Culture

Finding My Father

Originally published at One Peter Five

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of sitting in the back of my father’s car, listening to the music he loves. He would pick me up from daycare in the late afternoon, and I would close my eyes and fall into whatever song was playing – “Dear Prudence” by the Beatles, maybe, or “Through the Long Night” by Billy Joel, or “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” by Neil Young. Through my half-asleep reverie and half-lidded eyes, I would glance up and see my father smirking at me in the rearview mirror.

“Are you asleep back there?” he’d ask me, amused.

“No, Daddy,” I’d slur, “I’m just resting my eyes.”

In the supreme sweetness of those moments, I didn’t have to plan, or worry, or steer the situation to serve my own ends. I was secure in the conviction that I was in loving, capable, and protective hands that would pilot me wherever I ought to go.

I have spent the majority of my life trying to recapture that feeling.

* * *

My parents divorced when I was still too little to understand what the word meant. It didn’t take long for me to figure out it signaled the end of the world as I had known it.

Prior to the divorce, my father had been my primary caregiver. My mother spent her evenings nightclubbing and snorting cocaine and her days sleeping off the previous night’s revelries – often in a stranger’s bed. Where my mother was indifferent, my father was doubly attentive. Where my mother was absent, my father filled in the gaps. He cooked my dinners – grilled cheese sandwiches were his specialty. He ran my baths. He read me bedtime stories in my favorite rocking chair, and, ultimately, he taught me how to read those same stories back to him.

All of that changed when my parents split. My mother was given custody, and she moved me half a continent away from my dad. With her, meals could not be relied upon – there were times when I had to steal food from grocery and convenience stores to avoid starvation. With her, I was expected to take care of not only all of my own needs, but many of hers as well – I was essentially running the household by the age of 10. And with her, there were no more bedtime stories.

But there were plenty of tall tales. My mother lied so often, so flagrantly, and with such gusto that she often managed to fool herself. She’d lie to enliven dull facts, to bury unflattering realities – heck, she lied just to pass the time. Most of all, she lied to manipulate, and most people fell into the traps she laid at least once.

I was no exception. As a child, I must have been to her what a small rural town was to a snake oil salesman: innocent, credulous, and ignorant of ignominy. In other words, I was an easy mark.

The majority of the lies my mother told me were about my father. When I had to do without some necessity on account of lack of funds, she’d blame him. She’d tell me he hadn’t sent the child support check for that month – she couldn’t admit that she had squandered it on drugs – and call him a tightwad who loved only what was in his wallet. She’d put me on the phone to ask him for money, and the awkward silences and irritation-tinged resistance from him that followed seemed to support her contention. The fact that he was rapidly becoming wealthy climbing the corporate ladder at the oil company for which he worked, and the fact that he spent so much time at that job, even during my visits with him, seemed to verify my mother’s claim that he was purely materialistic and parentally maladroit.

But I desperately wanted to disbelieve, and I went on a mission to win some sort of display of pride and affection from him. I got it into my head that the way to impress him, the way to make him love me, was by overachieving. So I got straight As up through high school, was first chair in band and orchestra, and seized every opportunity to prove to him that I was special.

In 7th grade, for example, I fought hard for – and won – the school board’s permission to skip 8th grade. But when I told him the news, he barely looked up from the newspaper he was reading. It was my greatest coup, but it didn’t seem to impress him in the least.

So I began to believe my mother’s claims that he was cold, and uncaring, and interested only in his money. I began to believe that I was not a priority for him. I began to believe that he just plain didn’t love me.

* * *

It was at around that same time that I began to lose my faith in God.

Growing up in the Bible belt, I had always taken the existence of God for granted, even though neither of my parents was religious. I prayed in inverse proportion to the quality of life with my mother – the worse things got, the more I prayed. I remember countless nights spent lying sleepless upon the pallet of blankets that functioned as my bed – we could not afford an actual mattress – my hands tightly clasped together, my gaze fixed upon the moon shining through my window like a beacon on the pitch-black prairie nights. I remember calling out with my whole heart, “Please, please, save me from this hell. Dear God, please help me find a way out.”

The years wore on and on, and things with my mom got worse and worse; by the end of my time with her, she and the ex-con she’d shacked up with were completely strung out on crack cocaine. When they weren’t distracted by fighting each other, they were making – and carrying out – threats against me. Every night brought a grotesque circus – either my mom and her boyfriend would try to beat each other to death, or the crew of junkies, felons, drug-dealers, and other assorted miscreants in their circle of friends would drop in for an impromptu party. Every morning brought broken beer bottles, overflowing ashtrays, vomit on the carpets, passed-out strangers, bloodstains on the furniture – all of which I was expected to put right.

The days went on and on, and my frantic petitions to a God I believed in but knew nothing about grew in intensity and frequency. I never felt that they were answered. Eventually, I grew to suspect that nobody was listening on the other end.

* * *

By the time I was a teenager, I was fully convinced that neither my heavenly nor my earthly father cared for me in the least. I’d completely stopped praying, and my relationship with my dad was set for shipwreck. The grilled cheese sandwich and rocking chair days seemed a lifetime away. When I was eventually able to leave my mother’s house at age 14, I went to live with my grandmother rather than my dad.

The explosion didn’t come until I was 21. After years of below-the-surface seething resentment (on my part), we finally had a major blow-up. He’d said he would pay for me to go back to college, and I had moved halfway across the country to get to the school I wanted to attend – but when the tuition bill arrived, he told me he would help with that semester, but after that, I’d be on my own.

For me, that was the last straw. I let him have it. He reacted in kind. We both said things that never should have been said.

And then, for the next fifteen years, we said nothing whatsoever.

* * *

In my late teens and early twenties, I spent most of my time being angry. I was forever telling myself and others that I didn’t need my parents, because I was clearly capable of taking care of myself, and I often tried to convince myself that there was no logical reason I should love them. At the same time, I was furious at my parents for neglecting to care for me, because I was sure that I would not be so messed up as an adult if I had been better loved as a child.

I was mad at the various institutions that should have intervened to remove me from my abusive mother’s home long before I finally managed to make my escape, because I felt that my life wouldn’t have turned out so lousy had I not had to endure that hell.

I was mad at the universe and life itself for forcing me to exist, because I regarded my existence as a despicable thing.

My anger at my father grew to apply to his entire sex. I truly believed that all of the world’s problems could be blamed on flaws and proclivities generally attributable to men. Wars, genocides, and violence of every conceivable variety were the product of too much testosterone. If men were taken out of the picture, the world would be a better and more peaceful place. So I thought.

As much as I was angry at my personal patriarch, and at patriarchy in general, I was also angry at the Heavenly Patriarch. I grew to disdain the very idea of God; I felt that such a being likely did not exist, and that if He did, I wanted nothing to do with Him. Any deity who would allow children to suffer the way I had was not worthy of my praise.

Step by step, I wrote first my father, then other men, then God out of the script of my life.

* * *

In my mid-twenties, I became a high-priced call girl. That’s when my wising-up process began. My clients were politicians; CEOs; athletes; journalists; men who had made a fortune in tech; and, occasionally, Average Joes. I even had one young college student who came to see me every time he received a financial aid disbursement – a single visit would just about exhaust his entire surplus over and above his tuition.

All of these men had one thing in common: they were all wounded birds – lonely, alienated, bearing heavy baggage. Most of them were seeking something more than mere physical pleasure – some kind of meaningful connection. The majority could have been better served by a trained therapist, as that is the role in which so many of them cast me. For whatever reason, they chose to recline on my couch rather than a shrink’s.

Perhaps the illusion of anonymity was a factor: in that world, we had our own type of confessional seal – it is understood that what is said between a call girl and her client is privileged. These men knew they would never encounter me in their “real” lives, which made me safe in a way that other outlets might not be. Consequently, my clients, particularly my regulars, poured their hearts out to me. In my boudoir, they stripped away more than just their clothing – they also discarded their pretenses, putting me in a uniquely privileged position to see men as they truly are.

By and large, my clients were in miserable marriages. Some had wives who withheld sex and affection or used them strategically and manipulatively; others had wives who disrespected, belittled, or dominated them. These men were driven to buy a rough facsimile of traditionally feminine attention by the hour at an exorbitant rate because they could not get anything like it at home.

