Wednesday, November 30, 2011

progress

As of last night:


Have conquered the agonizing selection of a power drill, bought paint for the second bedroom (the only bedroom I haven't painted - yay!), figured out how to use the caulk gun, caulked the (red) flange reinforcement ring to the "flange" (really, end of antique cast-iron pipe that is masquerading as a [non-standard-sized] flange), bolted flange reinforcement ring to floor, discerned that "flange" is wider than standard size and wax ring will not fit (possible cause of original leak?), and did more internet research on how to fix this problem. (Answer: mold 2-3 standard wax rings into a SUPER-wax ring of wider diameter. Molding wax is within my skill level, so moving on with enthusiasm.)

No progress with respect to that second picture. (And I note that I only took the rotten thing because after the several days of pre-cycle spotting that have been my standard for a year or more, I failed to have - ever - the day of hemorrhagic bleeding to which I have grown accustomed. Leading me to believe that I might be pregnant I ought to take an HPT. It was my last one, and I am not taking any more. I think.)

I'm not going into my greater concern with the bathroom, which is that it is pretty clear to me that the subfloor is rotted under the toilet, if not all the way through, then much of the way through. (The water leak only appeared really recently, and the stain on the plaster ceiling on the floor below is quite small. I don't understand how it could have been exposed to water long enough to rot the wood.)

If I were being really thorough, I would rip out the floor and subfloor right now, but I am not ready to learn tiling and replacing subfloor just at the moment. The wooden finished-floor is obviously not up to scratch for a bathroom (it was already visibly damaged around the tub as well), so I have been expecting to replace it with tile, and I am now mentally preparing to spend a few thousand for the tiling (which I would like to do myself), repair to the subfloor, and (big-ticket item) replacement of that cast-iron waste pipe with PVC. It needs to happen in the next year or two.

Instead, I am choosing to focus on happy thoughts. Such as - my new power drill. I've borrowed others' cordless drills in the past (kind others to lend them to me!), so I had some idea what I was looking for. In view of my weak little T-Rex arms, lightweight is obviously an advantage, but I am planning to become a muscle-bound behemoth in the course of my home improvements, and bigger drills clearly have advantages. I've used a friend's lightweight drill with 550rpm max, and that's fine for driving, but I think for drilling more speed would help. I wanted at least 1200rpm. I definitely wanted something that takes an hour or less to charge. I didn't get too far into understanding torque, but I did learn that 18V of power makes a big difference in terms of getting tough jobs done. I understand a 1/2" all-metal chuck is better than a 3/8" chuck with a plastic outer grip, but I wasn't committed to that. Also, I wanted it to be able to go in reverse. The end.

The drill I bought plugs into the wall. This means that I can't take it just anywhere, but then, I've never used a drill outside. And I do have a heavy-duty extension cord. (Its own cord is a decent length, too.) Also, it takes zero minutes to charge :). Further, I understand that for applications like mixing mortar and grout (not that I need to retile a bathroom or anything), a cordless drill simply doesn't have enough power. This one has outrageous power - 120V, to be exact. And 2500rpm max! It's not that heavy (4.1lbs.), but it's large, and all chunky and rough-looking, and its yellow-and-black color scheme even looks menacing. I was frankly afraid of it, but my husband wasn't all excited to do the drilling himself like I thought he would be, so I figured I would be brave. It's my drill, after all. I need to learn to use it.

It accomplished the project without difficulty - it gave off a definitely snide air that it was capable of any task I offered it without experiencing the least strain, provided only I was sufficiently competent. (Not always the case - I aligned one hole wrong and was unable to fix it. I think the drill is losing respect for me.) I've used Ryobi cordless drills before, and while they sometimes take a while to get the job done, they're nice, polite tools. You want to hang some blinds? Yes! Show me the window frame! I'll get through it eventually! The DeWalt has a decidedly different demeanor. I will destroy the window frame. Then I will destroy the blinds. AND THEN I WILL DESTROY YOU.

It's awesome.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

insights into my life


From last night. Today, I am authorized to buy a power drill. (The unused nail gun having been returned, this will be my first power tool.) This evening, we will conquer.



And this, mind you, is after 15 minutes of waiting. I guess I've been moving in this direction for a long time.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

the adventure begins

People who buy old houses because of their "charm" while failing to understand the many other qualities inherent in oldness often refer to them as "money pits." I guess the implication is, "I thought this place would be a bargain - it was $50,000 cheaper than the newer places we looked at - but then it cost $100,000 in upkeep." In my personal opinion, this is not an indication that the old house cost more than it was worth, but that the homeowners failed to budget for what the house should have been expected to cost (and what it was easily worth).

