.

Their family will never be the same. There will always be a hole, a spot where someone belonged, but is no longer here. He will always be missed.

I know this, too, from experience.

If you really, truly understand grief, you know that it does not make you stronger. If you are faithful, and you allow God to lead you through the grief, through the mess, through the horror and sorrow, you will be transformed.

Not stronger, but renewed. Not better or whole, but more empathetic. More understanding. Kinder and more grateful.

No, what doesn't kill you does NOT make you stronger. But God can use it for grace, and we can be renewed.

The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem and gathers the dispersed of Israel;
Healing the broken-hearted and binding up their wounds. (Ps. 147:2-3)

Hate your boss? Hate your job? Welcome to the club

I've got a relic of Bl. Solanus Casey over my desk. I pinned a note next to it: "'Sacerdos Simplex' yet still a saint." He strikes me as a genial fellow, but he must have felt some sense of disappointment when he finally graduated, was ordained and then told, "Yeah, you can't do a bunch of priestly stuff. But you can answer the door!"

While St. Damien of Molokai volunteered to head to Hawaii and care for the lepers, he really had no idea what he was getting into. The living conditions when he arrived were about 7 steps below squalor. Over the years, he helped his people build homes, a church, organized choirs and planted gardens. I'm sure he had his moments - he could not possibly have dreamed as a child that he would travel to a tropical paradise, only to find it full dreadfully sick people.

Whenever a pope is elected, he is asked if he will serve. If he assents, he is taken to the Crying Room, where 3 sizes of white robes await. And those men must surely cry, for no one wants the job of running Vatican City and leading a billion Catholics who all have differing views as to who the pope should be.

We all deal with stress. At the office, it might be an obnoxious or clueless boss. Maybe it's a team member who never pulls her own weight, but is happy to take credit for success. Maybe it's an office manager who is just a little too OCD; every time someone fails to put on a fresh pot of coffee there is a slew of emails reminding people that this is NOT the way we run things around here, people!

It's been going on ever since Adam and Eve decided to do what they've been asked not to:
In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the grass of the field. Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

I keep telling myself I'm blessed to have a job (with the voices of my Depression Era parents ringing in my ears.) I'll watch an episode or two of The Office, get a decent night's sleep and be back at it again. I'll also be asking a few saints to run interference.

Always Faithful

We went to Mass last night, and had an older priest. In his homily, he exhorted us to "semper paratus:" Be prepared. The Gospel,...