Isolation: Week Two

You know it, I know it: I was never going to last long at daily blogging. But maybe I can do weekly entries about our lives during this time of coronavirus isolation? It’s clear now, anyway, that we should be measuring this pandemic in weeks, even months – not days.

That first week, the one I already blogged about, felt like a week for shock. Shock at what we were beginning, shock at how swiftly our lives had changed, a million little shocks to the system as we tried to adjust to our new reality.

Last week, Week Two, was for me a week of mourning. It was slow, low, gloomy, and gray.

I mourned over the deaths I was hearing about in the news, the job losses, the families separated by illness and worry. I mourned over the smaller things that feel huge to those experiencing them: high school seniors unable to experience the proms and games and graduations they’d been working toward, college seniors unsure whether they’ll ever see their classmates again, new parents unable to share their tiny babies with the grandparents and aunts and friends who love them.

I couldn’t focus much on home or schooling or writing. I seemed to trip over myself and everyone around me. I wanted to be alone and I wanted to scoop up my children to hold them close. All at once.

Wednesday and Thursday evenings, I took my boys for walks. The older two went with me one night, the youngest the other.

The first evening was gloomy and misty. We snuck out while Brennan made dinner and gave the three littles a bath. (Winner = Julie.) It was the first time the boys had been away from our property in twelve days. Walking along a hilly path, the nine-year-old spun in a circle and said, “I feel so free!”

We walked past each of the boys’ schools and the eight-year-old got to peek into his classroom window. He felt strange, looking into it after so long. I felt strange, watching my son look into the window of a classroom he’s not allowed to enter.

Thursday evening was a little brighter, lit up gold in the sunset. My littlest guy smiled broadly, looking around him in excitement. I peeked into windows as we walked neighborhood streets, wondering what those homes are like right now, with their inhabitants stuck inside just as we are.

Everything was so quiet in town: the schools, the sports fields, the walking paths, the streets. We hardly saw any cars on our walks, let alone pedestrians. It was hard to process just how empty and strange things felt.

By the end of the week, it was clear that our two-week period of no school would be extended significantly. We learned that the kids would be home at least another four weeks. We understood that they might not go back at all.

Over the weekend my husband finished a project he’s been working on for some time: building the two big boys a bunkbed. He got it all set up for them – a big, solid, hulking thing made possible by months of hard work. Hours upon hours of thinking and planning, sawing and sanding, priming and painting. The boys were thrilled, climbing up and down the ladder, arranging their favorite stuffed animals just the way they liked.

It felt like something of an antidote to the week. Here, before us, was the fruit of all that hard work, all that time, all that mess. We’d come to the other side of a project that had monopolized our garage and our foyer and Daddy’s attention.

It’s nice to see a result when you’re sunk in the drudgery of process. It’s nice to be reminded that things pass, that stages can be finite. And it’s nice to see something built up at home when you know you’re not going anywhere else for a good, long while.

(To report on the little things too: We kept up with our bare-minimum homework routine and missed several days of online daily Mass. Things will have to pick up next week when remote learning begins!)

Isolation: Days 6-9

Apparently there’s a limit to how many nights in a row I can stay up late writing blog posts, even with the opportunity to sleep in every day. (That limit seems to have been five.) But now I’ve had a few decent nights of sleep and I’m back for more.

By the end of last week I was feeling pretty burnt out. There had been too much stress, too much noise, too much uncertainty, too little time to myself, and way, way too little laundry accomplished. So I asked Brennan (who’s normally tied up on the weekends with home improvement projects) if he’d mind the kids on Saturday so I could get caught up on things upstairs.

God bless the man, he took charge of the kids all weekend, which gave me the opportunity to bring our second floor from “unmitigated disaster” status all the way up to “needs attention.”

Let me tell you, it feels pretty darned great to be able to stand comfortably in front of my dresser, open its drawers without anything getting in the way, and pull out neatly folded clothing. I can even see the top of the thing! Amazing.

