You’re supposed to do good to those who hate you. You’re not supposed to return the hate; you’re supposed to return your cheek. And return it. And turn it again. Seventy times seven times. Stop the hate.
I’m in the mood to write but I’m not in the mood to edit. So read or not. It’s all good. I feel like a celibate man who just discovered porn. I’m full and it’s time for the release. So. Blurt.
I had a wonderful weekend. I love a road trip. I haven’t done a let’s-get-in-the-car trip since, well since my brother and I took a week and traveled middle America in 1992. As I straddled the suspicious spill/leak in a men’s room at a truck stop in Stuart Iowa, I realized I’d forgotten rural America. I’d forgotten the cds of Merle Haggard on the gas station counters. I’d forgotten the abandoned farms. I’d forgotten the carcasses of cars left on the weed-filled yards.
He walked into the bar at the Magnolia Hotel in Omaha Nebraska and I hadn’t seen him since 1992. He was my best friend for a year. And then I was the first to quit our pursuit. I left the seminary in December and he left at the end of the year and like combat casualties, we avoided the battlefields: we left the friendship and we left The Church.
One awkward reunion in 1992. A supper shared of trivial conversations and avoided topics and all buffered by our dinner companion: my brother. And then silence.
But I missed him and finding out my heart was broken made it necessary to see him and say a hello and a goodbye. And so he walked into the bar at the Magnolia Hotel and I stopped the tears from skiing down my cheeks and I stood and met him. I smelled the cigarette as soon as my arms reached around him for a hug. I pulled back and said, “You sonofabitch! You started me on Camels!” I remembered. We laughed. And then I said, “I’m tempted to lick your face. I so miss nicotine!” He laughed as we walked to the stools. “Jesus Christ Trost, you haven’t changed a bit!” The ice was broken; we could be our us.
Drinks. Foods. Banter. Caught up with catching up. And then substance. “So are you still Catholic?” Real. Raw. “With a capital R,” I said. “Are you?” “A small c,” he replied. And then the kind of conversation I crave. All about honor and manhood and goodness and careless and sins and souls and God and failures. And I sat back in the chair and I started to cry. No one but God knew I cried. But, I cried.
I’ve wasted so many of my last moments having conversations about nothings and lesses and commons and chatter. Why have I become so content living without content? Why have I allowed myself to skim?
And I’m not talking about “fellowship.” I hate shit like that. People sitting around congratulating themselves on accepting their failures. “I’ve realized I’m flawed but I’ve offered it up to Jesus!” Oh Christ. Bullshit. Challenge to change & amend or shut up. Theology is not about acceptance; it’s about ascension. Baptismal water is for cleansing not floating.
I loved seeing him. He didn’t disappoint me. He reminded me. He reminded me of my theological passion. He reminded me of my uncompromising values. He reminded me that the man I was remains and the memory of who I became will be my legacy. A good weekend.
I have no ending here. Maybe there isn’t an ending. I’m seeing everything so finite now. Maybe life isn’t a noun. Maybe death is a verb. I’ll think about it and ask my friend for his opinion.
I fell in love today.
I sat on an examining table and I fell in love. She took my vitals and I fell in love with her.
I fall in love every day.
It doesn’t matter. It’s not sexual; it’s emotional. It’s not biological; it’s spiritual.
I fall in love every day.
When someone shares his or her humanity with me, I fall in love.
And it’s not infatuation. I’m no longer overwhelmed by the view. I’m accustomed to seeing a soul. Yet the weight hasn’t lessened. When someone shares a moment of humanity, I fall profoundly in love.
And I don’t fall in love with most people. Most people aren’t willing to share the essence of their souls. Most people are guarded; most people are afraid; most people live closed.
I guard myself from being guarded; I fear that I’m afraid; I know I’m close to being closed. But I take each risk.
Because when our moments of humanity and vulnerability are shared, I feel God. I feel gathered together. I sense the synchronicity of His divinity and I fall in love.
I fall into the love of God.
And hope and love and communion are resurrected from their deaths.
I know that God has come again.
Saint Patrick wasn’t Irish; he was British and sent to Ireland as a slave. He escaped, returned home, became a Roman Catholic priest.
Saint Patrick wasn’t an immigrant; he was a missionary priest. Google the difference. Educate yourself.
Saint Patrick didn’t profess religious tolerance. He was an advocate of one faith: Roman Catholicism. He traveled to Ireland to CONVERT the Irish to Roman Catholicism.
Saint Patrick’s Day isn’t about Ireland: Christmas isn’t about Santa Claus. Saint Patrick’s Day is a religious Roman Catholic feast day that honors the sanctity of a faithfilled priest.
