Friday, May 26, 2017

In Light of Eternity

An old Hispanic neighbor of ours is wont to take a woman's hand and gently give it a quick kiss as a form of greeting. Even now as he is passing from this world to the next, rambling in Spanish, he still performs this small gallantry with trembling hands when a woman enters the room. He places us out of the ordinary with a habitual gesture. [In your charity, please pray for his soul as his time is quite near.]
Living in Italy, my friends of the female persuasion and I discovered an odd thing. YEAH, the men make kiss-y sounds to get your attention and some tried to cop a feel on the bus, so we learned to stand defensively and use our elbows as barriers on buses so crowded that there was a strong suggestion of them listing to one side.

But the older men with white hair and wrinkled faces, sitting at the cafes all day with their friends to pass the time, would compliment us as we walked by. They would call us beautiful - and most meant it without sexual undertones. It was a simple acknowledgement. Priests and seminarians, too, would sometimes casually tell us that we looked lovely. It was Not A Big Deal. I'm sure that half of the story is the cooling of passions as the years furtively edge past or a dedication to a higher calling, but I don't think that's the whole story. 

We started dressing more nicely, acting differently - partly to blend in and partly because it's NICE to be called sweet, kind, and beautiful. 
That's something I miss here in the US. We rarely hear that we're beautiful (or handsome) except in romantic contexts or compliments passed along by our own sex/immediate family ('Lookin' sharp,' 'Hey gorgeous,' etc.). I don't even know that it's possible to have something so neutral here with our hyper-awareness of T'EH SEX. We're conditioned to a different kind of treatment on the one hand and afraid to give out impartial affirmation on the other. 

Incidentally, the other day, I was driving along and had a Moment because the car next to me had a Thundercats decal on it and was driven by a Handsome Man. "HOW DO I NOT COME ACROSS AS CAT-CALLING!?! I JUST WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR FANDOM!" On closer inspection, it was not a Thundercats decal. Crisis averted. 

Catholics in the US react to the hyper-sexual culture but...well, we tend to react and concentrate our ideas about sexuality in bizarre and unhealthy ways. This goes for both men and women - though I generally only hear the women's side of things. I.e. Their experiences with some Catholic men were so WEIRD that one or two women I know *give up trying to date them*. And why? It's because instead of hearing simply that we're sweet, kind, and beautiful - same but other and acknowledging that somehow - we hear ALL manner of odd things about how we're supposed to behave and what we're supposed to believe because a spiritual dimension is given to e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.

Sort of apropos (language warning, if that's a thing for you): 

We also get shunted into categories. I, for example, am told I give off the "Jane-Austen vibe" and can see Catholic men reacting to that in real life - also, to some degree, online - and afraid of being anything other than fastidiously polite and disaffected. I seldom go out of my way to make a concerted effort to disabuse that notion. I'm reserved around eligible men my age-ish. Sometimes I don't even SIT on the same couch as them -- which is weird because in dancing I might be pressed right up against the self-same men with no room for the Holy Spirit (not up top, not below! Haaah. Dancing.), yes, weird dichotomy. Ironically, when I was a kid I used to be part of the "No Girls Allowed" club (as an honorary boy-member of sorts) and spent summers running about with boys at a summer camp we affectionately called: "Camp St. Lots-of-Fun." But we grew up and grew different.

Non-Catholic men I've dated don't really impose the same categories - they seem to approach things more straightforwardly even if afterwards things are twisty in other ways. The following relates most specifically to Catholics, tho. 

If categories are how you see men or women when you embark on dating, you will be (1)  dissatisfied and drop others one by one either because they don't fit into the categories you have in mind as ideal OR (2) because we're dissatisfied with the categories and people who seem to fit neatly into them seem too flat. For the former, I'm not referring to a dissimilarity of views or of humor but just plain ol': "she does not have correct ideas about Pope Francis - SO LONG, MODERNIST!"   ('cause you know they all about that lace, 'bout that lace, no rayon.) or "He's got a GUITAR and goes to PRAISE AND WORSHIP - I BET HE SINGS KUMBAYAAAAUGGGH!!!!"   The latter type of person (the second sort), however, seems to me to be a sign of growth even though it's admittedly rough on the people who are set aside as lacking and I *don't* think many people fit them so neatly as we imagine.