I got through several loads of laundry, that overgrown dresser, and a couple of beds that sorely needed changing. Brennan cooked a bunch of delicious meals, winning him heaps of praise from overexcited children (“I don’t like this food Daddy, I LOVE IT.”) They liked his cooking so much, they drew a picture of a trophy, cut it out, and taped it to the wall. (Have these children ever awarded their mother a trophy for her cooking? No, they have not.)

As far as I’m concerned, Daddy’s just won himself the honor of cooking dinner every night.

Sunday morning the seven of us cuddled up on the sofa to watch our pastor’s Mass on Facebook Live. It was a little hard to hear, but pretty wonderful to see that familiar place and a few familiar faces. I was kind of emotional about it.

That evening I needed a break from home, so I took a solitary walk through town. It was cool and empty and sad. Shops were closed, restaurants were either closed or converted to carryout, and I saw a grand total of two individuals outside their vehicles. We stayed away from each other.

Before long I ended up at my aunt’s house, where she and my cousin and I caught up a bit, standing at safe distances in the front yard.

I am a social person. As much as I love a little alone time, I get great joy from interacting with people, even the strangers I encounter out-and-about in the world.

I just love people.

And my kids love people. When my oldest was a toddler I used to race to the front door as soon as I realized we were about to get a delivery. I’d try to open the door before the deliveryman could ring the bell, because if my boy heard it ring, he’d race to the window and beg the man to stay.

But now it all feels different. Yesterday another deliveryman brought us a package and I tensed up when my three youngest kids ran outside to greet him. “Stay away!” I wanted to scream to them.

What a time we’re living in, when we grow unused to seeing any faces but those under our own roof. What a time, when we miss seeing people in stores and on sidewalks, when the friendly deliveryman makes us nervous.

This new lifestyle has required quite a mental shift to adapt to. I think it will be similarly difficult when we emerge.

(Regarding schoolwork, so far we’ve just been sort of limping along – the boys have done the bare minimum of the homework they’ve been assigned. But today we finally got a computer up and running for them and I finally finished moving some things around to create a dedicated area for schoolwork. So tomorrow! Tomorrow we’ll be more ambitious, right?)

Isolation: Day 5

I was less than a mile from the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was sitting at my desk in a block of office buildings chock full of military and civilian federal workers. My colleagues across the office felt the boom of the airplane’s impact; we all smelled the smoke. I’ve written about it before.

Later that day, and in the days immediately following the attack, the thing that most struck me was that wherever you went, people were thinking about the same thing. Going down the elevator, walking through the halls, sitting on the Metro, driving the back roads toward home – you knew that everyone around you was thinking about the attack and wondering whether it was over.

That’s how I feel now. I’m struck by the fact that pretty much everyone you encounter – in person, on the phone, online – is thinking about the coronavirus pandemic and its extraordinary impact on our everyday lives. And we all know that it’s just begun.

Like last time, it’s the weight of that shared experience that gets me. Events have got to be super, crazy bad to dominate everybody’s attention at once.

I may be a worrier, but I don’t usually struggle much with anxiety. I have a tendency to think things will turn out well in the end. Maybe I’m an optimistic worrier.

But this thing? It feels heavy. And though I know we’ll someday get past it, I also know there will be plenty of people for whom it will not end well. Who will get sick? Who will we lose? Which businesses won’t reopen? Whose job won’t come back?

This morning, like much of this week, I was a little aimless in my gloom. I was distracted and the kids were fighting. One was screaming her pretty little head off. She was being left out. (But she was also being a pill, and it was hard to see which came first – the being left out or the being a pill.)

I couldn’t muster any words to comfort her. But it did occur to me that a change of scenery might do her some good. So I whispered for her to put on her rain boots and sneak outside with me. “Shh! Don’t tell anyone. Let’s go find some flowers to cut.” It was drizzling; she grabbed her umbrella.

