Saturday, 2 January 2010

Who Are YOU?

Relations between younger women and older women can sometimes be fraught. Older women, jealous of their positions, sometimes stab younger women in the back. Younger women, outgrowing their mentors, sometimes dump these older women with careless cruelty. I've been both stabbed and dumped and thereby learned important life lessons. But I think the most important lesson I learned from the generational clash came from two angry, hysterical letters by an older "leader in her field" whose feelings I had hurt with a book review. After listing her accomplishments and honours, she demanded "Who are you?"

I stared at that quesiton for a long time. I was in my study in Boston, where I was studying for the Ph.D. I never completed. And I had a revelation. It was, "I am Nobody. And that's what makes me free."

Okay, I'm not really nobody. I'm a daughter and a sister and an aunt and now a wife and a columnist in a Catholic weekly. But in worldly terms, I'm not a big deal. And this has its advantages. Consider the court jester. The court jester was allowed to say anything that came into his head. He was allowed to mock everyone at court, even the king. And he got away with it because, as the butts of his jokes no doubt sneered, he was Nobody.

Meanwhile, the interplay between being important and unimportant is fascinating. It's the great paradox of Christian life: Jesus died for me, and yet I'm just a tiny speck of the universe. It is when I forget that I am a tiny speck that I am tempted to make angry remarks to critics, as did the lady above, and show myself to be, despite all my honours and blah-blah, to be so incredibly vulnerable.

Jesus said that the last will be first. And "Americans love the underdog," says Bill Murray's character in Stripes. He demands of his fellow soldiers which of them cried when Old Yeller got shot. They admit that they all cried when Old Yeller got shot.

Ordinary, non-consecrated, non-partnered Singles are the underdogs of Church and society. No big ceremony, no cake, no happy anniversary for you. But you're also the starting point for most classic stories and films. There's a reason why fairy stories sum up married life with "and they lived happily ever after." It's because the story is over. The conflict is resolved. The heroes are no longer interesting. Singles, marching through life without spouses, are interesting. Your adventure stories continue.

Meanwhile, this is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about Singles. It's not saying this about Consecrated Virgins or Nuns or Monks or any other vocationally-privileged types with anniversaries. It's saying this about you:

1658. We must remember the great number of single persons, who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live--often not of their choosing--are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors. Many remain without a human family, often due to conditions of poverty. Some live their situation in the spirit of the Beatitudes, serving God and neighbour in exemplary fashion. The doors of homes, the 'domestic churches', and of the great family which is the Church must be open to all of them. "No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who 'labour and are heavy laden'." (Quote from Familiarus consortio; bolding mine.)

What I really love about this passage is that it points to the fact that people have "particular circumstances in which they have to live" (e.g. homosexuality, lookism, a society in which many men have been killed by war, mental illness, alcoholism, bitterness) and that these circumstances are "often not of their choosing". It says, Yes, there are Single people, Jesus loves them in an extra-special way, and they deserve special affection and care from the Church.

Especially close to Jesus' heart: that's who you are.


Dominic Mary said...

Deo Gratias, O particularly Seraphic one !

You may remember me mentioning 'Diocesan Hermits' a while ago; and one of the points of that particular vocation is that it exemplifies the possibility that being Single - being Alone - is GOOD, and not bad.

I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with being a 'Searching Single' (to use your lovely description) : of course there isn't - PROVIDING you are prepared to say 'Thy will be done' to God about whether or not you end up with a husband, children, whatever . . .

Equally, may I suggest that we (ie Catholics) are not very good at behaving as though we believe that particular passage of the CCD; we're certainly not (with many honourable exceptions) all that wonderful at making Singles feel as though the Church is their home and family.

Perhaps we should all make a New Year's Resolution to try and improve on that in the year ahead !

MargoB said...


I really appreciated your description of the Single life as "[an] adventure stor[y] [that] continue[s]." What with there not being a 'set role' for Singles, it's quite the pioneering adventure, in many ways!