I had a great New Year’s. I’m usually not a huge fan, but last night I went to a great party with lots of champagne and prime rib and horseradish cream sauce and wonderful, fun, hilarious people. (I also got asked to be in one of my dearest friend’s wedding by text message!!)
I looked like this and felt amazing:
I shook off my hangover this morning (that’s a lie, I’m still hungover at 5pm) to go to Mass and carol outside the Winter Classic at Nats Stadium like a big nerd. Then New Year’s Day continued to be lovely because i snuggled in for a long afternoon of conversation with three of the smartest women I know.
I feel like the general consensus is that 2014 was an absurdly bad year for a lot of people, which made a nice New Year’s really welcome. The stories continue to pour in about just terrible, terrible things happening to family or my friends and their loved ones. And it makes me deeply deeply appreciate the not-terrible times. The four of us all agreed on that this afternoon. Because it’s New Year’s Day, we obviously started talking about resolutions.
Emma’s resolution is to be more aware of moments of “realness” — personal connection, moments of non-Instagrammable beauty, relationships that bring joy into her life. Which got me thinking about what realness actually is. And what a real resolution can be.
I am almost constantly resolving to lose weight. Like… all the time. And making that resolution does no one any good, including me. Do my friends care how much I weigh? Will my family love me more if I lose 20 pounds? Will I be happier? Nope. So why make myself worry about it for 12 more months? That isn’t to say there aren’t resolutions tied to my physical reality that do have an actual positive impact. I could eat more nourishing food, which would improve my physical well-being and energy, which would allow me to do a better job at work and have more energy to spend on those I love. I could exercise more, which helps improve my mood and sleep better, making me a more positive person in all my relationships. Those could help me lose weight or not. That’s not what matters.
I was again reminded, though, of what can be gleaned from the continual simplification of life – of purification of my self. How can I resolve to be MORE of who I am, rather than reinventing who I am? How can I whittle away all the stuff that hangs onto me and drags me into the illusion that those externalities are who I actually am? Does what I look like actually have any meaning to who and how I am in the world? What I wear? What my apartment looks like? Where I buy my groceries? Where I work?
There are about a million ways each of those things can be important in a meaningful way, I know. My work can serve others and serve God by using what talents I have in a constructive way, etc etc. But if I walk into the office tomorrow and get sent home, does that change who I actually am? Honestly, no. Would I probably feel like it did? Yes, and I would definitely FREAK OUT. In DC, a lot of people really seem to think that our jobs are our identities. Turns out, though, that they aren’t. That makes me really uncomfortable sometimes.
I need to learn how to identify what is me and what is an exterior that has been constructed around me to define me more easily for the world. It’s the same inconvenient level of honesty that I spent Christmas flipping over in my head. I have defined myself by my grades or ACT score, my college choice, relationships, interests, my neighborhood, my job, my apartment, vacation destinations, how I exercise, what bars I go to, what I order at a restaurant, my taste in music or books or art, what my social media profile says about me, what jokes I laugh at, and one bajillion other things. But are any of those things actually me? Am I a personal brand built from an amalgamation of stuff that projects a message about me? I seriously expletiving hope not. So why have I spent countless hours of my life figuring out what those things say about me? Can I just NOT? What if for 2015, I just spend time finding out what actually lives under all that crap?
I’ve been reading Jim Martin’s My Life with the Saints alongside my Merton project reading, and I was struck by the idea that the reason saints are saints is that they have dug down to really live out the essence of who they are, and that in itself is holy and sanctifying. They don’t need to be geniuses (Solanus Casey was not) or sophisticated (the Little Flower, one of the greatest EVAH was not) or rich (where to even begin with that one) or universally liked (that, too, but I feel like Josemaria fits here) or a consecrated religious (Thomas More) or agreeable (I bet Catherine drove those popes NUTS) or any other signifier you can throw around.
It makes so much sense: of course the best route to holiness is to actually become who I am created to be. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in God or creative force or sanctification – isn’t there still an interior life not defined by those factors? A true SELF. When the trappings of the world around us fall away, what is left?
I didn’t feel like I was a Big10 college student when I was 18. I didn’t feel like someone who listens to pop music as a college kid. I don’t feel like someone who is single and lives along now, either. But guess what, all of those things are someone I am. And nothing about me – at my core – really changes with each of those. So why do I place so very very much pressure on myself to represent something to the world based on any of those expectations? Why value “cool” over passions, relationships, joys, and those pieces that are actual integral to how I live in the world.
It is crazy to me that I have friends who have been able to cut through all that and see that inner self, even when I am not always able to. Emma also reminded me of the part of Spirited Away when the river spirit is cleansed in the bathhouse. The sludgey monster slips away completely. I want to let the year pull me out of my own sludge. 2014 has done a great job getting that started, and it hurts. Hurts real bad, but hurts real good, I guess. This is the part when I break free, or bweak fwee, as Ariana would say.
But for a Judeo-Christian believer, God even says it directly to us about God’s Self: “I Am That I Am” or “I Am Who I Am” or “I Will Be What I Will Be” to Moses. Or in Revelations: “I am the BEING, the WAS, the IS TO COME.”
Can I be the What I Am at the core of my soul?
I kind of feel like that part of me is the part that jumps when I get to greet a baby or a puppy. Every time, I am just so genuinely happy to greet them, try to make them happy, and be the gentlest I can. I am wondering if I can approach every interaction like that. Open, gentle, genuine. I’d be pretty ecstatic if that is actually who I am under my sludge.