I am pleased to say that this philosophy is intact, though I have now crossed the Rubicon into the "unexpected repair issues" aspect of old-house ownership.

This afternoon when I went to the coat closet to put away a wrap, I was unpleasantly surprised to note that there was water on the floor. After casting about briefly for an innocent explanation (did I leave a bucket out? Did I empty an ice cube tray onto the hallway floor? Has it snowed in the coat closet recently?), I followed the water along the floor to its apparent source. I expected it to be the black-water plumbing stack, which our inspector told us would need to be replaced in the next several years, but that was dry as a bone. I did, however, find a suspicious dark spot on the ceiling a foot away from the apparently-innocent plumbing pipe. A quick trip upstairs indicated that the dark spot is approximately under the toilet - and I realized that the wood under the toilet bowl (yes, the ninnies put a hardwood floor in the bathroom) has darkened a few inches out from the toilet.

I believe this means that the ring that seals the toilet waste-disposal port to the pipe below is not watertight. (The wood around the pipe that feeds water into the toilet showed no water damage, and those are the only two water-bearing connections to a toilet of which I am aware.) Obviously, this is not the best kind of water leak to have, but the damage appears to be limited thus far; I would guess from the condition of the wood that the leak has been a (growing) trickle, lasting a few days to maybe a week. So I shut off the water going into the toilet, mopped up the water and pitched the rags in the washer, and went downstairs to sit on the couch and meditate.

I think I'm going to have to rip up at least part of the floor to see whether the water damage inside the floor is more extensive than the visible damage to the floorboards and ceiling plaster. I think I will also have to re-seal the wax ring on the toilet before replacing the floor. (This is extremely irksome, because that toilet is only a few years old. They paid a professional to redo that whole bathroom. I've lived in houses with toilets installed fifty or more years ago and never had this problem, and the sealing products are supposed to be getting better and better with technological advancement. There's really no excuse for this.) I don't know how to do that, but I'm hoping I can learn - I feel it would be a waste to hire a professional to do this, since so much of it is low-skilled labor (like ripping up floorboards).

I was planned to replace that floor with some hex nice tile anyway, but I had been thinking of that as a project for 2013. I guess I will have my ideal bathroom sooner than I thought?

So to aid in my meditations, of course, I sat down to google "leaking toilet ring." Google auto-complete (which I have never liked) auto-filled after "leaking," to "leaking amniotic fluid."

Really, google? Really?

Monday, November 21, 2011

suffering

This is, essentially, a follow-up to my (over-long) post on Sophia House. I'm no longer so agitated, and, I would venture to say, more philosophical about the issues it raised in my mind. Though (as so many times in working through the experience of infertility in my mind) it has not presented me with any ideas I had never thought of, the book has, somehow, helped me to look at things in a new light, and understand them better than I did before.

Or maybe this message has been waiting for me all the time, and I wasn't able to hear it, and it finally got so loud I couldn't ignore it?

The world doesn't understand infertility. You know this. To appreciate how much it's a misunderstanding - not just being rotten or unsympathetic, but fundamentally failing to grasp what the experience of infertility is all about - I need only look at my own perspective when I was engaged. I already knew I had endometriosis, and that this causes problems conceiving. I knew I wanted a big family. And I said, "If I can't have children biologically, I will just adopt." I am the same me I was then (if in many ways changed by life), and my values haven't really altered. I wasn't mistaken about the facts, medically or otherwise. But I had no understanding of the experience spiritually, and so my conclusion, thoughtfully arrived-at, intelligently reasoned, was completely wrong. I thought it wouldn't matter whether I could conceive a child or not. I had no idea what I was talking about.

And most of the people out there who haven't been through this don't know what they're talking about either. They can easily imagine what it must be like to be infertile - that's just the problem. The picture in their heads is almost 100% inaccurate, but they think it's quite accurate. So they ponder some data (she's this many years old...they've been married for this many years...her siblings have this many kids...she's got this many years until menopause...they have this many other things in their lives to keep them busy), and they figure out what our lives must be like, and then, with a close eye on that picture, they draw all their conclusions, and formulate the comments they make to us.

And we all know those comments, don't we? Do we need any other evidence that they're proceeding from totally bogus (but apparently sincere) premises?