Should their spouses decide to divorce them, they generally lost everything – their homes; their savings; and, most painfully for the majority of my clients, their children. One man who came to see me had only recently ceased sleeping in his car, because his ex-wife had taken the house, and he was not immediately able to find somewhere else to live. Another hadn’t seen his son in over a year because his ex-wife had simply stopped sending him for visitation, and neither the courts nor law enforcement had intervened. Yet a third could not wrest custody of his daughter away from his mentally ill ex-wife, even after years of documented erratic and irresponsible behavior on her part, because of the court’s deep bias in favor of mothers.

These men were not unique. I encountered countless others in similar circumstances.

I had always considered myself a liberal and a feminist. But there, literally laid bare in front of me, was case after case providing evidence that defied my worldview. These were not cruel tyrants, callously taking advantage of a system made to favor them due to generations of male domination. Nor were they contented contenders competing side by side with their co-ed co-equals on a level playing field. These were vanquished prisoners of war being made to pay for their own crimes, whatever they might be, plus the alleged crimes of their forefathers, by spiteful women who were already benefiting from boundless institutional compensation. These people were told dozens of times in dozens of ways every day that they were bad and wrong, simply, at least in part, for being male.

I saw so very many men – good men, for the most part, if weak in flesh – persecuted and made unjustly miserable. I couldn’t disregard the evidence; I had to revise my position.

* * *

Since I’d been wrong about men, I had to accept the possibility that I was wrong about other things, too. When I went back to college in my late 20s, I discovered that that was indeed the case. I was at an extremely liberal school, but that didn’t stop my general chemistry professor from spending an entire class challenging her students’ atheism. Her ultimate point? You don’t get something from nothing, no matter what reaction occurs. You have to put something in to get something out. If that’s so, how did the something from which the universe originated come into existence?

It sounds so simple and reasonable now, but at the time, this blew my mind. It defied everything I had believed my entire mature life. But again, I could not ignore the evidence lying in front of me, so that day, I revised my identity from “atheist” to “agnostic.” Shortly thereafter, I began my search for whatever it was that had generated the original something.

I test-drove virtually every major religion. I even went to a voodoo ritual, just to check it out. The only one I seriously considered adopting was Judaism. I studied and attended synagogue. But when it came time for the mikvah, I backed out. Something, I wasn’t sure what, just wasn’t quite right. Something was missing.

It took me about eight years to find out what that something was.

* * *

I was living with my boyfriend and had been for about four years. I had gotten out of sex work – indeed, I had quit for my boyfriend. My life was better than it had ever been, yet something was still missing.

One day I pulled up to park in front of our North Oakland apartment, and the car parked on the street in front of me had a Catholic radio bumper sticker on it. “Ha!” I thought. “What could they possibly find to talk about for 24 hours per day?”

But then I started seeing those stickers everywhere. It seemed as if every third car I’d see had one. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to tune in to that station. What I heard surprised me. It made sense. And the people were not weird the way the Protestant media people were; I had grown up in the era of televangelists and TBN and had always found those personalities to be at least slightly creepy. But the people on Catholic radio seemed really…normal. And reasonable. I found myself listening to the Catholic station at work – I was cleaning houses at the time – and the programs I heard dampened the drudgery of my menial labor.

After a couple of weeks of this, I woke up one Sunday morning with a burning conviction: I had to go to Mass. As soon as possible. I felt as though I would not be able to go on living if I didn’t make it. I spent all day hemming and hawing, but finally, that evening, I went to my first Mass.

It would not be my last.

* * *

After a bit of searching, I found a Latin Mass parish that felt like home. I found a priest to catechize me who ended up having perhaps the most important influence over me of anyone in my life.

He was so patient with me. He would listen to me vent all of my skepticism, the objects of which were numerous. Then, in a clear and detailed manner, he’d use science, philosophy, history – whatever was germane – to prove the truth of whichever concept or teaching I’d gotten hung up on. He took my doubts and objections and dismantled them with surgical precision. In short, he did what my chemistry professor had done so many years prior, only he took it one step farther: he proved to me that God existed, then identified and familiarized me with Him. He not only satisfactorily answered my questions of what, Who, when, and where, but was able to tell me why. That was all it took to convince me to become Catholic.

But this priest did more than just convert me – he provided a model of what a father could be.

As my baptism approached, I began to feel like the ongoing cold war between my biological father and me was not only stupid, but an impediment to my true and total conversion. My priest agreed. So one day, in the fall of 2013, I picked up the phone and called my dad for the first time in 15 years.

He was overjoyed to hear from me. We cried, laughed, and cry-laughed. We had a long talk that included apologies, explanations, expressions of regret, and a commitment to building a better relationship in the future.

* * *

The loss and eventual rediscovery of my fathers have made the defining saga of my life. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I found them both at almost the same time, lovingly prompted and prodded by a man whose title happens to be “Father.”

This is not a finished story – the getting-to-know-you process with both my fathers is ongoing. I’m still learning, and slowly at that, who my fathers are, how to love and respect them, and what it means to be a daughter. It’s the most exciting journey I have ever undertaken.

My dad summed things up perfectly: “I do believe the ending, when it comes, can still be a great one, and I hope we can write it together.”

The Needles and the Damage Done

If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…

For those who come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
In the streets of San Francisco
Gentle people with flowers in their hair
 

–from the song “San Francisco,” written by John Phillips

This romanticized depiction of the streets of San Francisco, which I have called home for the last two decades, may have contained a kernel of truth in 1967, when hippies from all over the country flocked here for the so-called Summer of Love. But it doesn’t reflect our local reality on the precipice of 2019. Not even close.

For starters, it would be more prudent for San Francisco tourists to protect their hands and feet with gloves and work boots than to worry about their hairdos, because instead of finding “gentle people with flowers in their hair,” visitors are more apt to find homeless junkies with needles in their arms, needles they will likely leave lying wherever they happen to fall—in parks, on playgrounds, even on bus and train seats. And no longer do our streets smell of incense and patchouli—those aromas have been supplanted by the inescapable reek of human waste.

The problem spiraled dangerously out-of-control so gradually that I didn’t fully realize just how bad it had become until a few weeks ago, when I took BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit—our light rail system) to the Civic Center station for the first time in several months. 

This station is in a notoriously sketchy area. It borders the Tenderloin, which is perhaps the poorest, roughest neighborhood in the city. At the same time, as the name implies, all of the city’s governmental buildings are located nearby, in addition to many of San Francisco’s finest museums and cultural attractions. So, every day in United Nations Plaza, where the Civic Center BART station is located, an almost absurd juxtaposition of contrasting characters convenes—civil servants neatly attired in conservative suits, opera patrons decked-out in posh finery, and souvenir-toting tourists share the sidewalks with grimy street urchins, peacockishly painted prostitutes, and everyone else who has fallen off society’s radar—often because they fell in love with the needle.

There is nothing new about the random socio-cultural cross-sectioning that occurs at this curious crossroads. But the last time I was there, I did see something new in United Nations Plaza.

© 2018 Aaron Levy-Wolins

Black syringe depositories have been installed near the regular trash cans—indeed, one might mistake them for garbage bins if not for their funereal color and stark, striking BIOHAZARD warning signage. 

Underscoring the need for such bins are the legions of strung-out zombies strewn about the vicinity—sitting, slack-jawed and glassy-eyed, on curbs; crawling around the plaza on all fours, shaking and shouting and searching intently for heaven only knows what; stumbling aimlessly up and down the alleyways, caked in filth; and lying across the sidewalks, arms wide open and mouths agape, the living indistinguishable from the dead. 

© 2013 Kevin Montgomery

And punctuating this bleak de profundis dirge are the by-products of this wretched existence—feces, garbage, syringes, and urine—scattered and splattered everywhere. Virtually every San Francisco area resident, myself included, has been confronted with the grim spectacle of someone shooting up, urinating, defecating, or some combination of the three, in a public place and in plain sight.

Sleek new needle disposal bins won’t even make a dent in this problem. 

Indeed, nothing the city has done has helped. On November 30th, 2015, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story regarding the skyrocketing number of complaints about discarded syringes in public areas, noting that the number had risen from 440 in 2012, to over 2500 in 2015. They also reported that the city was expanding access to disposal boxes and establishing “rapid response teams,” though exactly what those teams might do was left unexplained. 

