Sometimes those of us cursed with Irish blood just end up a drunken, crying mess at the end of the night.
“What,” my friend asked a religious the other night, “is the difference between being sad and having a spirit of sadness?” He replied that a spirit of sadness permeates everything you do and that it leads you to live your life completely without hope. Where (diagnosed, clinical) depression fits into all of this, I think, is a post for another day. The friar’s words caught my attention. Last night I convinced some of my friends to watch The Dead, the film adaptation of Joyce’s short story in Dubliners. One friend astutely pointed out that everyone but Gabriel seems to miss something, have a lack or a wound that they mourn over, and at the end he laments that he has never felt such deep love for someone or something. But the Irish approach, as I’ve come to know it through generations of sadness in my family, is quite dangerous. It leaves you always trying to escape, discarding the present completely. It plunges you into a world of drunkenness and emotions and stasis. It’s everything I’ve written that Christians should not do.
There’s a deep romantic beauty to the Irish outlook on life, and yes, I tear up when Greta talks about Michael Furey and during Gabriel’s last speech when he sees so little difference between the living and the dead. But ultimately Joyce’s characters are stuck in a quagmire they believe they have no control over. In a perverse way it can be fun to throw one’s hands up, say “life is terrible,” and then drink oneself to the point of oblivion. But this is not sustainable, because nostalgia becomes one’s god, and when it comes to gods, the human heart has a limited capacity for how many it can worship.
God is never powerless unless we force him to be. Nothing shall be impossible for him. The past, present, and future can all be healed and glorified through him, but we can’t cling to sadness because it feels good and safe and familiar. That is part of the lie that sadness tells us: that only fools are happy. It’s not so. Foolish are the ones who have let their lamps burn out because they no longer wait in expectation of the Bridegroom. The wise rejoice because they know the hour is close at hand.
I’m stealing from Fr. Walter again, but only because his homily this morning was fantastic. He drew a parallel between today’s first reading from Acts (Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch) and the story of Emmaus. Those who preach the Word come, interpret Scripture, interpret lives, celebrate Sacraments, and then leave. Because today is a remembrance of Our Lady’s patronage over the Order of Preachers, he talked about how all branches of the Dominican family must be both “available and free”–available to those around them, but detached, ready to go wherever the Spirit takes them.
After being a New Yorker for nearly 8 years, I’ve gotten pretty used to the transient life. It’s May, which means people find out about next steps, and at least 5 friends will be leaving town before summer’s over. I like to think I’m good at letting go. But several happenings this week–a friend starting a relationship, a gossipy squabble–made me realize how possessive I am as my life as it is, of my friends, of relationships that may or may not match in reality what they stand for in my head.
One of the biggest struggles I face is–what does detachment look like for a layperson? How radically can I live the Gospel without going on the road and becoming an itinerant preacher? When am I practicing detachment, and when am I just scared to put down roots in a situation, a place, a person?
I’m having difficulty coming up with the answers just now. Faith is a journey toward a greater alignment of one’s life with one’s beliefs, and this process can feel incredibly slow. We need to keep in mind that we’re not the ones who effect the change. I desperately want to move, like Philip, where the Spirit wills me, and so I must ready myself in small things, in the day-to-day, in the present.