Other bloggers (Infertile Naomi, I'm looking at you) have done a thorough and brilliant job of examining the breadth of these charming comments, but I have just one type in mind, and this is one you'll probably get from the person who's closest to you, who shares the most values in common with you, in whom you've confided most about what you're going through. The person who can most completely blindside you by fundamentally not getting it. And that's the comment about how you should react, emotionally, to being an infertile woman in a fertile world.

It's based on all the right premises - ethical and religious ideas about what virtue and maturity and selflessness and appropriate social behavior are. Therefore, it sounds completely right - so much so that you can't even argue with it.

"You should be happy that Jane is pregnant."
"You should be grateful that you get to spend time with your sister's baby. After all, a baby is a blessing - you know that better than anyone."
"Sarah's been trying even longer than you have, and she is finally pregnant! You must be ecstatic! If it happened for her, it will happen for you!"
"Since you care about Mary so much, you should feel nothing but joy that she's been blessed with a baby. You wouldn't be happy to see something bad happen to her, would you?"
"I know you would feel terrible if Lisa had to spend another five years trying to get pregnant - you've felt so bad for the first five. You must be so glad to hear that she and her husband are finally expecting."
"You're right - that's been six pregnancy announcements from your friends and family just this month! But I guess it doesn't really matter, does it? They're not reducing your chances of getting pregnant, of course."

And it gets worse. Because we don't just hear these things from well-meaning fertile friends. We hear them from other infertile women, helpfully telling us how we should feel - sometimes, but not always, under the guise of how they think they should feel. And - darkest of all - we hear these things from ourselves.

I don't tend to go the sad route with these sorts of things; I'm a fighter. So I've been saying for years that justice does not oblige me to feel the least bit of joy for the next pregnant gal in my circle of friends, because, yeah, she'd be happy for me if I got pregnant, but there's not a chance in hell she'd be happy for me if I got pregnant and she had to celebrate that pregnancy announcement from the vantage point in which I now stand. Not one of the people for whom I'm asked to make these sacrifices will ever be asked to make a comparable sacrifice to me. And I would never expect it of them. So, no, I don't feel bad if she's startled that I don't want to see ultrasound images or hear about her morning sickness. Because she's a self-centered witch, and I can say to a moral certainty that I would not ask the reverse of her.

The pregnant women on the bus don't deserve my patience or compassion - or my seat. (And, yes, I give up my seat, but with such venom as I can scarcely describe.) They almost certainly got there effortlessly, and some of them probably don't remotely appreciate the blessing they have. And when I get on the bus sick from my medicine, or in pain from endometriosis, or miserable and depressed because life has just asked too much of me today, or two weeks post-surgery with a six-inch unhealed scar across my lower abdomen, nobody gives me a seat. And I never ask.

I tell myself these things, and I appreciate the justice of my position, my flawless reasoning, my beautifully-formed arguments that I could spit at anyone who dared challenge me and my reactions. Nobody gives me that chance, of course.

Because...the argument is always with the voices in my head. They're the ugliest ones I hear. Louder, and more persuasive and more judgmental than the voices of anyone else. They tell me, "To be upset that another infertile is now pregnant is nothing but malice. Are you saying that you would rather she suffered longer so you didn't have to read her pregnancy announcement? Is it worth her suffering so much unhappiness to spare you suffering a little?" And, "You know she doesn't know any better. She goes on and on about her pregnancy because she's happy about it and she's frankly not very bright. That doesn't make her a monster, but it does make you a monster if you hate her for it." "Charity requires you to give your seat to that woman. She must be exhausted. Look at you, healthy and strong. You can stand for 30 minutes - you wouldn't even be tired. It would cost you nothing to stand up, and yet you're looking for a way to get out of it. You should be ashamed." "How can you call yourself a Christian? How dare you look on a stranger with envy or resentment? Her life and her blessings have nothing to do with you. She didn't steal your baby." "People carry heavier crosses every day. Some people your age are dying of cancer, or permanently handicapped, and face every day with grace. You can walk around and you'll probably live for years. You wallow in sorrow because you're self-centered, greedy, and immature. There's no justification for you to act like this." "You count your crosses like a miser, but you aren't grateful to God for one of your blessings. You know plenty of people who would give their eye teeth to be happily married, even without kids - who are afraid they'll die alone." "You said that you wanted to become like Christ, to offer up your sufferings to be united to Him. You know full well this life is a vale of tears, not a bed of roses. And the first serious burden you're asked to carry, you rebel, you complain, you act like it's the end of the world. What kind of a spiritual life is that? You're a fraud, a coward, and a failure."