You’re either against cultural appropriation or you’re not. Grow a pair. Define your beliefs.
If you’re celebrating Saint Patrick’s Feast Day today and you’re not Roman Catholic – consider yourself the Iggy Azalea or Justin Timberlake of the Christian world.
Let’s honor the Saint today and eliminate your ignorance.
Look up the definition of hypocrisy.
Look up the definition of cultural appropriation.
Look up the definition of sciolism.
You want to make political points – don’t use facts that are polar opposites of the facts.
And to all my Roman Catholic friends – happy Saint Patrick’s Feast Day.
I stood in the hall of the hospital and tried to explain myself to a man who knows me well. “I’m not afraid to die. I’m not.” I protested. “It’s just that everything has been redefined. They’ve put me on a timeline. Now I have boundaries. I’m like a child who’s been put in a playpen. Every time I turn I face a fence.”
That’s how I feel: redefined.
But I’m not afraid to die.
I’ve never written about death. I’ve never really thought about it before. But now I think of it every day.
Sunday night I sat in a chair and watched a comedy concert. I think Kathleen Madigan’s comedy is genius. All at once I had a thought: my heart is a time bomb. And I felt panicked. I wait for my heart to fail. I don’t know when; they don’t know when. So I wait.
So I’ve thought about death. A lot.
For the first time, I’ve understood suicide. I’m not suicidal. I’m a Roman Catholic. I believe in heaven, hell, and purgatory. I do. Suicide is not an option to me. But I understand it now. It’s about the waiting. It’s about the desperation. It’s a can in the midst of can’t. It’s difficult to be confined in can’t.
I’ve spent a life battling biology with spirituality. I’ve defined myself as a spiritual being. And now I’m redefined as a biological being. Biology has taken precedence over spirituality. Caring for my body is paramount because my body is happening. The spiritual is pending.
And I know that death is just a biological evolution.
I’m redefined in my relationships. I’m the man in need not the man with resources. And I’m confined by the redefinition.
Biologically my body is failing. I can’t control my body’s reactions. I chose actions. And those chosens begat consequences. I can’t control the biological reactions.
I have to redefine my actions and my essence.
I’m not afraid to die.
I’m afraid I can’t live contained.
(Photo courtesy of BritishDucks)
So. Let’s do the math. Ready?
I’m a Roman Catholic. If I have a religious symbol – (A statue of The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God) in my house (a private space)– people protest my actions and tell me I worship idols.
But if someone wants to remove a religious symbol from a public space (A war memorial / cemetery) they’re protested because he’s “unchristian” and “removing God” from The United States.
(Photo courtesy of kariannphotography)
He took his hands and rubbed the arms of the chair. “This is the ugliest chair I’ve ever sat on.”
“It serves the purpose.”
“What is it? Like corduroy?” He shifted and put both feet flat on the floor. He instantly rethought his move and crossed his legs at his ankles. He felt uncomfortable.
“So tell me what’s going on.”
“Could we make this less like therapy?” He crossed his arms, uncrossed them, and gripped the sides of the chair. “You’re not a therapist. You’re a priest. I’d rather handle this like confession.”
“Look I’m not doing attitude. How about we just talk?”
He drew his hands until his fingernails lined the tufts of the chair arms. He traced the welt cord that defined and decorated the crowns. “I’m sorry.” He lifted his body with his palms and sat straight on the seat. “Okay. I can’t get it in my head. I just can’t.”
“Just talk. We’ll sort it out.”
“Okay so my heart is fucked.” He winced. “Oh God. Bro, I’m sorry. I forgot where I was.”
“We’re going to have a ground rule. No editing. This is a safe space.”
“Complete, entire, no omissions?”
“It’s worked for two thousand years.”
“Okay.” He stood up. “I’m sick of sitting. I do it all day.” He pushed his hands into his trouser pockets. “Okay so my heart isn’t working properly. But I didn’t know that. I was having trouble breathing. Do you remember I smoked?”
“One right after the other. I remember that blue ashtray you had. The circumference must have been a foot.”
“Yeah I forgot that ashtray. It was my aunt’s. Talk about a smoker. Jesus, she smoked Pall Malls.”
“So you had trouble breathing.”
“Oh yeah. So. I was having trouble breathing. My lungs jerked all the time. A couple of years ago a pulmonologist said I had COPD so I thought maybe I was having problems again. I had thrown out the inhaler so I made an appointment with him. But I couldn’t get an appointment for a couple of weeks and I was damned sick. So I went to an internist. A guy I didn’t know. Just an ass. Long story short I had an irregular heartbeat. I had a shitload of tests. Turns out I have congestive heart failure. One side beats too much and the other won’t empty. My heart is literally beating me to death.”