A few steps out the house and my girl’s entire demeanor changed. She quieted. She smiled. She put up that umbrella and walked slowly and looked around in wonder. We found some flowers; she twirled her pink, polka-dotted umbrella.

It was magic.

And soon enough, her siblings caught on. One by one, children appeared outside with umbrellas in-hand. Soon they were marching around the yard together, a funny little springtime parade.

I pulled a chair out of the garage and sat there for a while, staring at them. How wonderful that even when all the adults everywhere are thinking about the same horrible thing, children can still be caught up in raindrops and umbrellas.

(That rainy-morning romp was one highlight of today. Another was our shared viewing of daily Mass. This time everybody seemed to want to be close; five or six of us clustered together on the sofa for most of it. I’m really pleased, so far, with how the kids are reacting to this new practice. Besides Mass, the kids watched the daily program from the Cincinnati Zoo. They drew, they wrote, and the two bigs did a little homework. I need to get better about doing schoolwork with the Kindergartner – and next week I think I’ll need to be a little more diligent about homework, generally. It would be good for us on a number of levels.)

Isolation: Day 4

A week ago today, Thursday the 12th of March, is the day I felt everything change.

I’d been following news regarding the coronavirus since January. I knew it had the potential to be bad for everybody – not just the people of Wuhan – when I saw the measures the Chinese government took to contain it.

A virus that shuts down a whole region within days of its leap to humanity – that’s a virus to be reckoned with.

And a virus with access to people who step onto airplanes – that’s a virus with the potential to affect the world.

At first, I simply read and listened and prayed. My concern was mild; my prayers were directed outward, for the benefit of those far away across the world.

But as the coronavirus began to leap China’s borders and spread to new continents, my concern became more acute. This thing could become personal.

In mid-February I stocked up our freezer and pantry. I bought paper goods. I thought about what I’d need to keep our household running for a month without opportunities to replenish.

I didn’t tell anyone I did it. I couldn’t tell whether I was being responsible or lavish. I was worried, but I’m a news junkie – I’m used to being worried. How relevant would the coronavirus ultimately be to my day-to-day life?

A few weeks later – that Thursday – it dawned on me that I had actually been thinking too small. I’d prepared in order to make myself feel better. I hadn’t expected to need it.

I went to bed on the 11th nervous, anxious, wondering how bad this might get. I felt like we Americans weren’t taking the virus seriously enough and that we wouldn’t begin to do so until President Trump did.

And then I woke up on the 12th to the news that Trump had shifted his tone. His supporters had permission to worry. From then on, everything moved quickly. Texts and emails and rumors were flying. By the end of the day we learned that our kids would be home from school for the next two weeks.

Every day since seems to have contained a month’s worth of news: shortages, telework, cancelation of public Masses, financial markets diving, business closures, changes to public transport, emergency actions taken by officials at all levels of government.

In a week we’ve gone from freedom to restriction, from plenty to scarcity, from opportunity to threat. Or at least it feels that way.

Maybe this seems dramatic. But this week has been dramatic. And I think it’s important to say so, for the record. Most of us have never lived through a period of such swift and extreme change. Please Lord, may we never have to again.

(Not much to report here at home today. We stayed inside. I lagged. All our meals were late and I barely kept up with essentials. But we watched Mass together and I talked to some relatives on the phone and the kids were good and helpful and pretty diligent about their homework. They didn’t even fight that much. I’ll take it!)

Isolation: Day 3

Digging through my (long-neglected) filing cabinet the other day, I came across an old paper from my freshman year of college. It was a homemade certificate, evidently awarded to me by my dorm-mates. The honor? Apparently, I was “the ‘if you need it, she’s got it’ girl.”

I don’t remember receiving the certificate, but I wasn’t surprised to read it. Yes, if there’s something College Julie would be recognized for, it would be the ability to search through her stuff to find things for people. Later, my college friends dubbed me “Mama Julie.” I think I must have had the mom purse packed with every possible necessity a good ten years before my first child was born.