Fast forward to April, 2016. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s blog, BETA, published an article entitled “Syringes and Needles on the Street in San Francisco: What’s Being Done?” This piece detailed the measures being taken at that time to combat the problem, which included: community cleanup events, wherein residents of “hotspot” neighborhoods “cheerfully [went] about the neighborhood to pick up syringes”; “increasing education” among the drug-using population about where and how to properly dispose of needles; and training museum and library staff in the Civic Center area on safe disposal methods. Library staff was also trained to provide disposal equipment to homeless people inside the library and was given said equipment, apparently free of charge. 

© 2018 Bigad Shaban

Fast forward to July 17th, 2018. Business Insider published a piece about San Francisco’s new mayor, London Breed, and her plans to combat what is still being described as “copious amounts” of syringes, not to mention human feces, on San Francisco’s streets. Apparently those rapid response teams, education programs, and community cleanup events just didn’t cut the mustard. What does Ms. Breed propose? She wants to set up “safe, supervised injection sites” where homeless addicts can go—in lieu of public spaces—to intravenously ingest their drugs of choice … because your average addict is oh-so-likely to forestall shooting up after scoring until he can get to a location supervised by a city official.

Right. 

While the city is scrambling to come up with strategies to combat the syringe litter problem, the San Francisco Health Department is busy handing out free needles. The San Francisco Chronicle notes that in fiscal year 2015-16, the city distributed 4.45 million needles at a cost of $523,363. The article goes on to state: “Of the 400,000 needles distributed monthly … about 246,000 come back though [the health department’s] 13 syringe access and disposal sites. That leaves more than 154,000 needles a month still circulating … thousands wind up on streets and sidewalks, in tent camps, and in parks and playgrounds.” The number of needles distributed by the city hit six million for the 2017 fiscal year.

It’s almost as if San Francisco’s right hand doesn’t know—or care—what’s being done by the left. 

Similarly, although most everyone acknowledges that addiction, including alcoholism, is one of the key factors leading to and perpetuating homelessness, one of the “solutions” San Francisco has proposed as part of a package designed to combat its homeless epidemic is a so-called “wet house”—a shelter in which alcoholic vagrants are allowed to drink openly and without fear of eviction. 

I read about all of these proposed “solutions”—the crews of law-abiding citizens sent out to “cheerfully” clean up the filth left behind by their junkie scofflaw neighbors; the “supervised injection sites” and “wet houses” and millions spent on free needle distribution—all of which enable and validate the behavior which caused many homeless people to wind up on the streets in the first place; and I can’t help but think, what planet are these people living on? Do they know anything about the people they’re trying to help? The fact is, although I have no doubt that there are countless hearts in the proper places, nobody here seems to be in touch with reality when it comes to actually solving this problem. 

There are a few things everyone agrees on: the addiction epidemic in our city is directly related to and intertwined with our homeless crisis, and the biggest contributing factor to that is the lack of affordable housing. This is a very real problem that I have experienced firsthand. I currently pay $1800/month for a studio apartment, and it’s not even in San Francisco itself, but, rather, in the Oakland/East Bay area. When I experienced a major injury that kept me out-of-work for the better part of a year in 2017, I was very nearly evicted, and, if not for my amazing faith community and family assistance—support structures that tragically few people in contemporary society have—I would have wound up among the Bay Area’s 35,000 homeless, up to 15,000 of which live in San Francisco proper.

Everyone knows affordable housing is a serious problem. But not everyone has a clear grasp on the causes for this predicament, or realistic prospective solutions. A basic understanding of the laws of supply and demand, for example, seems to be almost completely lacking among my fellow residents. Consider the following example:

There has been an empty lot next to my building for about 20 years. It’s in a prime location, right next to a BART station and in close proximity to the UC Berkeley campus. Several months ago, signs appeared in my neighborhood to notify residents of a proposed development in that lot. The project would be a multi-story residential building with commercial space on the first floor—so it would provide a considerable number of new housing units as well as space for a few new shops.

I was delighted by the proposal. It would take wasted space and put it to good use. It would stimulate the micro-local economy by bringing new shops—and, in turn, new jobs and more tax revenue—to the area. And it would make a significant contribution to the supply side of the housing market, which is, ultimately, the only way rents will come down; after all, housing prices here are high because demand is high and supply is low. It’s basic Economics 101 type stuff.

But my neighbors disagreed. Almost immediately after the signs announcing the proposed development went up, another set of signs appeared. They announced citizen meetings to discuss and organize opposition to the building project.

Neighbors within my building assumed I would attend. “The building would obstruct our view of the Bay,” they whined, “and it would make it a lot harder to find parking around here. Plus, it would destroy the laid-back vibe of our neighborhood and replace it with a really ugly commercialized energy. Besides, it’s totally unjust! There’s no provision for affordable housing!” 

It’s the same narrative I have heard a million and one times since I moved here—the developers are evil and greedy and only care about making money. They don’t care about the poor and downtrodden. What’s more, the things they build are ugly. Therefore, we must stop them at any cost.

Nobody seems to understand that they are shooting themselves in the foot by halting development—that they are thereby keeping housing scarce, keeping prices high, keeping people poor, and, ultimately, keeping people on the streets. They also don’t seem to understand that nobody is going to eliminate the supply gap by building a plethora of low-rise, low-rent housing units—assuming there were enough open space in which to do so, which there isn’t—because there’s no profit to be made in such an endeavor with the outrageous current price of land. No magic billionaire humanitarian fairy is going to float down from the clouds—where most of my neighbors’ heads seem to be—to rescue us with truckloads of free money. But, judging by the way they shape public policy, that’s precisely what Californians, and Bay Area residents in particular, seem to expect: a miracle.

And, at this point, that may be what it takes to put this place back on track. This is a city with areas regarded by some infectious disease experts as “more unsanitary than many of the dwellings in impoverished, developing countries”; a city with “contamination [that] rivals that found in slums of Brazil, Kenya, and India’s developing communities”; and a city that spends $30 million per year cleaning up discarded needles and feces from its public spaces. This is a city with the highest per capita homeless population in America; a city that refuses to prosecute that population for public defecation/urination and littering, and turns a blind eye to the epidemic of property crimes for which it is responsible. And it is a city with no realistic solutions on the horizon, and not a single pragmatic leader in office—how else might things be turned around? A bona fide act of God may indeed be required.

But this is also a city wherein God, and those who believe in Him, are openly ridiculed and excluded from civic discourse.

This is a city where, in 2009, a Catholic parish—and a notoriously liberal and pro-homosexual parish at that—was vandalized and spray-painted with swastikas after California passed Proposition 8, which defined marriage as being between one man and one woman only.

This is a city that unanimously passed a resolution on April 4th, 2006 denouncing the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s directive to Catholic Charities not to place children for adoption with same-sex couples, calling it “hateful and discriminatory … insulting and callous, and show[ing] a level of insensitivity and ignorance which has seldom been encountered by this Board of Supervisors.” 

Furthermore, this is a city that flaunts its abandonment of traditional morality. Once a year, fully sanctioned by the local government, gay men openly engage in public sex acts as part of the “Pride Parade,” an event which is promoted as being family-friendly. A few months later, the city’s BDSM community gathers to publicly flog and flagellate each other at the Folsom Street Fair. Public sex is de rigueur in the City by the Bay.

Should we really be surprised to see so much of the city’s population living in such debased and demoralized conditions, when the city itself has so thoroughly shunned morality and common sense? 

Given San Francisco’s downward trajectory and crumbling social ethos, don’t expect to see thoughtful, reasonable solutions to these problems being generated locally any time soon. We are too busy parading our perversions, persecuting our Christians, and enacting important legislation like plastic straw bans and sugary drink taxes. The only thing you can really do for San Francisco is pray. Pray for us like we’re blithely headed for hell in a hand-basket—because, as far as I can tell, we absolutely are.

The Sleepy, Hollow Labyrinth Within

 

 

“A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere … the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie.”

 

When I was 13, I attempted suicide for the first time. Life with my crack addict mother was a mad, merciless merry-go-round which ever threatened to whirl off its undercarriage. And, although an infinite parade of psychopathically violent boyfriends, perverts, junkies, and career criminals hopped on and off this ride with apparent ease, I was unable to leave the not-so-funhouse. It seemed the only exit was the permanent one, and, with the assumed assistance of two handfuls of pills and a half-bottle of rum, I endeavored to escape.

But, like most kids my age, I had no idea just how tough it is to snuff out one’s own candle. When people accuse those who have achieved this feat of taking the easy way out, they betray the same ignorance I possessed at age 13—there is nothing easy about killing oneself, for one thing, and no one makes the final decision without sincerely believing there is no other way out of their quagmire, easy or otherwise.

