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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

guest post: joy in love and loss

I'm very pleased to share a guest post from my friend Amy with you today!  I met Amy when we were both living in Chicago and participating in events with the White Rose Catholic Worker.  Amy says this about her life: "I spent the past several years experimenting with truth and living the gospel in Catholic Worker communities in Chicago and New York.  I now live and work at the Jonah House community with my husband Ted and we are expecting our first child."  Her reflection is longer than my usual posts, but it is so beautiful and so perfect for this autumn season.  Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and lovely photos Amy!

As an adult, I have seldom been worried about losing anything. Besides a brief sense of grief and betrayal after having my bike stolen, I can’t think of an instance over the past several years in which I felt or feared something being painfully taken from my life. This left an odd gap in my emotional universe that I would absurdly try to fill by conjuring up instances in which loved ones died or I was restricted to bed rest and had to grapple with a life of confinement. But I didn’t worry about these things. I watched them like plays, sometimes had a good cry or used my morbid fancies as fodder for an exercise in melodramatic writing.

Though I did experience a sense of “missing something,” I also took pride in this lack of worry about losing. I chalked it up to a sense of healthy detachment. This detachment, to some degree, came naturally, but it was also something cultivated over time. I’d recognized over the years, the constant grappling and the deep traps people, including myself, would fall into because of an unhealthy relationship to which they were deeply attached. I’d seen the stressful and guilty compromise that came from an attachment to a job or social position a person was desperate to keep. I’d read the work of many a Christian mystic and Buddhist philosopher and thought, “Aha, I must have successfully achieved detachment!” Contentedly single, I confidently gave advice to friends struggling with a partnership or the lack thereof. I counseled with people in transition struggling with what they were leaving behind; the home, the work, the relationships.

I believe in the significance of healthy detachment as a tool to understand one’s self and one’s perception of reality and to navigate right relationships with people and things. However, I’m beginning to wonder if what I personally had been experiencing was not so much this form of detachment as a long spell of living without being in love with anyone or anything. Recently, I moved to Baltimore. I live in a communal home on a cemetery. If living on a cemetery sounds unappealing to you, you’ve never seen this one. It is holy ground and it is, paradoxical to its function, full of life. These twenty-two acres are filled with fruit trees, a garden, a little forest inhabited by deer and a fox and about a dozen feral cats, as well as four guinea fowl who fill me with delight every time I see them. I fell in love with this little corner of creation during my first visit, before I ever dreamed of living here, and that love grows each day; I imagine how I can contribute to its beatification and preservation and how I can derive ways to thoughtfully share it with others who may not for whatever reason have access to such a space.

Since I’ve lived here, I’ve noticed something strange growing inside me. The joy of spending each day on this land is accompanied by a growing anxiety. What if we’re not allowed to stay? This is property owned by the archdiocese. What if they tell us they tell us they don’t want us here anymore? This anxiety does not come from any legitimate concern. The Church in Baltimore has had an mutually amicable agreement with Jonah House for twenty years and when it was revealed new young people were coming in there was only enthusiasm – so why the anxiety? I have a sense of a future here, ideas of projects that will fill years to come. This is someplace I want to live, I love it and I’m worried about losing it.

A few nights ago, my husband, Ted, with whom I’ve shared just over a year of married life, went to bed and fell asleep before me. This is a rare occurrence and gave me the opportunity to lie beside him and look at him and consider who he is and who he is to me. An increasingly familiar sensation came over me as I contemplated this dear man; along with the sweet swelling of love, I felt a twinge of fear. What if something happened to separate us? What if he died? Ted is not sick; he is not a fireman or a soldier or someone whose life is continually in danger. But, I watch the news. I saw in India that yet another building collapsed on its residents. They weren’t doing anything dangerous, many were simply sleeping. I know that in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan a drone can drop a bomb on an innocent family sharing a meal in their home. Closer to our own home, seldom a day goes by that I don’t hear about a shooting in Baltimore. My concern though, I admit, is not so specific. I don’t expect anything particular, the feeling is more general. I recognize that I view this fragile human life as one that is integral to mine. I grow ever more in love with him, I imagine a future together with him and I am worried about losing him.

As I consider this sensation of worry accompanying love, I recognize that it is not something new that has developed but something dormant that has resurfaced. When I was a child, I had nightmares almost every night. Though the content varied, more often than not the terror centered around something happening to one of my siblings – usually kidnappings, sometimes murder and diseases were a few of the ways that I lost those who were most beloved to me. I remember, before my sister Grace was even born and long before I had any consciousness of debates about abortion I had a dream that my parents had decided not to go through with her birth. This dream struck me with such sadness that it weighed on me after I awoke and for days to come.

I think, over the years, I had learned to cope with the fear that accompanies love by loving less. Not to say there were not people or places or things I treasured. On the contrary I’ve friends that feel as close as family and places I continually revisit in memory, if not in person. But I approached all those relationships with a clause of impermanence. I may stay in touch, but I will move on. I began every job and relationship with the preliminary thought, “this is not likely to last.” I didn’t live in the same house for more than a year or in the same region for more than three years. Now, an enduring commitment to a particular person and to a particular place has robbed me of that strange security of transience. I am sincerely attempting rootedness in an ever-shifting world.

In marriage, the tool of detachment, as I had utilized it before, no longer brought the sense of healthy boundaries it had but acted instead as an infringement on the intimacy and trust that are so key to the unique bond Ted and I had intentionally chosen. Likewise, to always have the attitude, “I can leave at any time,” while trying to form a new community, inhibits me from being a truly engaged participant both in challenges and in celebrations.

I do believe in healthy detachment but I am learning to detach not from love and its inherent risks but from the accompanying fear of loss. Each time I feel that fear creep in I try to remind myself to transform it with gratitude and the paradoxically peaceful urgency of treasuring each moment I have with this person, this place, this way of life. I practice trust in a God that abides as everything else changes and that this God is the source of love that abides even if, even when, the objects of our love are lost. I practice recognizing that what I love is not mine to own but a tremendous gift to experience and engage with, with thanksgiving, as long as I am able. Really, nothing is mine except the moment by moment opportunity to live out love… and that is one thing that is worth holding onto.

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