The truth is that both of the voices are right, and, probably more importantly, both of them are wrong.

It's not a simple matter of charity for me to give my seat to a pregnant stranger (and God forbid it's someone I know). Standing because no seats are left costs me nothing. It's not difficult to stand. Standing to let her sit - concretely recognizing that I am not what she is, that I never will be - is like a little piece of dying. The pregnant women I see, the ones who talk endlessly about their pregnancies, are not evil, after all. But in their blissful ignorance, in their innocent self-obsession, they're pouring salt in a wound - a real wound and a deep one, though, being invisible, it may be easy to overlook. And, there are crosses that are more dramatic and final, some (but not all) of which are very likely heavier. But there is always the possibility that I will carry those as well. And, of course, the fact that you could have both arms chopped off does not make it painless to have the first one chopped off. That pain is real, and terrible. And while I have at least half of the marriage-and-children blessing that so many are seeking, being barren is a fundamental undermining of the goodness of our selves and our vocation. It's not so much having most of a good thing, as having one very good thing, and one very bad thing. The good thing is not less good, but the bad thing is not less bad, either.

And what did Sophia House teach me about this, exactly? It sounds strange, it's so simple: it told me that I did not have to decide between refusing to carry a cross and pretending that it wasn't there. The book was a long, long excursus on recognizing a cross - all of its terrible weight and its gouging edges and its nasty splinters - as it settles deeply into your shoulder.

The people who say that I should "just be happy" for someone who has been blessed with a child are completely, totally wrong. That they said "just" means that they fundamentally misunderstand what that would mean for me; not that they think it's a smaller thing than it is, a puppy rather than a dog, but that it's a different thing than it is - a puppy rather than a crocodile. If I "should be" happy for someone, then that means that for the sake of bringing her joy - or, maybe, just for the sake of not attracting her notice - I should be in agony. Some days the agony is deadly and some days merely miserable, and some days it's mildly delayed, so that I don't feel it until an hour after I'm called upon to play nice, but it is always there. When people say, "Just smile," or "Just say congratulations," they should say instead, "Just go and cry wretchedly in the dark for two hours," or "Just let go of every dream you've ever had for your life," or "Just go lay your greatest fears and vulnerabilities bare before a stranger who doesn't care about you." They should say, "Just suffer."

In short - and I don't think this is an exaggeration - no one has a right to demand of us our joy or kindness toward a person whose blessing makes stark our cross unless they would be willing to demand that we die for the same purpose. And in that, I include that we don't have a right to demand it of ourselves. You cannot tell yourself that you ought to be happy for someone so that others are happier unless you feel it would also be appropriate for you to die for that purpose.

If that sounds insane, the flip side is more insane: that doesn't mean that it's not appropriate to demand it.

No one else in our lives has a right to ask that of us - ever, ever. But we can ask it of ourselves. And by allowing us to carry the cross of infertility, God has already given us an invitation to ask it. Just as we may be asked to make a thousand thousand sacrifices in this life for those we love, and at least as many for strangers; just as we can offer up every sacrifice, suffering, and privation for the good of another - we can offer this. We can choose to suffer that much, invisibly to others, so that another person will be happy. We can choose to sit silently in agony so that someone lonely or anxious will have a listening ear. We can choose to spend time with others' children although it breaks our hearts. We can do this, if we choose to do so.

And here, to me, is what's essential. Although it doesn't hurt any less, I am willing to take on that kind of suffering if I am allowed to acknowledge to myself that suffering is just what it is. And if I believe that God acknowledges it - which, now that I've actually thought about it for the first time, I realize that I do. God has known all along what this cross really is. I could name it accurately - a mortification - to my spiritual director or a confessor. If I had reason to discuss it with a friend, I could call it what it is - a heroic sacrifice. But it's most important that I can say it to myself: today, in this situation, you have an opportunity to shoulder a cross heavier than all the fasting you could do for a lifetime. You will suffer more for this person than he or she will ever suffer for you. You can give a gift this person is incapable of repaying. If you believe that it's worth it to make this person's life better, or to unite yourself with Christ's suffering, then you can do that. Not, "A decent person would just be happy for her" - because that kind of statement is fundamentally divorced from reality.