Getting to the realization that these categories and ideas are only useful up to a point can be...tricky. One Catholic man I met was full to bursting of categories/ideals/etc. and struggled mightily because he could not find a woman who Fit Them. He placed the blame on the strictures of Catholicism and left the Church because he REALLY wanted to be married but couldn't see how it was possible to find a suitable partner. To others, he claimed it was for different reasons. But, from our conversations, I gathered that those reasons found their source in seeing Catholicism as impractical in its demands regarding the ideal spouse - demands that were really fomented in his own imagination and reinforced by those he hung about with. I wasn't experienced enough then to articulate the distinction, even to myself, and helplessly watched him flail about in misery until he'd had enough and gave up.  

I think it IS that we're too serious about things. It's like every encounter with some strange other, every date, every exchange, is a life or death adventure that leads us to HEAVEN OR HELL. People need to dial down - just a bit - the whole discernment-esque mentality when it comes to dating: it places the end before us too immediately and we Freak Out. It's no wonder that we resort to categories/ideals amid the swirling notions of what it means to be Catholic man and what it means to be Catholic woman. There's so much at stake! HOW CAN WE BE EXPECTED TO ACT NORMAL!?! Angels and demons are everywhere! IS SHE A DISTRACTION FROM MY VOCATION OR  SOMEONE WHO CAN HELP ME GET TO HEAVEN!? IS SHE RITUALLY PURE!?! WHAT EVEN ARE HER VIEWS ON VODKA VERSUS GIN MARTINIS!?

Weird way to think about someone you've just met.

[Also, side-note, dramatically calling someone a 'distraction' when you talk of them, but you REALLY mean you're not into them, is a hurtful punk move and will make me want to slap you on behalf of whoever you're calling that. She must be relegated to a near-occasion-of-sin category? Really? It's not like she's sending you suggestive pics or trying to get you to do drugs or something!]

I mean, we're not entirely off-base. We must judge whether people we know are going to help or hinder our path to our final destination and exercise caution around questionable influences (Holy Association and whatnot). With some people, we can tell straight off what the deal is - views so incompatible or character so unlike that it causes strain or even danger. But we can't always make such snap judgments.

So it's not wrong to consider these things but maybe not...only those things? Perhaps don't let your mind immediately be set aflame with ponderous questions that bleed into the afterlife but see what kind of person they are first? If they're not some sort of romantic prospect, they may still be fascinating friends. If they're not a friendship prospect, you STILL owe them your freely given good will - don't toss rocks into their path that will make them stumble.

I am a fairly good dancer but not a great one. Dancers who are new are incredibly shy about their awkward bodies moving in unaccustomed ways in front of a stranger. So I smile. I laugh. I look into their eyes and theirs meet mine and they suddenly realize that this the person on their arm is not an antagonist. They begin to relax, to unbend, to try out new patterns of movement, to bring more of their personality and how they hear the music to the dance. They are encouraged. I don't think "you're bad dancer" and I don't act that way, either. 

Now when I see a man with a new hair-cut, or who has obviously spent some time choosing their clothes, or who has new shades, I try to compliment them and not dwell on The Grand Scheme of Things (zomg, will we now fall in love, get married, and have five thousand kids!? WHAT WILL WE NAME THEM!?). Before me, is another human being who looks mighty fly - that's the reality. So, yo, you look mighty fly. Before me is someone who is trying to be a better self even if in some small way.

Obviously, I don't run around like spreading compliments without discretion (you get a compliment! And you get a compliment! ERRBODY GETS A COMPLIMENT!!), but I try not to make things a Big Deal and be more laid-back about how I interact with and judge the opposite sex, to not squish them into different shapes, to capture that feel that I've felt from good men and pass it along gratefully. It's HARD and I fail constantly at it.

That may sound a bit...horrible... I mean, who wants a casual approach? 

On the other hand, who wants to immediately be judged in light of eternity? 

NB: I realize that I'm harping on a bit about categories and suchlike recently, even if only incidentally. It's a topic that fascinates me because we act what we think and we often think in Platonic form-like ways even if the ideas we hold pertain to the strange thing that is man: body and soul. We're like children with those sorting blocks trying to fit the square into the circle slot and winding up just mashing the blocks together as we cry.

I'm also feeling dissatisfied. This post was sort of a reflection on this - there's some interaction a lot of Catholic men and women have with each other that isn't balanced and I'm trying to wiggle out what that is by taking good examples and seeing how they differ from bad ones. I don't think it's an entirely successful analysis and doesn't address why we're afraid to compliment. Too simplified and also uninspired writing in bits, but part of getting into the habit of writing and putting ideas out and refining them write. So here it is in its imperfections. Fly little bird!

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