That clean-line-loving, paint-everything-white, purge-it-all minimalist who’s so popular these days? I am not her.

There’s something in me that finds comfort in having stuff around. I like the warmth and coziness that comes from being surrounded by a few too many things. I’m not talking about expensive things or fancy things; I’m talking about that afghan from my grandmother’s house. I’m talking about those solid wood chairs that nobody else wanted, that bowl engraved for my great-grandparents’ anniversary, those mason jars that are sure to come in handy someday.

I hate to throw away anything that could be useful. I like to be able to dig into my drawers and find colored pencils and birthday cards and old, empty journals tucked away for moments like this.

I used to say that I had a bit of the Great Depression in me. I have always had the bogeyman of scarcity in the back of my mind. It is in my nature to squirrel away stuff and information in preparation for a leaner time.

I thought of that line today – “a bit of the Great Depression” – as I listened to my favorite newsy podcasts. They said that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic could be so severe that the unemployment rate reaches twenty percent. That’s Great Depression-level unemployment there.

The thought jived with my anxiety about finding milk for my kids and watching grocery store shelves emptying, quickly and repeatedly. It fit with my worry over my husband’s job. It brought up my usually-unacknowledged concern about whether we made the right decision to rely on a single income.

In all likelihood, my family will be fine. We are more secure than most. But watching the swift decline our country (and the world) has suffered in recent weeks, I am increasingly nervous about what we’re beginning.

And I’m thinking that maybe we could all do with a bit more of the “Great Depression” mindset. I’ve been thinking harder about what my family consumes and what we waste. We’ve been so wasteful, especially when it comes to food. This week I’ve been paying closer attention, looking for efficiencies, strategizing on how to be a better steward of our resources.

Today I made a big, hearty Guinness beef stew. I served it over mashed potatoes and I baked a soda bread to go with it. The work felt right and good. There’s something about feeding people – about providing for that most basic need. It’s tangible. It’s essential. It’s universal.

Assuming this thing goes on for a while (and it sure looks like it will be going on for a while), I’ve got a lot to think about. I suppose a global emergency has a way of refocusing your priorities, doesn’t it?

(On a more mundane level, today I’ll report that the kids and I all watched Mass together, the big boys did some homework, the girls napped while the boys played outside, and I accomplished some laundry/dishes/cooking. Oh, and my kitchen looks far worse tonight than when I woke up this morning. C’est la vie!)

Isolation – Day 2

Today was stressful. Because of the mundane things – the spilled glass of water, the recipe not looked at closely enough, the orthodontic device that decided to detach on the very day the orthodontist’s office closed for two weeks.

But today was also stressful because the enormity of our situation finally caught up with me.

This morning my cousin came to babysit so I could run to the grocery store. I felt guilty bringing someone into our home – I’m trying to take this isolation thing to heart – but I figured it was probably better for humanity to have one adult come into my home than to bring five touchy-feely children into a public space.

Last night when my husband tried the grocery store after work, the milk was pretty much gone.

I’ve never had to worry about not being able to find milk before. But now I did, and I was anxious. Getting up, getting ready, getting on the road – the only thing I could think about was getting that milk. Then there was an almost total lack of traffic – 8 AM Sunday traffic at 9 AM on a Tuesday – and my anxiety mounted.

Later, (back home with my milk, thank goodness) the enormity of what we are facing began to unravel within me. I felt unmoored.

Homework packets be damned. I wasn’t going to worry about that today, on top of everything else. Instead I rushed the girls to naps and the boys outside. I needed to be alone. I needed to restore a little order to my surroundings. I needed to feel like I was in control of something.

Ultimately, I gave up on my complicated, Irish-themed dinner plans and just set the box of Hungry Jack on the counter. Green pancakes it would be.

Then in the early evening, thank goodness, I did the best thing I could in the moment: I went outside. I let two eager little girls lead me out the door and show me the wonder of grass and rocks, of flowers growing where they were never planted. We explored, we marveled, we breathed the fresh, clean air.