And I think that's another aspect of this that's important: we have a right to make that choice, every time. That doesn't mean we can avoid pain by turning it down - we all know that's not true. But we don't have to choose to shoulder the burden. We can decide that we're not interested, or it's unfairly much to ask, or just realize that we don't have the strength just at the moment. We can walk away, change the subject, stop listening, or tell the person how we really feel - or we can listen, smile, "behave," and be furious. And I don't think that any of those choices is wrong. We don't owe these people a sacrifice so great. And we are not in a position to make that big a sacrifice every day, let alone a hundred times a day. We each have limits to our strength, and life demands a lot of us already on a daily basis.

But we have an opportunity to choose the sacrifice - to give a person more than he deserves. To sacrifice more than we ought to. To take on something that costs us dearly. If we want to, we can suffer not because we are weak and defective, but because we are strong.

Friday, November 18, 2011

you again

All right, ladies. I've been at a conference for work for a week and had no internet except for the Blackberry, so I've been off blogs for a week. And we all know what that means:

WHO'S PREGNANT?

So, also, I have to add here an excursus on Things I Should Not Be Doing. Specifically: watching television. More specifically: five to seven hours a day, because I had cable in my hotel room. I would watch things I was less and less interested in until I was totally physically exhausted - until I could not keep my eyes open any more. Obviously, this is punishment in itself (though I wasn't as bad as usual - I didn't find any Criminal Minds and I changed the channel on objectionable things earlier than often occurs to me of late, so mostly I watched House Hunters and Chopped), but additionally, I was punished, anyway. It was Florida, so there were lots of Disney and theme park commercials, and one of them went on in the rosiest of tones about experiencing wonder and beauty and life (i.e., commercially manufactured consumer experiences - but whatever) through the eyes of one's children. And, you know, the happy smiling parents and whatever.

Obviously I know this is true, not just some phenomenon fabricated by the Disney franchise; back when I was in law school, since I adore carving pumpkins (and getting dressed up in costume and making Christmas decorations and cookies and baking things in general and going out to cut your own Christmas tree and sledding and making my own hot cocoa and singing Christmas carols in the car and making snow angels and forts and nine million other things that are not as fun by yourself and which for some reason my husband does not seem to get into that much), I would borrow someone else's child (we had a friend who was a single dad who was only too happy to have someone else organize kid activities) and buy pumpkins and make an afternoon of it. So I had an excuse to act like a big kid without seeming sad and pathetic, or crazy, or both.

Now, however, since I am married and for a long time and borrowing someone else's child is probably more sad and pathetic than carving a pumpkin all by myself, I generally avoid other people's kids unless socially necessary, and I never carve pumpkins any more.

My point is, generally I'm OK with this - I make the odd bitter comment, but this is my life, and I'm used to it, and there are other sources of joy besides carving pumpkins (many of which are less messy. Also, pumpkins around here are outrageously overpriced). But for some reason that Disney commercial was eye-opening - I will get old, and I will die, and I will be alone, and no one will succeed me. Not that that's a good reason to have children, of course, but it's a natural effect of having them, and a natural part of life. How the world is supposed to work. Except, not for me.

On a more lighthearted (but still TV-related) note, I started watching The New Girl, which just began this season. I never start watching TV shows when they first come out (generally I don't even hear of them for years after they start running), but I checked out the pilot of this one because I find Zooey Deschanel so charming (and I love her sister in Bones). And it's stupid and glorifies a lot of life choices I think are wrong and general lifestyle choices embraced by my generation that I think are harmful, but. It's soooo charming. The "douche" jar (although I hate, hate, hate when people - usually guys - use "douchebag" to describe someone who is a cad, or a jerk, or a scumbag, or whatever. Say that. "Douchebag" is gross, and it's not necessary to be crude all the time) - that alone was so awesome I was immediately convinced to watch another episode.

And it is in fact super-adorable. There are so many delightfully amusing little bits -

"You have gotten so much worse."
"Why do you dress like an old man?"
"...anyone named Patel..."
"Do I need thicker pyjamas?"

So I'm really enjoying that - no doubt yet another vice I will have to extract from my life after I have grown way too attached to it. (But I think I am cutting down the shows in my TV rotation, and likewise blogs. Not infertility blogs, though. Just some of the ones to which I was devoting way too much time.)