“So your heart is fucked.”
He turned around, “Hey. I get to be the one with the filthy mouth.”
“Hey I get to talk too.”
He laughed. “Okay.” He stopped laughing and turned toward the picture window. “Yeah. My heart is fucked.”
“What are they going to do?”
“I don’t know. I’m on a lot of drugs.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I can’t figure it out.” He turned around. “You know when diabetes took two of my toes I could see it. It was easy to understand. I could see the disease but this … heart failure … I can’t see. I can just see the can’ts. I can’t bike anymore. I can’t walk any distances. Shit I have to sit down at Lunds just to catch my breath while I buy groceries. I’ve always said I was brokenhearted. Who knew it was actually true? I can’t see it. I just have to believe it. And I hate that part.” He returned to the window.
“Did you see your test results? That’s concrete.”
“Yeah. True.” He put his hands on the sill and leaned into the window. “This is a great view.”
“So which part can’t you get inside your head?”
He lifted his heels and stretched his calves. “I don’t get the point of all this. I feel so unfinished and now someone has shown me the finished line.”
“Why do you feel unfinished?”
“Oh Christ.” He lifted his arms until he gripped the top frame of the window. He lowered his arms and shook his fists that bordered his thighs. His guttural growl was a cross between an ugh and an eww. He turned from the window. “I’m 54 years old and what have I accomplished? I’m not married. I’m not a priest. I’m not successful. I don’t have any kids. Christ. I’m nothing.”
“I think you need to take a step back and see your accomplishments.”
“Well, personally, you have wonderful relationships. Right?”
“Friendships only go so far.”
He smirked. “Yes.” He crossed his arms.
“And professionally, you’re a wonderful writer. Don’t underestimate the gift of talent.”
“No one’s paid for talent, my friend.” He walked over to the chair and sat. “But all that’s beside my point. I feel unfinished in a different way.” He crossed his legs at his ankles. “Shit I have to think how I want to say this.” Silence filled the space between them. “Do you like being a priest?”
“Do you believe Divine Revelation is a process? Like it still happens?”
“Yes I do.”
He sat up and put his hands on his knees. “Okay like, work with me here.” He stood up. “I feel like every day I learn stuff. I learn about people and relationships. And I don’t feel like that’s finished. But now I’m told it’s ending. And I can’t comprehend all the work for nothing.”
“Have they given you a prognosis?”
“Well, kind of. One of the PAs said ‘many people live 10 to 15 years!’ like that was hopeful. Christ almighty! How the fuck is that hopeful?”
“Did you get a second opinion?”
“Of course I did. A cardiologist told me he was more optimistic than that.” He walked over to a bookshelf and glanced through a row of books.
“So that’s hopeful.”
He turned around. “No. You’re missing the point. Okay it’s like this. Life is hard. Right? If you have a conscience at all or try even a little, life is difficult. And I’m finally feeling like I’m getting there. Like I’ve mastered the whole damn thing and now this. How can this be the end of it? I’m not finished yet.”
“But you’re not finished yet. You’re in the process today.”
“Yeah, okay. That’s not what I mean. I’ll tell you how I feel. I feel like my life is this big massive handjob. Only it’s too much friction. It’s like I’m chafed but it’s okay. Because I thought the ending was so going to be worth it. Only I’ve found out it’s all just friction. There isn’t going to be a moneyshot. It would be easier if I was impotent but no such luck. Everything is so goddamned hard and for nothing. Just friction. Too much fucking friction for nothing.”
“Well that’s graphic.”
“You said no editing.”
“I think you’re missing the bigger picture.”
“Well paint it sweetheart because I don’t see it at all.”
“Take a seat.”
“If I sit too long my legs go numb. Neuropathy bites ass.”
“You say you’ve accomplished nothing. I think your writing has more impact than that.”
“I’m saying I became nothing. Not a priest. Not a husband. Not a father. Nothing.”
“And I’m saying your writing has a value you’re not seeing.”
“I think your writing is your ministry.”
“It’s not sacramental.”
“There’s more than one kind of grace.”
“I like that.”
“You know what else you’re missing?”
“The one who gives a handjob does all the work.”
“Oh padre. That’s brilliant and kind of perverse.” He laughed.
“You chose the colors bro. Now quit being so self-absorbed.”
“It kinda is about me.”
“Here’s your sentence I want you to think on. It’s never about you.”
He turned around and looked through the window and watched a car swivel on a snow-slicked street.