Today the boys wrote in their journals again, but did pretty much nothing else of conventional value. And I am completely fine with that. Today was a day for mourning. Tomorrow is a new day. Maybe it will be for getting a grip on this new way of living.

P.S. For the record, I’ve got to share that the kids had Lucky Charms cereal for breakfast this morning as a special St. Patrick’s Day treat. They were super, amusingly excited to try it. It was a joy to watch.

Isolation – Day 1

This afternoon I handed each of my boys a journal and told them that they’re entering a remarkable time – a time that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. I told them how unusual it was for a story like this to be lived by so many people all over the world. Millions upon millions of children home from school, millions upon millions of people confined to their homes, millions upon millions of people worried about the same thing.

I told my boys that when they’re adults they’ll want to look back on what their child-selves thought of this time, and so I directed each to write one journal entry per day. I told the fourth grader to write a page, the second grader to write at least a paragraph, and the Kindergartener to write a sentence. I suggested they might want to sketch some pictures too.

I told them they could write about anything they wanted – what they do here at home while we’re isolated, what they think about what’s going on in the world, what they fear, what questions they have. The boys were excited at the prospect; each set straight to work.

I picked up an old, mostly unused journal of mine and thought of doing the same. But I write better on a keyboard. And anyway, if I’m going to spend time writing up my own thoughts on this remarkable time we’re in, perhaps I ought to share them on the blog. So here we are.

I plan to share a bit here each evening, telling about my day and my own thoughts, fears, and questions. I want to have this record to look back on when (God-willing) these weeks are a distant, dull memory. And who knows – maybe you’d like to have a peek at them too.

For that record, I must note that today, our kids’ first day off from school (and therefore my Day 1), we did decently well. I baked banana bread and pear bread, fed the kids, did two loads of dishes and two loads of laundry, read stories to little ones, guided the five-year-old through some homework, put two children down for naps (one of them multiple times), talked to my grandparents on the phone, made a grocery list, and prepped food for tomorrow.

The kids watched a movie, played with Legos and Lincoln Logs and puzzles, drew, read, did schoolwork, and wrote in their journals. They enjoyed a lunchtime Doodle date with Mo Willems. They played outside for hours. (And they fought too – I won’t deny it.)

They did not play on their tablets, because they lost that privilege the day before by waking their sister from her nap. (A certain Mama might have told one of her boys that she would lose her mind if the girls didn’t nap in these weeks while the boys are home from school. A new rule was instituted: If one wakes a napping child, no one gets his tablet for two days.)

But we (the boys and I) also watched daily Mass together, and that was wonderful. Our archbishop has canceled all public Masses in our Archdiocese, so yesterday (a Sunday) felt strange, and strangely empty. While watching a livestreamed Mass said by our archbishop, however, it occurred to me that if we can’t attend Mass once a week in the flesh, maybe we could attend every day online. And maybe it might be fun to check out different online Masses, celebrated by different priests in different places. Today we watched a Mass said by Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. We’ll see where tomorrow takes us!

Okay, that’s more than enough for tonight. Tomorrow, when I don’t have to intro this whole thing, I hope to get to some deeper thoughts on what we’re all facing.

Good night!

The Elephant in the Room

What to do about the elephant in the room?

I read the news every day. I listen to a ridiculous number of political podcasts and radio programs. I have a near-continuous loop of political commentary running through my brain. And yet since President Trump was elected, I have published almost nothing about him.

There has just been so much – so much to take in, so much to feel, so much to say – that I have had no earthly idea what to do with it all. I’ve had no idea where to begin. The thing feels like a web, a many-legged creature, a patch of brambles on the edge of a wood.

But if one is to write on the issues of the day, one had better well be prepared to take on those elephants.

So I am giving up any notion of addressing this webbish, many-legged, bramble of a subject with anything like adequacy. I am just trying to pare down my thoughts enough to say something.