Also, there will be before and after pictures of my house, I promise - but, as of yet, not one room is 100% finished. The bathroom still needs a second shower curtain (this part I can probably knock out pretty soon). The third bedroom needs my great-grandmother's antique treadle-foot sewing machine, which is in upstate New York, and several pictures, but I can't hang the pictures until I hang that wall with wallpaper, and I haven't found the right wallpaper yet. And the first bedroom still needs a wall of wallpaper and a headboard, and the wallpaper should really be here by now (it's not) and the headboard - I have not found the perfect headboard yet (for a reasonable price). And the dining room needs wallpaper (that should be arriving with the other wallpaper), and the living room needs molding and a border (this is not what you think it is, I promise). But I have made substantial progress with all of them. You just can't see yet. I'm sorry. I still love you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

enlightening and unpleasant

This month, my book club read Sophia House, the "prequel" to Father Elijah (i.e., Father Elijah was written first, but Sophia House is set earlier in time). I haven't read Father Elijah, but I thought Sophia House was compelling. My musings here require me to ruin the ending for anyone who hasn't read it, so consider yourself warned.

The basic thread of the story is that the main character, Pawel Tarnowksi, was molested by his great-uncle (apparently repeatedly) as a young boy. He grows up brooding and sensitive, and disappears to Paris as a young man to discover himself as an artist and is taken in and encouraged by a kind author who turns out to have designs on Pawel as a lover; after Pawel rejects his advances, he returns to Poland, but has long since ceased practicing his faith, and despairs of objective reason and the love of God. He has inherited his uncle (not great-uncle)'s bookstore, and is running it somewhat successfully when the Nazi invasion of Poland goes into full swing and Warsaw is plunged into destitution. Pawel is now about 35.

Meanwhile, a 19-year-old David Schaefer, starved nearly to death, flees the Warsaw ghetto where the Jews are imprisoned by the Nazis, and deported daily by the trainload to concentration camps to be killed. Pawel hides him just as he is about to be discovered by the pursuing soldiers, and keeps him in his home/shop for a considerable period, feeding him until he is healthier. David is an ultraconservative Hasidic Jew, well-versed in theology and philosophy and wise and serious beyond his years. The whole time, Pawel is tormented by sexual desire for David, including demonic voices offering to give David to him.

Pawel, who would appear to be actually a heterosexual (his romantic interests are in women, for example, though he has never actually taken the step of pursuing a relationship - he is extremely shy), is horrified by these inclinations and resists them, turning to a greater life of prayer. He comes to accept the temptations and his general internal torment, as well as substantial material privations (hunger, poverty, and cold), as as a suffering that unites him to Christ. He and David have a serial conversation on the nature of God, the truth, and the value of literature, among other things.

Finally, one day when the shop is closed, a Polish count marches into the shop when it is closed and sees David. The count is a homosexual, and believes that Pawel is as well (he is a friend of the Parisian author, Pawel's former benefactor, and believes Pawel was in fact his lover), so he offers to hide David from the Nazis in exchange for "sharing" David with Pawel. When Pawel refuses and throws the count out of the shop, he knows that the count will immediately report him to the Nazis. He sends David to the home of his cousin Masha in the countryside and remains behind, wearing David's skullcap and prayer shawl. He is arrested and loaded onto a train to Oswiecim (Auschwitz), where, it being the end of the war, the Nazis are burning the concentration camp inmates 'round the clock. Pawel goes to his death with a joyful heart, embracing the opportunity to give his life for his friend.

So I have several things to say about this. First of all, I never sat back and thought about whether it was a good thing for me to be reading; it was so orthodox it never occurred to me to consider whether it was nevertheless harmful. I would say that it probably was. I've worked on cases involving children who were raped and molested before, which were profoundly disturbing, but I believe it is worth the sacrifice of a little of one's innocence of heart to help keep a predator in prison and more children safe. But this is only a novel, and I'm not sure it prospers my soul to stare deeply into a picture of child molestation and demonic sexual temptation. If I had it to do again, and were more reflective, I would not finish the book, however noble its point. Take that for what you will.

But my real interior turmoil upon finishing it is for a different reason. By the time I'd reached the part of the story in which Pawel has taken David in and is being tormented by temptation to pursue him, I had realized that I identify with Pawel. By the grace of God, I've never been tempted to lust after a member of the same sex, or someone half my age (though I have many other flaws, which will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog). But I saw in Pawel someone whose defects - which he did not choose - stunted his ability to pursue his vocation; inclined him to believe himself vile and worthless, and therefore made it difficult to believe in God's love for him; and made him into a deformed version of the man he should have been, whom others would naturally reject and revile if they knew what he was, even if his exercise of virtue were perfect.