What people who have not experienced it do not know is, depression is a sleep-mask—it blinds, and thereby disables, the sufferer. It narcotizes, hypnotizes, and paralyzes one into an incapacitating slumber populated exclusively by nightmares. In this somnambulistic labyrinth, there are no guideposts—one can merely grope at thorny walls. Ultimately, the sleepwalker cannot find the exit in such a palsied state—yet, only after clawing one’s fingers raw in an attempt to scale the walls does one conclude that death is the only way out.

 

*             *             *

 

“By divers little make-shifts in that ingenious way which is commonly denominated ‘by hook and by crook,’ [he] got on tolerably enough, and was thought, by all who understood nothing of [his] labor, to have a wonderfully easy life.”

 

And that was me at age 30.

Having escaped my mother’s hellacious world through law enforcement intervention, married and divorced, and moved all over the country, I’d finally settled in California and enrolled in a private college by means of a generous scholarship. But I’d also begun to suffer the effects of rheumatoid arthritis and a genetic disorder known as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which had left me unable to perform most “normal” jobs. Bills mounted and eviction loomed. Finally, out of great desperation, I made the decision to become a call girl at age 24. By 25, I was the top-rated escort in the San Francisco Bay area. And by 30, I’d become accustomed to the expensive, fast-lane lifestyle such “success” engendered.

I’m sure that, to all outward appearances, I was a carefree, fun-loving party girl, a girl who allowed both her money and her affections to flow freely. Perhaps a bit like a combination of Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Ophelia in Trading Places—a scrappy, lighthearted working girl who could drink a man three times her size under the table.

But that was just a mask I wore.

As a child forced to ride shotgun on the reckless drive that was my mother’s life, I had coped with the black, bottomless chasm within and without by creating a lush, intricate, vivid imaginary world. I retreated into Technicolor fantasy—sometimes I sailed so far away from the outside world that I had difficulty distinguishing reality from the experiences I’d invented. In my mind, I lived in a different time, a distant place, and among people completely disparate to the inmates of my mother’s subterranean dystopia.

But as a call girl, I was highly priced, highly rated, and thus subject to high expectations. My work demanded engagement—I could not simply drift away to make-believe shores. So I did the next best thing—I became a make-believe person.

By age 30, I had made a tangled mess of my life, and that old, too-familiar demon known in clinical circles as “major depressive disorder” once again began to take over. Once again, I was trapped in the sleepy, hollow labyrinth. And once again, I became convinced that death was the only way out.

 

 *             *             *

 

 

“The night grew darker and darker; the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving clouds occasionally hid them from his sight. He had never felt so lonely and dismal.”

 

Never let it be said that I don’t learn from my mistakes. Having failed to accomplish the job with two fistfuls of sleeping pills and a bit of booze at age 13, I was doubly determined to get it right at age 30. I was on several heavy-duty prescription medications at the time, both for depression and the many complex issues related to my chronic conditions, and I had just had them all refilled. I took every last one of those pills—in sum, over 500, about 20% of which were morphine.

And again, I did not die.

Apparently God had other plans for me. Perhaps the purpose of my survival was to tell you the tale here and now—because even if you aren’t personally afflicted, depression is all around you, and you may very well have a part to play in someone else’s twilight drama.

 

*             *             *

 

I still find myself being pulled back into that labyrinth from time to time. But I have several tools now that I did not have in my pre-Catholic life that help me keep my head above water.

First and foremost among them is the gift of prayer, the ultimate suicide hotline. It’s a direct link to someone who sincerely understands the nature of suffering, and has experienced intense distress—more so than any of us. Indeed, in the garden of Gethsemane, Christ was so anguished and anxious that He sweated blood. And the agony of His Passion is beyond anything anyone else has ever experienced. Tortured and mocked by His own beloved creations, abandoned by His closest friends—and betrayed by one of them—left to die like a common criminal in the most brutal and agonizing method imaginable, Our Lord has definitely trudged through the black chasm. When we pray, we are speaking to someone who knows exactly what we are going through—not merely because He is able to read our hearts, but because He has made His own journey through the valley of misery. He not only gets it, He also cares and wishes to help—and there is no one better equipped to do so.

The sacraments are also powerful tools in the battle against depression. When my soul feels overburdened, and I feel regret or remorse over the mistakes I have made, the Confessional is available to wash it all away. And if I feel alone, far away from God, I can reconnect with Him in a most magnificent way by receiving the Eucharist—no one who acts as a living tabernacle is alone or separated from God.

Finally, my Catholic community acts as a nurturing surrogate family; it’s a place where I know I am loved and accepted, and where I can indubitably find the support I need, no matter what. I have found solace in the friendships formed therefrom, and I’m deeply indebted to the numerous friends (and strangers) who have provided spiritual, emotional, and practical assistance in countless ways when I have been in need.

Becoming Catholic has filled my life with love and light where there was once only agony and darkness.

 

*             *             *

 

“As Ichabod approached this fearful tree … he thought his whistle was answered—it was but a blast sweeping sharply through the dry branches … Suddenly he heard a groan—his teeth chattered and his knees smote against the saddle: it was but the rubbing of one huge bough upon another, as they were swayed about by the breeze”

 

Ichabod Crane, deep within his own Sleepy Hollow, mistook a pumpkin for a severed head and a malicious man in a clever costume for a murderous phantom, and it cost him his life. Like him, we who labor under the burden of melancholy mistake opportunities for obstacles, and molehills for mountains.

We cannot escape this myopia alone. When we are in that place, battered and blinded and bumbling about, it is almost impossible to see the forest of hope and God’s love that surrounds us all, because the trees appear as encroaching problems too massive to overcome. We need a hand, a light, to guide us. And your kind words may act as an extended hand for someone drowning in despair; your listening ear and objective perspective, sympathetically shared, may be the light that helps a troubled soul find a path out of their sleepy, hollow labyrinth.

It has been said, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” If you know someone enveloped in darkness—and most of us do, whether we realize it or not—it’s not helpful to them to hear you say “chin up,” “just shrug it off,” or “think positive.” It’s just not that simple for that person. You may be able to do these things, but they cannot–if they could, you can be certain they would.

So, instead of cursing that person’s darkness, light a candle for him or her. Remind that person of God’s love; help him or her brainstorm solutions to the most pressing problems; and, most importantly, pray for that person, and make sure s/he knows you’re doing so.

You might very well save a life.

 

All quotations contained herein were taken from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.

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Justitia Winked

Artwork by Jeremy Ingle: https://www.facebook.com/OremusPublishing

 

Starting in July of 2015, The Center for Medical Progress released a series of videos which exposed Planned Parenthood’s lucrative sideline of peddling aborted babies’ anatomical remnants. These videos are so shockingly horrific as to be almost unwatchable; millions of Americans did indeed watch them, however, and their ensuing outrage has galvanized a powerful backlash against the taxpayer-funded abortion monolith. Thirteen states have taken steps to block Planned Parenthood’s access to taxpayer funds within their borders; meanwhile, on a federal level, defunding legislation passed in the House and was only narrowly defeated in the Senate.

But Planned Parenthood and their allied institutional powers aren’t taking this lying down. They’ve launched a series of legal attacks both civil and criminal against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the investigative journalists who obtained the incriminating footage.

One such attack has been initiated by California’s State Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, a man who has been given both a consistent 100% approval rating and thousands of dollars in campaign funding by Planned Parenthood over the course of his political career. He has charged both Daleiden and Merritt with 15 felony counts.

On Thursday, August 24, Daleiden, Merritt, their legal teams, and a prosecuting attorney convened in Judge Christopher Hite’s San Francisco courtroom. The immediate matters under consideration were Merritt’s Motion to Dismiss fourteen of the fifteen charges against her, and Daleiden’s demurrer objecting to the validity of the charges against him.

Judge Hite rejected Daleiden’s demurrer, stating that it was not the right time to make affirmative defenses, and that Daleiden’s legal team would have a chance to make their case—namely, that the charges against their client are completely lacking in legal legitimacy—at a later stage in the process.

Okay, that’s acceptable. Disappointing? Yes—but it’s not a flagrant miscarriage of justice.

What happened to Sandra Merritt, however, is flat-out wrong—in fact, it’s illegal—and it ought to be of deep concern to all Americans, even those who oppose what she did.

