Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Vocation and Valentines

And how are you spending the night of Valentine's Day? If you are a Single woman, I hope you have a nice indoor plan--meeting with Single friends or renting a good movie and buying yourself a yummy treat. Just as long as its something to look forward to at the end of a red-pink-and-white day, when all about you are having roses delivered to their desks. If you are a Single man, I suggest you pop into a fancy restaurant and notice how high the prices have been jacked up for that night. Valentine's Day is a restauranteur's license to steal.

I will be spending Valentine's Day all by my little self. Well, no. I suppose I'll be at home with Mum and Dad, unless Mum and Dad go out for Valentine's Day dinner. Maybe I'll watch Moonstruck again. Of course, I now have it memorized, so maybe I will recite Moonstruck. The thing is, I will be in North America, and my husband will still be in Britain. I have the Notre Dame conference on February 11 and 12th, and when I fly north on February 13th, it will be to Toronto, not Glasgow. My husband, meanwhile, has a very busy month in February. He makes most of our money; he cannot go junketing off with me.

"Cry me a river," I hear someone say. "At least you have a husband."

Very true, and that is why I am going to spend V-Day all by my little self. There's no point in going to a Valentine's Day Singles' Solidarity Supper when I cannot fully participate in Singles' Solidarity. Sure, I could hang with girls who say, "Oh, how sad that you are so far from your husband on Valentine's Day," but the words "At least you have a husband" would bounce above us all in an invisible thought balloon, so forget it. I can't even hang with widows. Maybe I could find other women on business trips.

"It's not a business trip," said a cantankerous woman at church on Sunday. "It's a holiday, and you're abandoning your husband."

Yes, I'm afraid that even at my beautiful Traditional Latin Mass there are cantankerous types reminding us all that perfect happiness is only possible in heaven. And I suppose in a way she was right: first I decided I would go to Canada to see my family and friends, and then I hinted broadly that I ought to be invited to Notre Dame. Still, only a non-Canadian could call three weeks in a Canadian February a "holiday."

Actually, my life in Scotland feels like a holiday. It's going to Canada that feels like work because my husband, whom I didn't get to meet until I was 37, won't be there. I don't function well without him these days. The last time I went on a trip without him, I broke down within 24 hours and cried like a little girl.

"I'm so looking forward to going home," I said on my last trip to Canada. "I haven't seen my husband in weeks."

This was at a wedding, to a woman I know slightly. We were in a queue for the roast pig. She looked at me severely.

"I haven't spent a night apart from my husband in nearly thirty years," she said.

I thought that was marvellous. It's like Paul and Linda McCartney, who before Linda's death spent a night apart only because Paul was briefly jailed for marijuana possession. I hoped B.A. and I would be like that, too, but I am a writer, and these days what sells writing is appearances. So occasionally I make appearances in places where my husband is not.

Vocation is a falling in love. I am stealing the phrase "falling in love" from Bernard Lonergan, S.J., who rightly said that religious conversion was a "falling in love." But vocation is, too. In state-of-life vocation, you fall in love with a life of prayerful Singleness, either with the community you have fallen in love with (the Dominicans, perhaps, or L'Arche) or alone, or you fall in love with a person, or you fall in love with priesthood and say, "Here I am, Lord." But there are other kinds of vocation, too: you decide to do missionary work in Gambia, and you fall in love with Gambia. You pick up a crayon, and you fall in love with visual art. You feel an urge to write about the Single Life, and you end up writing a speech to give at Notre Dame in mid-February, thereby sacrificing your Valentine's Day.

I don't really mind sacrificing Valentine's Day, since what I really mind is leaving my husband for three weeks. It is the absence that will annoy me; the disapproving clucks of other married women are just silly. For most of his career, my father has gone on at least two business trips a year, and I would be flabbergasted to discover that some stalwart of the Knights of Columbus upbraided him for it:

"Australia for two months? That's not a business trip, that's a holiday, and you're abandoning your wife and kids!"

And even if you take the business part out of it, my father has on occasion headed south to his native U.S. to visit aging relatives while my mother held the fort at home. The idea of never spending a night apart from your beloved spouse is a beautiful one, but life doesn't work out like that for everyone.

No, the hard part is the separation, but although being married to B.A. is my numero uno vocation, I have been called to speak and write to Singles, too. It's ironic. It's a mystery. But it is true.


Sheila said...

Being away from one's spouse is no fun! I had to live with that for three weeks (while the baby was a newborn, too) while we switched jobs and moved. Though I had missed him a lot when we were engaged, it was different once we were married. "One flesh" really works somehow ... you feel like you're not all there if there's only one of you around.

And then Single people assume that you don't want to hang out because you're married. Sigh.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I'm sorry you'll miss a romantic night with BA, but I hope you have a great trip. And really, what is with all these people clucking over your business? Geez. No disrespect to St. Valentine, but it's not a major holiday at all, and even if it were, sometimes that's how it works out. It's not their business, so I'm glad you're shaking it off. I've spent the last 2 Christmases, Thanksgivings, and the Easter in between 5000 miles from home - I couldn't justify the plane ticket, and that's all there is to it, no one else's concern.

Urszula said...

Thanks for another great post, Auntie Seraphic!

I really liked the idea of there being different kinds of vocations, or maybe if that isn't the correct theological word, 'fallings-in-love' which complement our primary vocation. I seem to remember you writing a lot about this before, but for me at least it's important to be reminded that while I try to figure out what my calling is, I shouldn't be neglecting developing other aspects of who I am or what I can do to help others. A very wise priest once said that young people spend too much time trying to discern their mission in life and ignoring all little tasks which seem unimportant to the great discovery. His example was that on a given day, our only 'mission' could be to make a very good tomato soup for the whole family, do the laundry without complaining etc. I know I'm definitely guilty of tuning out the minor details of life's make-up while straining to hear the "Marching Orders", so this post was a good reminder not to idealize the future but live fully in the present with its joys and worries.
Good luck with your speech :)