If that doesn't sound familiar, well, I think it should. If you're Catholic and infertile, you've been asked a thousand times when you're planning to start your family, and some people haven't bothered to do that and have just started in with telling you the moral requirements for the use of natural family planning (i.e., trying to avoid conception). After you've been married a few years, they conclude that you're an incorrigible sinner and they stop even asking; they already know you're using contraception. So they try to drop hints about how nice it is to have a family and how much you'd enjoy being a parent, on the off chance that you're not yet entirely steeped in selfishness and materialism and have a heart that can be moved by truth and beauty. But that's not even as bad as the ones who suspect what the problem is; they avoid ever bringing it up, and many of them even avoid you, as if they think infertility were catching - because the deformity of a woman who cannot be a mother is so awful that even being in your company and forced to think about the fact that such things really happen is more than they can take. Your life is too ugly for them to be forced to recognize it for what it is.

And what about you? You know what you are. You're not just a woman with a defective uterus - you're a defective woman. If you were the holy, innocent, virtuous woman God intended you to be, your self-giving love for your husband would bear fruit, like the love of the Father for the Son, in another person; and you would look into the eyes of a tiny child and feel that you would lay down your life in a moment to protect it; and your body, and your energy, and your time would all be formed to the care of this little person who depends on you, and your selfishness would be mortified, and you would live for others, and find yourself conformed to the example of our Blessed Mother, and learn to practice the sanctity that would lead you to eternity with God.

But no. That will never be you, because you don't have that capacity, that God gave even to the animals; and rather than becoming selfless and generous and loving, you've withdrawn, to protect your heart, and now you see all of the people around you as potentially the next to say or do something that will lay bare your pain, which is more than you can bear; so you push them away. You don't know why He would do such a thing to you, why when His creature comes to Him wanting only to give up her time and her youth and her material aspirations to raise children to love Him and glorify Him, He would reject such an offer, and cast her aside; and you realize that when people say that "God loves you," well, everyone knows that it's true, so it must be true, but it must mean something different in your case - God must be capable of a "love" toward you that doesn't really match up with what we all understand that love is, that everyone else experiences, and you'll have to make do with that. And pretend that it's what you were looking for, that it's all that you need.

So when I looked at Pawel, responding with perfect chastity and faith and growing in holiness as he battled an affliction that would make him hateful in the eyes of humanity, that made him appear to be a depraved sinner when he was a saint, I saw an example of someone whose visage was so marred, beyond human semblance, but who had a beautiful soul.

And then Pawel died.

Not long before he died, he had gone to confession, and confessed that he was tormented by impure thoughts; the very wise confessor noted that he did not give into them, that a thousand temptations did not make a single sin, and when Pawel said that he was oppressed by these temptations, the priest said that he was given this trial so that he would grow in holiness very quickly, to do an important work for God. The book's ending makes clear that this was his martyrdom in David's place.

I am not claiming that I have grown in holiness through the cross of infertility, nor even that I've rejected a single temptation to be bitter or angry (well, maybe one or two, but probably by accident). And I'm also not saying that I see no value in martyrdom. I see lots of value in martyrdom. However, when I think that the future for the infertile is to die young, because infertility makes one fit for a great sacrifice (already purified by suffering, no kids to take care of), and unfit for life, I see red. It makes me furious. If some people are called to martyrdom - good. It is often the cost of virtue in a fallen world. If some of those people are infertile - of course they would be, we're 1/6 of the population or whatever, that only makes sense. If one of those people is to be me - I'm sure I'll make the adjustment badly, but that's OK. But if we're called to die young because we're infertile, because this cross means we're useless for anything else, if learning that you're infertile means that you go to Omaha for your miracle or you adopt or you die right now, then no. I check out; I give up; I am not interested in playing the game any more; I will become a Buddhist and hope to be reincarnated as some form of (non-reproductively-defective) vegetation so I can have another entire lifetime to meditate on how angry I am, because it will take that long.

In the several days after I finished the book, I managed to lecture myself sternly into noting that though Pawel was conflicted about his romantic life and his future before, he was not afflicted with temptation until David came on the scene, at which point Pawel's death (and thus the necessity of preparing for it) started looking like a foregone conclusion; that Pawel didn't actually appear to be in love with David (just tempted to lust after him), which would suggest that the temptations were not a product of a spiritual disorder but in fact precisely an affliction for the sake of his purification - in other words, he didn't have to die because he was unfit for life, but rather had to suffer so that he would be fit for death. To me, this distinction makes all the difference in the world.