On June 21st, fourteen of the fifteen charges against Daleiden and Merritt were deemed legally insufficient, and were dismissed “with leave to amend”; in plain English, this means the judge allowed the prosecution ten days to file a revised complaint containing additional evidence supporting the charges against the defendants.

The State Attorney General’s office did, indeed, file an amended complaint … against Daleiden. They failed to do so against Merritt. Therefore, according to statute, and even according to his own previous ruling, Judge Hite should have granted Merritt’s Motion to Dismiss this past Thursday.

But he didn’t.

When asked why they failed to file the amended complaint, the prosecuting attorney shrugged and said, “Well, we meant to file it.”

And that’s when things got surreal. Because that’s when Lady Justice lifted her blindfold and winked at the observers. That’s when the judge discarded concrete, codified fact in favor of abstract, amorphous feeling as the criteria by which to adjudicate. That’s when the judge said he believed the prosecution did, in fact, intend to file, and he was therefore denying Merritt’s petition, and giving the prosecution more time to correct their mistake.

When you were a schoolgirl or boy, did your teacher ever give you an A because you meant to do your homework? Was a patient ever healed because a doctor meant to perform a surgery? Was a crime ever punished because an officer meant to make an arrest? And was a baby ever sated because its mother meant to nurse it? Then why on earth would we allow an attorney to continue the taxpayer-funded prosecution of a case because s/he meant to file amended charges, particularly when we as a society have agreed upon statutes that prohibit such an action?

This may not seem like a big deal to you. You may think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill—even some of you who support what Daleiden and Merritt have done. You may be saying to yourself, “Oh, this is a minor infraction on the judge’s part, it won’t prevent Merritt from winning her case.” But that misses the point entirely. This isn’t about whether Merritt wins or loses. This is about the sanctity of the law, and the danger of allowing a fast-and-loose application thereof.

When I was sitting in that courtroom on Thursday, I could not help but think to myself: I have seen this before. I’ve read about judges slowly shifting from reliance upon the letter of the law toward reliance upon the spirit of the culture and age as a basis for forming their decisions. Instead of ruling according to that which had been codified, they began to rule according to popular sentiment. Instead of ruling according to that which was, they began to rule according to that which they felt should be.

Where have I read about this? In the War Crimes Commission’s official report on the trial against the Nazi judges following World War II.

In Nuremburg in 1948, we tried, found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment eight Nazi judges for, in part, ignoring and/or exaggerating codified law and adjudicating cases based on their own arbitrary whims. Indeed, after two years under Hitler’s rule, this laissez-faire method of jurisprudence itself began to be codified. The Tribunal notes: “The penal laws were extended in such inclusive and indefinite terms as to vest in the judges the widest discretion in the choice of law to be applied, and in the construction of the chosen law in any given case” (6). They cite the lack of “objective standards” as one of the most problematic factors in the new laws of the Third Reich (7). They conclude:

This new conception of criminal law was a definite encroachment upon the rights of the individual citizen because it subjected him to the arbitrary opinion of the judge … destroyed the feeling of legal security, and created an atmosphere of terrorism. (7)

I admit that giving the prosecution a pass on its blunder and arbitrarily extending the deadline to file amended charges against Sandra Merritt hardly creates “an atmosphere of terrorism.” But back it up, just in that single sentence from the Tribunal. Does what Judge Hite did “destroy the feeling of legal security?” For Sandra Merritt, and anyone else in a similar legal situation, absolutely. Does it subject the individual citizen to the “arbitrary opinion of the judge?” You bet your sweet life it does. Because it does both of those things, it is also a “definite encroachment upon the rights of the individual citizen.”

And that, my friends, is the first step down the slippery slope toward tyranny.

So, you may not think it’s such a big deal that Judge Hite ruled based on the prosecution’s unprovable, and therefore extra-legal, intentions rather than its empirically observed actions, but most Germans didn’t think those early laws restricting Jewish participation in German civic life or that silly little loyalty oath for government employees were such big deals, either. They hardly imagined that ten years later Hitler would be sending Jews to the gas chamber by the millions, or inflicting total war conditions upon his own citizens. So, while they may not have agreed with those early actions, they let them slide. They kept silent and busied themselves with the everydayness of their lives. They didn’t notice the rug being pulled out from under them—it happened so gradually, they never felt the movement beneath their feet until the bombs falling all around them caused the earth itself to quake.

Will you allow their folly to inform your future?

 

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On Longings and Lies

 

 

At Mass this morning, a baby girl was sitting in the pew directly in front of me. She had wide, inquisitive eyes and dark, fuzzy hair that stood on end. Her carrier was turned in such a way that she was staring right at me throughout the first parts of the Mass, and every time I knelt, we were within inches of one another. I tried to ignore her, but she refused to allow it. Every time I looked away from her, she started to fuss. So we began to play games with our glances—I would roll my eyes about, and she would smile. And that would make me smile.

At the Offertory, her father took her out of the carrier. She stood facing me, gripping the back of the pew, and when the Sanctus came, and I once more knelt down, her tiny hands rested next to mine. Slowly, in that characteristic wobbly baby fashion, she reached out to grab my finger.

And that’s when a whimsical interaction turned into a heart-rending reality check. Because when those delicate fingers touched mine, what flashed through my mind was: This is what I threw away. This is what I destroyed. This is what will never be, not for me.

You see, I have two children. But they’re dead. And I never got a chance to hold their hands. They never even drew breath. Because I aborted them. And those are the two biggest mistakes of my entire life.

*             *             *

I was 16 when I got pregnant the first time. I was on the pill—actually, I was on the pill both times I got pregnant. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t get pregnant if you’re on the pill, because it’s a lie.

I knew I was pregnant at the moment of conception. I know it sounds crazy, but I felt the presence of another life like an epiphany—it was as clear to me as if someone had pranced into the room in a very grandiose fashion: Here I am! Look at me! And there she was. I know she was a girl the same way I knew I was pregnant. I can’t explain it. I just know.

And yet, I desperately wanted to be wrong. Even as I sat in my high school philosophy class feeling my body rearrange itself to make room for the budding life inside me, I clung to my shred of disbelief. I scribbled and passed a note to my best girlfriend: “Big problem, need help, meet me after school.”

She and I drove to the other side of town to buy a pregnancy test—we wanted to avoid being seen by anyone we knew. Then we went to the used book store where she worked and squeezed into the employee restroom to await the result. Neither of us said a word as we watched two undeniably pink lines appear in the rectangular window. We knew those lines were an equal sign with a whole mess of trouble on the tail end of the equation.

*             *             *

It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that I would have an abortion. Everyone in whom I confided my situation presumed that’s what I would do. Not a single person asked me if I wanted my baby, or suggested adoption as an alternative. They spoke about “the abortion” as if it were a reality already in existence, a decision already made: When are you getting the abortion? I bet you can’t wait to have the abortion. Don’t worry, you’ll feel better after the abortion.

This included the nurse at the Planned Parenthood clinic where I went for a second test, still hoping against hope that all other indicators had been somehow broken or misguided. After she told me I was most definitely pregnant, she launched into a speech she had clearly given many times before.

Of course, she said, I couldn’t even consider having my baby—and yes, she did use the term “baby.” My reputation, my hopes, my dreams, my goals, my whole future—they would all be ruined if I carried to term. And imagine the suffering of the poor child; it simply wasn’t fair to bring a baby into the world without reliable and adequate means of support and at my age. Imagine the shame and discrimination such a child would face, having a mother so young.

And besides, I was still a child myself, she said, patting my hand and giving me her best impression of a Glenda the Good Witch smile. She was my friend. She felt my pain. She knew what was best for me, certainly better than I—after all, she was an expert.

According to her, the best thing I could do, the only thing I could do, was terminate my pregnancy. By any means necessary. She even told me how to get around Oklahoma’s parental notification laws, referring me to a clinic in Dallas where they “put women’s interests first,” and consequently didn’t ask pesky questions about whether an out-of-state minor had parental permission for a surgical procedure.

My boyfriend and the father of my baby also assumed there would be an abortion. Not only did he not want this particular baby, he never wanted any children whatsoever. He seemed resentful, as if he were annoyed with me for getting pregnant. He called the clinic recommended by Planned Parenthood to find out how much they charged, and scraped together a couple of hundred dollars—his half of the cost—in a matter of days.

As soon as he’d given me his share of the money, he began to nag me about following through. Did you call the clinic today? Do you have the money yet? How are you going to get the money? When is your appointment? What are you waiting for?