To put it most plainly: I am grateful for the impeachment inquiry.

I am a conservative. (I’m even technically still a Republican.) I know of no Democratic candidate that I could vote for in good conscience. And yet I feel no loyalty whatsoever to President Trump, to the Republican party, or to their narrative.

What I care about in all of this – in all this intrigue, in all this talk of corruption – is not a person or a party. I care about the Constitution. I care about the rule of law. I care about ethics and integrity and the public trust.

I care about light.

I believe that democracies can only function properly if citizens, regularly and resolutely, shine light on their governments’ inner workings. I believe that credible allegations of corruption should always be investigated. I believe that office-holders (including and especially the president) should be as accountable to the law as anyone else.

I believe that innocent people do not fear the light.

I also care about norms.

Our nation is not held together by magic. It’s not even held together by blood, culture, or religion. Our nation is held together by a set of ideas and our collective willingness to abide by them.

Our system only works because we act like it works.

When someone breaks these norms – when they challenge the notion of checks and balances, when they refuse to cooperate with subpoenas, when they circumvent qualified, vetted, committed professionals in favor of personal friends, when they seek personal gain over national interest – they shake the foundations of our system. They put our rights and liberties at risk.

I care about precedent.

If there is one thing that has surprised me about the way Republican officials have handled the impeachment proceedings (and the Trump presidency more broadly), it is their unwillingness to consider how this precedent will affect future presidencies.

It doesn’t take much imagination to acknowledge that Republicans would have been up in arms if President Obama had conditioned American military aid on a foreign government’s willingness to investigate a Republican rival. It shouldn’t take much more to envision a future Republican Congress’ desire to check a Democratic president.

When that day comes, the Trump presidency will have set the precedent that personal priorities can take the place of U.S. national security interests, that the president can safely consider himself above the law for the duration of his term, that elected officials bear no responsibility to impartially consider the merits of congressional attempts at oversight, and indeed that an administration can outright refuse to cooperate in Congressional investigations.

Today’s Republican elected officials, urged along by vocal elements of today’s Republican base and today’s right-leaning media, are responsible for the future they sow.

We should take great care with where we place our loyalties.

God, country, constitution, democratic ideals, sets of values – these are worth loyalty. But not a person in public life. I am not inclined to put my faith in, or give my loyalty to, any politician. We do not elect kings in this country. We owe our presidents nothing.

It is they who owe loyalty to us.

Elephant picture

A Few Days in August

I am not pregnant, but for a few days in August, I thought I probably was. We were away on vacation for the first time in five years – for the first time in three of our children’s lives.

We’d had a rough beginning to the trip: my husband had come down with pneumonia and my son with bronchitis. (“Can’t we weave wiffout Daddy?” the little stinker had asked an hour before his own symptoms arose.) So I’d done all the packing and loading and driving and unloading and unpacking by myself.

It was a lot.

But there we were, two parents and five kids finally lodged in our rented condo in the Blue Ridge Mountains and I was feeling grateful.

Grateful – and nervous that I might be pregnant.

Two days into the trip, I stole away from my crew for a little time to myself. I pulled out my laptop and sat on the rooftop balcony and wrote up my feelings. I hadn’t thought of publishing them, but re-reading them now, I recognize that they sum up much of my thinking lately.

I get asked all the time whether we’re “done.” (Having babies, that is.) I wonder whether the questioners think about the emotional conflict their curiosity can trigger.