So I am returning to a more measured point of view on these questions, which I will try to discipline myself not to share with the book club ladies tomorrow. (As this post proves, it would be impossible for me to do succinctly, in any case.) Books tend to affect me rather excessively, and sometimes I wonder how I managed as a lit major in college.

I doubt that a post in which I make conjectural threats to abandon my faith is specially edifying to anyone, or indicates that I have received any edifying myself. I suppose I haven't. I do know, like Pawel, that even when I don't know where I'm going or what I hope to find, if I visit the sacraments, if I walk through the steps of the practice of the faith, things seem to get better (at least a little better) all by themselves. And after I spent several days trying to drive out dark images of people doing awful things to children, I decided that I needed to offer particular prayers for children who are in danger of being preyed on in this way.

And particularly keen in my mind was that fact that Pawel was unable to do what one is always counseled to do with a constant temptation: avoid the source of the temptation. If it's your friend's husband you're tempted by, you see him as little as possible - any good spiritual director will tell you that. Don't overestimate your ability to fight off temptation. But Pawel couldn't avoid David, without abandoning David to die; he embraced every day with Christian love and compassion the person who was the source of his suffering. I am sure this will be the only example of its kind, for this is not the kind of virtue I have in any significant measure, but when my very pregnant coworker came by today to ask a legal question, I made a point about asking her about her children, and listened with interest to her answer, and hoped that my interest gave her a little bit of joy.

That's honestly not the sort of thing I can keep up. And as the Holocaust has been over for some decades now, I don't really know what's to become of me, and difficult though I find it to proceed in darkness on that point, I am frankly rather apprehensive to find out. I don't have a hope for a brighter future, or a bright future, or a future. I don't know. Hope and trust are not my strong suits just at the moment. But (appropriate to my temperament) I will keep putting one foot in front of the other, and God will just have to supply all that is missing - in fact, everything; because this is all that I have.

Friday, November 4, 2011

family

Thank you all for your lovely comments on my last post. It's nice to know that the blogosphere forgives me for my long abandonment :).

It occurs to me to ponder my philosophy of furniture acquisition - I suppose it would be most accurate to say that if you want your home to have style, you have to either wait patiently for the right thing to come along at the right price (if you're looking for something tricky, like antiques), or you have to know where to look and be willing to pay a fair price. I tend to be a little manic on the bargain-hunting (and a little capricious in terms of the style of the thing - well, I want a bed frame that's carved but not too ornate, sturdy but not too masculine, very tall but not poster...yes, I want to find exactly the picture in my head. For $100. Is that unreasonable?), so for me, patience is definitely going to be necessary, as I suppose it is for others of the truly finicky out there.

I also have received wise words about the making of friendships. I was going to go to a little shindig tonight at the home of some lovely girls on this side of the river whom I'd like to get to know better, but that didn't work out. I've decided that tomorrow, when I go to confession (way overdue!), I will also make a little inquiry into service opportunities at our new parish. I don't actually have any extra time, but even if I have to give up on sleep, I need an opportunity to give something back - far more than any charity pursuit needs my help, I'm sure. I feel alone, detached, and adrift, and when I think about it, I realize I have for a while. I don't feel lonely - I see lots of people, and I don't mind being alone, in fact I enjoy getting things done and having my time to myself - but I haven't felt needed in so long I've almost forgotten what it is I'm missing.

And I realized something sad, but interesting, this evening, moving still-packed boxes around the dining room so I could fit them all under a tarp before I paint below the chair rail (done by the end of tomorrow? Here's hoping!). There's little if anything in the house that I wouldn't give up if I needed to for some good reason; but the idea that any of it should be lost, or broken, for no reason, makes me nearly despair. It's because my things are my people - not that I would sacrifice a human life to keep them, or anything like that, but they are stand-ins for the dead relatives to whom they belonged, or the living ones of whom they remind me; they're the silhouettes who live in my rooms where there are no people; they're my little army of helpers, standing at the ready to invite and welcome and make comfortable any guest who should happen by.

It's tragic, in a way, I suppose; but bittersweet, because truly, they make me happy - not with the possessiveness of materialism, exactly (though I recognize that my fondness for them ultimately is materialism, and something about which I need to be vigilant), but with the warmth of knowing that I am surrounded always by silent friends.