I felt like I was being swept away by a pro-abortion tide. Amid all of that pressure and in the center of all of those projected opinions, I never stopped to ask for one of the most important opinions of all—my own. In that echo chamber of voices telling me to kill my baby, my own voice was drowned out, and, at any rate, didn’t seem to carry much weight. After all, who was I? Like the Planned Parenthood nurse said, I was just a kid without any means of support. And how could literally every person I talked to be wrong?

So I made the appointment. And I had the “procedure.” But it was not a cure for anything. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your dreams will be shattered unless you have an abortion, because it’s a lie. On the contrary, an abortion is the beginning of a life-long nightmare.

*             *             *

Two weeks after my seventeenth birthday, I married the father of my baby, the little girl I threw away. And about three years later, we got pregnant again. This time, things were both very different and exactly the same.

This time, I had no clue I was pregnant. There was no epiphany. Whereas my daughter made her entrance onto the stage of my life with a burst of light and great fanfare, my son tiptoed onstage, unnoticed by every other actor. I didn’t even realize he was a boy until after I’d shoved him into the orchestra pit.

Whereas I had spent the nights leading up to my first abortion tossing and turning, deep in apologetic internal dialog with the child I was about to discard, heavily conflicted about the so-called choice I was making, I initially felt no internal conflict whatsoever about my second abortion.

I still felt I had no choice—and my husband again contributed heavily to that feeling with his vocal determination to remain childless. But another influential factor was my own dissolute lifestyle in the months leading up to my discovery of the pregnancy. I had ingested countless teratogens in the form of various recreational drugs and alcohol, and was terrified that any baby that had been simmering in the cesspool of my womb for three months, as had been my son, would be born with horrible defects that would cause him a lifetime of suffering. The feelings of guilt engendered by that thought made me feel like a cornered alley cat—and having another abortion was my flailing effort to claw my way up the side of the building to escape the consequences of my own self-indulgent actions.

I made the appointment at the least expensive place I could find. I soon discovered the reason for the rock-bottom rate. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s possible to get a “quality abortion” at a bargain price, because it’s a lie. Firstly, there is no such thing as a “quality abortion,” and secondly, even with medically sanctioned murder, you get what you pay for.

It was obvious the minute I walked into the doctor’s office that she was really much more into the baby-delivering end of her practice than the baby-killing end.

The first clue was, every other woman in the waiting room was happily pregnant. They wore their baby bumps like badges of honor. Their faces radiated the joy of expectation. What must they think of me? I wondered as I sat down amongst them.

A beaming blonde leaned over. “When are you due?” she asked me.

I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t tell her, “I’m here to get rid of mine,” so I lied and instead said, “Oh, I’m here to find out.”

“How exciting!” She positively glowed with glee. I wanted to weep.

The second clue was, there were snapshots of the babies the doctor had delivered wallpapering every inch of that office. When I laid back on the cold metal table and put my feet in the stirrups, I discovered that even the ceiling was plastered in pictures. While the doctor brusquely tore away at my flesh (I was bedridden afterward for about two weeks), crushed the life of the tiny boy inside of me, and I cried out in abject pain, little toothless grins mocked me from above. Everything that could have been, but would never be, was right there in front of me, confronting and contemning me with joys I would never know.

I wanted to scream, “STOP! I want to keep him! Give him back to me!” but it was too late. My son was gone.

And every day since the deaths of my children, I have felt the two holes in my life where my son and daughter should be. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your life will be more complete after an abortion, because it’s a lie. It will feel like something is missing for the rest of your life.

*             *             *

There are very few people in my life who know about this part of my past—at least there were before today. It’s something about which I am deeply ashamed. Abortion is by far the worst thing I ever did—and I did it twice. It’s something I don’t merely regret, because “regret” is not a strong enough word to describe my feelings about what I did. I rue it. I lament it. I mourn it. Every single day. I have built intricate psychological cubicles in which to compartmentalize the crushing pain of it all, just to enable me to function on a day-to-day basis.

It is not my aim to give a political lecture, or to give statistics about the emotional, social, and psychological damage wrought by abortion—there are people who are already doing a much better job of that than I could ever do.

No, all I hope to do by telling my story is add my voice to the tragic chorus saying, “I did this, and it was horrible. I did this, and it was not a solution—all it did was create a larger problem that will never be solved, not in this lifetime. I did this, and I really wish I hadn’t. I did this, and I hope you won’t make the same mistake.” I’m telling my story with the hope that I might save even just one woman or girl the suffocating sorrow I have felt all these years—and that I will continue to feel until the day I die.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that bringing a new life into the world will close doors for you, because it’s a lie—the birth of something new always represents the opening of a door. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that destroying a life through abortion will open doors for you, or that it will help you realize greater fulfillment, because those, too, are lies—the biggest ones of all. Pushing your child off the stage of your life closes the door between the two of you, but it doesn’t sever the bond. And you can knock on that door ’til the end of time, you can pound on it ‘til your fists are bloody, but abortion seals that door shut. The only thing that provides some hope and eases the pain is seeking, and finding, the mercy and grace of God and the promise of a life to come. And yet, the void—the hollow space where your child should be—remains.

And inside that void, the longing whispers of what might have been will echo endlessly, inescapably, for the rest of your life.

 

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On Freedom

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” –John 8:32

 

 

There was a time not so terribly long ago that I did not believe in God and practiced no religion. I had various reasons that seemed compelling at the time—anyway, they’re not particularly relevant.

I believed my lack of faith gave me an abundance of freedom compared to all the strictured, structured religious people around whom I grew up, with all their rules and behavioral regulations. Indeed, I believed that hedonism was categorically liberating. So I indulged my impulses; if it felt good, I did it.

There was only one problem with my theory: it ruined my life.

At age 30, I found myself without a respectable job, significant family ties, a meaningful romantic partnership, coping skills, or a dime to my name. What I did have was a mile-high pile of debts and bills I couldn’t pay, a string of broken-off affairs with men I never would’ve considered marrying (some of whom were already married), two pregnancies but no children, and a tendency to seek chemical solutions to my problems. I also had a massive supply of prescription painkillers and other heavy-duty medications, so, as was my habit, I turned to them to solve what I came to consider my biggest problem of all—that of being alive.

In sum, I took over 500 pills. The hospital staff tasked with untangling the aftermath of my actions agreed that my survival was nothing shy of miraculous.

 

 

*             *             *

I now look back on that time as my period of enslavement.

I was enslaved to my impulses—it wasn’t a matter of choosing to indulge them, rather, I felt compelled to do so. When one doesn’t believe there is anything bigger, better, or more powerful than oneself, one deifies one’s own desires, and becomes addicted to one’s vices. If life begins and ends with my own experience of it, then my whims are imbued with the gravity of divine decrees; there are no apparent eternal consequences for indulging them, nor is there evidently anything more sublime to pursue in their place. Thereby, in rejecting God, one makes little gods of one’s vices and oneself.

At first, these gods seem benevolent. Take, for example, the tribute paid to lust in the form of a one-night-stand. When you exchange those first few glances with your quarry, everything is mystery, intrigue, and the challenge of the hunt. Your heart beats faster; your brain turns cartwheels scheming up potential plotlines. And when the deal’s been sealed, and you’re on your way to the rendezvous, you feel triumphant, as though you have captured a rare animal for your own private zoo. And your thoughts, still spinning, sound something like this: This time, I’m really going to let go and have fun. This time is going to be the best one yet.

And then, the transformation begins. This rare animal you believe you’ve captured is his own personal god with his own deified desires and his own private zoo. You can “let go” all you want, but you’ll never “have fun” the way you hope to, because you mean just as much to him as he means to you—precisely nothing—and he, like you, is only there to indulge his own impulses.

And when the episode is over and the lights come on, the metamorphosis from enticing intrigue to awkward silence and cold corporeality is complete, and permanent separation is the only thing that can mollify both parties. One-night-stands last only a single night because neither party is interested in seeing the other again after what has transpired. It stands to reason that it must not have been all that spectacular—it definitely falls pitifully short of the fantasy you envisioned after those first exchanged glances.

And that is the god of lust showing its true, very ugly face. Rest assured, those hideous features run in the family—all of its brother and sister gods are equally grotesque.

 

 

*             *             *

People, even non-Christians (especially them, it sometimes seems), are terribly fond of quoting the scripture cited at the outset of this piece. We live in a time wherein truth as a concept has ceased to be defined as something binary, or even a binary thing qualified by degrees. Instead, “truth” has been re-defined as something relative—a thing about which it is perfectly valid to say, “You live your truth and I’ll live mine,” a statement that would have been considered harebrained jibberish not so very long ago.

