This morning, I woke thinking about Jesus, which is not something that I ever do. I was raised Catholic, Catholic schools for twelve years, but Catholicism is not something that I practice in my adult life for reasons which are ultimately uninteresting. But I woke, thinking of Jesus as scripture has him, in the garden of Gethsemane on the day he is to be put to death praying, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”
I blame Anne Carson.
I read the Paris Review interview from 2004 where she discusses her Catholicism. She has been talking about writing as a way to flee the self, to get outside of oneself.
Will Aitken asks, “Is Catholicism a way out of self for you?” and she says:
No, quite the reverse. I don’t think I am ever so resigned to myself as when I’m in church trying to understand why I’m in church. Sitting there thinking about my mother and all the times we sat together in church. The only good memory I have of it is leaning up against her fake fur coat during Mass. I remember the smell of that coat, how comforting that was on a cold winter day. But, no, it’s not a way out of self at all, it’s a way back into some self that I’m not sure is a good version, but which seems to be embedded or necessary.
“Do you think of yourself as being particularly devout?”
No, I think of myself as being particularly baffled on the one hand, by the whole question of God and the relation of humans to God, but also, possibly because of lots of empty spaces in my life, open to exploring what that might mean. I have open spaces where I put that question and just see what happens.
The day was a dispiriting one. A day in which the pettiness and meanness and sadness of self and others seemed on continual parade. I sat in meeting rooms and then at my desk. I returned phone calls. I held my head in my hands.
At the end of it, I met up with a friend and at an overpriced bar and we sat in deep club chairs in the shadow of a taxidermied moose head. Over wine, we listed our grievances for each other and found reasons to laugh. I drove home while the sky was still light.
“Do you think of yourself as having a relationship with God?”
No. But that’s not bad. I think in the last few years since I’ve been working on this opera and reading a lot of mystics, especially Simone Weil, I’ve come to understand that the best one can hope for as a human is to have a relationship with the emptiness where God would be if God were available, but God isn’t. So, sad fact, but get used to it, because nothing else is going to happen.
There are things I have to do today that I would rather not do. I am anxious. I feel unprepared. It seems as though this time of year takes on a breathy urgency as the end of the school year rushes up and various deadlines loom.
I fear I am not making progress in my life. I fear I am not moving in the right directions. Or at least: not quickly enough.
I am standing at the edge of a cliff throwing scraps of paper against the wind. I am – Anne Carson, again – “babbling into the void.”
“When you talk about your dad, I don’t ever get that clear a picture of him. When you write about your mom, she’s palpable, she’s in the room. Why is that?”
I don’t know. I think that has more to say about her than me. I certainly did love her and have a connection, but we didn’t really get it right all the years we knew each other. It wasn’t what I would call a successful interaction. In psycho-therapeutical terms. But she’s certainly real to me in a way that nobody else in my life has been. And maybe that’s all that love is, actually…
In the morning, we argue.
Not so much argue really, rather: I go silent, leave the room, spend the morning close to tears. He sends an apology. I botch the response, holding on, as I am, to a desire to wound as I feel I have been wounded.
Why let go of some bitter thing, after all? Why try to let it go when instead you can harbor it, let it grow wild inside you?
I am trying to return to a better version of myself, but there are times, it seems, when the distance is too great.
By evening, I have not improved much.
I sleep fitfully. Wake while it is still dark, strange thoughts of Jesus in his garden, strange thoughts of Anne Carson, missing her dead mother.
“I miss her like an old sock,” she says. “One sock, you always need the other sock.”
Before I get up, I press myself against him. I hear his breathing change. I inhale the warm, familiar scent of him.
For years, I too sat in church with my mother. Anne Carson describes “a kind of thinking that takes place there that doesn’t take place anywhere else,” and I remember this, too. A kind of space and time where nothing happens and there are no expectations except a quiet collective attention inward. How the mind wanders as if through an empty house, doors and windows hanging open. Occasional song.
To return to the version of myself sitting straight-backed in the wooden pew or kneeling head bowed, whispering prayers: what might I find?
Anne Carson says:
Nothing changes, I don’t become wise about this, I don’t become ethically better or more interesting. I’m just the same person, I’m that person with this space open and I do think that for me, in this life, that’s as far as I’m going to get with spirituality.