In a time such as this, “The truth will set you free,” is a very handy quote to bandy about when one is attempting to validate, even glorify, addiction to his/her vices. One example of this is the LGBTQ community’s adoption of the pop song “Truth Will Set U Free” as a “pride” anthem.

The people who use this quote in such a manner are making the same mistake I did—they are defining “freedom” as the ability to act on every impulse, and indulge every whim. But is this the true face of freedom?

Dictionary.com provides five definitions of “freedom” that are relevant to this conversation:

  1. the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint
  2. the power to determine action without restraint.
  3. personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery
  4. the absence of or release from ties, obligations, etc.
  5. exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.

None of those definitions apply to the kind of “freedom” pursued by most people in today’s world—the same fraudulent freedom I once followed with a focused, fiery passion that wound up burning not only me, but many unfortunates who crossed my path.

The first and third definitions initially sound fitting but, having once been imprisoned by vice, I can assure you, they aren’t. One who has deified desire may not wear visible shackles, but he/she is nonetheless bound.

When one knows no higher good than the fleeting pleasure provided by the senses, one is enslaved to the wants thereof. When one knows life is short, is convinced nothingness is all that awaits after death, and believes that pleasure is the meaning of the brief one-act play one believes life to be, one feels one must seize every opportunity to appease one’s senses, and experiences a sense of hollow failure at every missed opportunity to do so. Such an existence is certainly one of confinement—confinement within one’s own cycle of wanton vice, followed by empty despair.

 

 

And such an existence fails to match definitions two and four for the same reasons; addiction to vice inhibits one’s decision-making ability and obligates one to serve the vices to which one is addicted. Just as a junkie is essentially a robot programmed with one function—to seek and ingest drugs—one whose sole ambition is the pursuit of sensual pleasure is also a monofunctional entity, constrained by an obligation to gratify one’s impulses. Although that person is theoretically free to choose self-control and self-denial, doing so would be perfectly contrary to that person’s modus vivendi, and would seem absurd to him or her.

Definition number five is disqualified in much the same manner. When one is addicted to vice, that vice and the activities and people involved in the pursuit thereof run the show. For example, if one is addicted to drugs, the drugs, and the endless tail-chasing game of trying to obtain one’s next fix, are in charge. If one is addicted to lust, the tools of that vice—be they pornography and/or other commercialized sex, extramarital or premarital partners, etc.—dictate the parameters of the addict’s choices and actions. For someone addicted to greed, the means of accumulating wealth—a lucrative job, a wealthy potential mate, the ups and downs of the stock market, etc.—direct the movie of that person’s life.

No, the type of “freedom” championed by virtually every facet of contemporary culture is nothing more than a glittering, brightly colored, heavily perfumed, exorbitantly expensive set of handcuffs.

Luckily for us, a key to those handcuffs does exist. And it’s the same key that unlocks the doors to true freedom.

*             *             *

So, what does true freedom look like? Well, all those people so quick to quote the 32nd verse of John 8 would do well to read it in context (quoted from the Douay-Rheims—emphasis added):

 

31 Then Jesus said to those Jews, who believed him: If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed.

32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

33 They answered him: We are the seed of Abraham, and we have never been slaves to any man: how sayest thou: you shall be free?

34 Jesus answered them: Amen, amen I say unto you: that whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin.

35 Now the servant abideth not in the house for ever; but the son abideth for ever.

36 If therefore the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.

 

Obviously, verse 32 is not some blanket authorization for an anything-goes, I’m-okay-you’re-okay approach to life. Quite the contrary—two verses later we’re warned that sin enslaves. And, far from the free-to-be-you-and-me-style, relativistic, tripe-tinged slogan into which it has been misshapen, verse 32 is an assurance that if we follow the teachings of Christ, we will be made free. Not if we “follow our hearts,” or “live authentically,” or “live our truths.” No, this warranty only covers folks who are trying to sync their heartbeats with that of the Sacred Heart, and are living authentically Christian lives according to His truth—which, after all, is the only Truth.

 

 

I can hear my twenty-something self—someone steeped in the modern mindset and a product of contemporary morality—instantly object to that last statement: “But that’s not freedom! That’s the tyranny of conformity, and repression via behavioral regulation.”

This is what I would say to my former self:

Before I became Catholic, I was a prisoner of fear and despair. Feeding my vices necessitated a lifestyle that prevented me from building any kind of security—be it financial, emotional, interpersonal, or spiritual. That led to many sleepless nights spent either worrying about how I was going to pay the bills, or crying myself sick over the profound sense of emptiness which lurked around every psychological corner, threatening to engulf me.

All of that changed the very first day I followed through on my desire to go to Mass. That night I slept like a baby. And I have just about every night since. I call that freedom—freedom from worry, freedom from despair.

Before I became Catholic, I was a prisoner of anger and heartbreak. I was bitter and brokenhearted about all of the injustice and cruelty in the world, and the fact that nothing ever seemed to be done about it. And I felt helpless in the face of it all, which only served to feed those feelings of melancholy and rage. I was trapped in a vicious cycle.

That changed when I learned the reason why injustice and cruelty exist, that they are temporary, and that I can do something about them through offering up my suffering and prayer. This empowered me to break that vicious cycle. I call that freedom.

Before I became Catholic, I was a prisoner of isolation and alienation. I felt detached from the people around me, as I seemed to have little in common with them, and did not sense any deeper spiritual connection with them. I felt profoundly lonely, but I didn’t know how to change it.

Coming into the Church provided me with an instant spiritual family and a community of people whom I could love and be loved by. Learning about the Communion of Saints showed me I was wrong about feeling disconnected, opening my eyes to the very real spiritual bonds between us all. It showed me I need never feel lonely again, because I never will be, and never have been, alone. I call that freedom—freedom from the oppression of isolation.

Before I became Catholic, I was a prisoner of my vices. I saw no reason not to indulge them—indeed, I felt obliged to do so—because I viewed this life as the main event rather than the opening act, and did not know of anything more meaningful than simple sensual pleasure. The pursuit of that pleasure led me to personal ruin, and caused significant harm to many people caught in the wake of my careening voyage. I was miserable, but I didn’t know any other way to live—I didn’t know the secret of happiness, so I was a slave to sorrow.

The Church explained the true meaning of free will, the existence of a life to come, and the joy that comes from following the path we were created to travel. I learned that free will is not just about being at liberty to do as one pleases; it’s about analyzing the consequences and potential benefits of all options in light of not only one’s personal needs and wants, but those of all involved parties as well, and making informed decisions with those factors in mind. It’s about avoiding mistakes, but having the safety net of God’s mercy to catch us when we stumble, and reinstate us when and if we have the humility to admit fault and the resolve to repent. It’s about choosing the greatest good for the most people rather than selfish fleeting pleasures—not by force, but because, as a person of conscience, that’s actually the choice that provides more lasting satisfaction. It’s about aiming high for the afterlife, rather than below the belt for the present life. And yes, it’s about having the freedom to choose not to do any of those things, but knowing that there will be eternal consequences for that choice.

I call that freedom.

And that is the truth that sets men free. At least, it’s a small part thereof. It’s not about confessing some tawdry misdeed or personal predilection, then using that to justify a life of iniquity. The former, although factually true, is not Truth, and the latter is not freedom, not really.

Having traversed the path from fraudulent freedom into the legitimate liberation only Our Lord can provide, I hope that all my former shipmates successfully make the journey, too. Please join me in praying for them—it’s something they desperately need, and will not do for themselves.

“Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy…”

 

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Eeny Meeny Miney Mosey – How Relativism and Intellectual Sloth Crippled a Generation

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This September, I will celebrate my 20th work anniversary as a nanny. Over my two decades in childcare, I’ve managed to figure out which child-rearing styles work, and which don’t, by observing both immediate and long-term results. I have also had the chance to witness the ways in which cultural trends influence parenting choices.

My conclusions? Let’s just say the prognosis is troubling. One need look no further than one’s local college campus for evidence.

Consider, for example, the phrases “micro-aggression,” “trigger warning,” and “safe space.” They are now common parlance on university campuses all over the nation, and they are far more insidious than they at first appear. They are part of a package of terminology that is the first-born ideological child of the Millennial generation, and their purpose is to protect said generation’s fragile-as-a-snowflake feelings from any thought, word, or deed which might offend them, or simply cause slight discomfort.

Do you remember the fairy tale about the princess and the pea? It’s kind of like that. Think of this generation as the princess, and their manufactured phraseology as the mountain of mattresses designed to protect them from the pesky, picayune pea of opposing opinions and points-of-view.

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A “micro-aggression” is a statement or action that is not overtly hostile or ill-intended, but which might (often by far-fetched extrapolation) have some hidden and/or misconstrued meaning that could ruffle a few feathers. For example, asking a pregnant woman anything related to the child inside her is a “micro-aggression,” because she may not plan to keep that child, and talking about it may give her the baby blues. Essentially, a “micro-aggressor” is a parade-rainer.

“Micro-aggressions” are to be meticulously avoided, but if one cannot find any other way to communicate one’s point, he or she should first issue a “trigger warning.” This is a kind of heads-up that something potentially offensive/uncomfortable is about to be said or done – in other words, it’s an announcement that the Sunshine and Lollipops Show is taking a commercial break.

A “safe space” is a place wherein no “micro-aggressions” are allowed (and, hence, I suppose, no “trigger warnings” are necessary). I imagine the ideal “safe space” to be a sort of sparkly la-la-land where “Kumbaya” plays on an endless loop, and everybody is ego-secure, perfectly affirmed in their beliefs and emotions, and barefoot (because nobody ever steps on anyone else’s toes).

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Does this sound crazy and completely unrealistic to you? Well, brace yourself, because universities all over the nation are scrambling to transform their campuses into “safe spaces.” Dissenters are routinely sued, publicly humiliated, demoted, and/or fired. And there’s no end in sight. It might have come 30 years later than he predicted, but George Orwell’s dystopian vision is starting to take shape right here on American soil.

So what brought us to this decidedly un-pretty pass? For me, there’s no mystery whatsoever, because I have been watching this drama unfold since back when the Millennials’ must-have accessory was manufactured by Huggies.

If you want to understand why they are behaving so cartoonishly, just put yourself in their shoes and time-travel back to childhood. You’re a toddler, and it’s the late 1990’s. On a regular basis—and in a sugary sing-song voice, no less—you are told that you can do and be anything you want. Get used to it, because this is going to go on for the duration.

And speaking of anything you want, that’s pretty much what you’re given; every time you cry, mommy, or daddy, or miscellaneous alternative parental unit, rushes to give you whatever it is you’re hankering for, because they are supremely anxious to turn off the tears and turn on the smiles. And if they put up any resistance, you just cry louder, kick harder, make a scene in the department store – whatever the situation calls for – until they give in. Yep, you have them wrapped around your finger; you’ve been the real head of the household since before you could talk.

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At school, you never lose a race, or fail a test, or write a lousy essay – because nobody’s allowed to lose or fail. Instead, you get a ribbon for participation when you come in last, a happy-faced star for completing the assignment, and a compliment from your teacher on your “conversational” writing style. When your grades (if you go to one of those really backward schools that still uses such a barbaric system of judgment) are so atrocious that you really should be held back a year, you are passed on anyway, because being older than your peers might make you feel awkward.

Heaven forbid!

In short, your skin has never been allowed to grow thicker as a result of the occasional scrape across a bump on the road of life, because the adults in your world have made their hair gray anticipating those bumps, and putting up detour signs directing you down smooth, pothole-free paths. What’s more, they have lined up along the roadside to cheer like you just cured cancer every time you pick your nose. In fact, stroking your ego – they call it “building your self-esteem” – has been the primary goal of the adults who care for you.

Are you starting to get the picture?

Fast-forward back to the present. We are now stuck with a generation of young people that have never had to pick themselves up after a fall, self-soothe after emotional trauma (including the micro-traumas caused by “micro-aggressions”), or mine a failure for learning experience to help shape tomorrow’s success. Nor have they ever had to work for rewards – all they have had to do in order to be showered with trophies, and ribbons, and awards is get out of bed and show up to events with their clothes on – although out here in San Francisco, there are lots of folks working really hard to do away with the latter criterion.

Since no one has ever taught them how to cope with the stress of life’s inevitable problems, we shouldn’t be surprised that Millennials are behaving as if they are psychologically and emotionally incompetent. That’s exactly the problem. They are like untethered, helium-filled balloons being batted about by gusts of wind; their massive heads are fully inflated by overstuffed egos, but they have no practical, experience-built muscle to anchor them and prevent them from getting carried away by the frenzied tide of the academic ideology du jour. And the first big storm they encounter is going to completely blow them away.

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It’s tempting to point the finger at the parents and teachers (and nannies) who raised this generation, but the problem goes back further than that, and is much more panoramic in scope. The parenting style that produced this pretentious, emotionally fragile, experientially bankrupt, and functionally inept generation was, and is, a product of the culture at large.

A culture built upon the premise that all beliefs, opinions, and perceptions of reality are equally valid leads naturally and inevitably to the death of analytical inquiry; if there is no objective truth, then there is no need to think things through in order to tease it out. In such an environment, critical thinking becomes a revolutionary, even heretical act, because it implies that the nature of truth is binary – i.e., ideas and beliefs are either true or false, end of story –  rather than some sort of amorphous, all-inclusive spectrum.

In this kind of culture, one may invent one’s own definition of truth by picking and choosing in eeny-meeny-miney-mo fashion the concepts and precepts which produce warm-and-fuzzy feelings, rather than the ones which are logical and supported by verifiable evidence; and one is highly unlikely to analyze the validity of this concocted hodge-podge moral code, since acedia is the status quo, and rocking the boat is frowned upon.

These circumstances lead naturally to the everyone-gets-a-ribbon method of child-rearing; after all, everything and everyone is exactly equal. Nobody can be an exceptional achiever, because that would imply he or she has a gift more valuable than others’ abilities in that area. Furthermore, since we can define truth and reality any which way we please, we are free to re-define losing as merely a different kind of winning, failure as an alternative form of success.

A culture that enshrines the pursuit of “feeling good” and the indulgence of impulse leads naturally to a child-rearing style that prioritizes self-esteem above everything else, and demonizes hurt feelings and emotional discomfort; if a fleeting, ephemeral feeling of well-being is the true basis for and meaning of happiness, it must be pursued at any cost, and anything which interferes is, by definition, bad and/or wrong.

A culture which has replaced the pursuit of God with the pursuit of material goods leads naturally to a child-rearing style that emphasizes material solutions to emotional/psychological pain – because what good is prayer as a solution to distress if no one is listening on the other end? And besides, isn’t it easier to guzzle a few cocktails, or go on a shopping spree, than it is to relinquish control to God and wait for a resolution according to His timeline? Giving a child a cookie or buying it a new toy in order to stop its crying is merely the pee-wee version of the same philosophy.

A culture which has substituted worldly success for an eternity with Our Lord as the ultimate goal of life leads naturally to a child-rearing style that anathemizes setbacks and failure; after all, if this life is not just the opening act, but, rather, the main event, then one can only define and evaluate oneself by means of one’s achievements in the eyes of the world; to fail by its standards is to fail as a human being.

A culture that has re-written, or erased entirely, the history of salvation, and has therefore robbed suffering of its redemptive meaning, leads naturally to a child-rearing style that white-washes weakness and avoids anything and everything that might cause difficulty, discomfort, or disquietude; if nothing can be gained or achieved through suffering and struggle, then of course every means available should be utilized to snuff it out.

And, lastly, a culture which has become intellectually and morally lazy, which has ceased to question its own assumptions, stopped policing its own behavior according to time-honored definitions of right and wrong, and stopped thinking critically about its own underpinnings, is doomed to prance down the yellow brick road of fallacy, through the poppy field of delusion, and right off the side of a cliff.

Perhaps this sounds a bit doom-and-gloom to you. Well, just think ahead a couple of decades, and imagine what things will be like when the hurt-feelings generation is running the show, and gets down to the business of turning your space into their “safe space.” And, as if that thought isn’t frightening enough, be aware of this: the parenting style that produced the “don’t-micro-agress-against-my-triggers-or-I’ll-sue-you” generation is still the primary method being employed today.

It’s going to be a long haul, folks. Fasten your safety belts and cling to Holy Mother Church, because that is the only true safe space on Earth. And if you have children, let them skin their knees from time to time, and for heaven’s sake, never give them a trophy just for showing up.

 

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