For the first time, we’re about to celebrate a toddler’s second birthday without having another babe in arms or in utero. And for the first time, we’re aiming to be “done.” The idea of another pregnancy is overwhelming, even scary (mostly for medical reasons). Yet the idea of another baby, should one ever come our way, is wonderful.

~~~

8.20.19

I sit here on this balcony, listening to the cars whoosh past and the oak branches rustle in the breeze. (The maple stands mostly still. Why does one tree rustle while its neighbor does not?) I sit on a simple old patio rocker, roofing beneath my feet in this forgotten space. Who will notice this balcony, the owners must wonder, when the view is from the other? But this one is partly shaded at 11am; the other bakes. I lean back in the chair and look up at the swirling clouds, water vapor shifting around, trading places in 3D. A passenger jet soars past. We aren’t that remote.

I sit here, not knowing whether I might be pregnant, but suspecting I am. I am grateful that it’s too soon to take the test. Next week, if contradictory proof doesn’t appear on its own, I will have to get up the nerve to know the truth.

I have been fearful. I have been anxious about the physical repercussions of another pregnancy. I have been feeling greedy about my time. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel: three children in all-day school within days, five children within a few years.

But just now I read a line from Anthony Doerr. “They are miracles,” Doerr writes of his twin boys. “Born from cells much smaller than the period at the end of this sentence – much smaller than that period – the boys are suddenly big and loud and soak the fronts of their shirts with drool.”

I read that line and I look down at my abdomen and I think with wonder on those cells (now perhaps bigger than a period?) that may lie hidden there. I think with wonder on the child who may soon be staining shirts with drool. So many people would think on the logistics we’ve had to go through this week: packing, fevers, bottles, stroller and child wrangling, and think that another child would never be worth it. I know exactly how hard it would be; part of me resists mightily against it. But the rest of me knows that each of my children have been the most incredible gifts life could possibly offer. And that this one, if he’s there, would be too.

Picture of the kids

* The line is from Doerr’s beautiful 2007 memoir, Four Seasons in Rome. I highly recommend it.

The River

I never fell away from the Faith. I was raised Catholic and always remained in the Church. I never felt the urge to rebel. And yet I would not call my faith steady.

I feel like one who was raised on the banks of a river she never thought to enter. Who saw the shining waters, the slow current, and figured they were all there was to the thing.

Growing up, I knew the basics: the outline of Christ and his Church and her teachings. I knew a few prayers. I knew the rhythm of the Mass. I thought it all vaguely pretty: safe, comfortable, lovably boring.

I might have fallen away: I had the same, spare 1980’s catechesis of so many fallen-away Catholics. I had the barest of familial and cultural attachments to the Church. I had no personal experience with truly committed Catholics.

Yet somehow I always felt an obligation to the Church, to the Mass. I felt tethered to them.

That tether, that tug, lead me to a Catholic college, to Catholic friends, and later to a job working for the Church. I had no idea what I was doing in those environments; they felt foreign to me.

I now see that those steps were my first into the river. They were my first substantial encounters with the Faith – when my knowledge shifted from one of observation to one of experience.

They were when I first felt the wet on my skin and the smoothness of water winding around my ankles. They were when I noticed the rocks under the surface, when my legs stung with cold. They were when I came to understand that the water wasn’t boringly pretty: it was lively, it was complex, it was bracing and beautiful.

I took those first steps haltingly, tentatively, feeling around, unsure I belonged. But over the next fifteen or so years I progressed more confidently, wading through the shallows until they too began to seem safe and boring.

My faith lagged. After that jolt in my early twenties, I struggled to maintain my interest. I continued to go through the motions, but my spirit felt like I was walking through waist-high water: all resistance, little progress.

Marriage and babies and exhaustion and loneliness did not help. No doubt I was being taught in those years to serve, to love selflessly, to show mercy. Those are important lessons. But in the slog, it was hard to remember the beauty.

Then, a couple of years ago, another jolt: I was sitting in our parish’s adult education program, watching the Word on Fire Pivotal Players series, when I was just about knocked over the head with the beauty of it. Week after week, my eyes filled with tears as I learned about great men and women of the Church and how they rose above the everyday in pursuit of the ultimate.

It was as if I’d reached the end of the shallows. I’d reached the point where the riverbed falls out from beneath you and all of a sudden you have to swim. That’s where the real work begins – the whole-body work. It’s where the risk and the cost begin too. It’s where you take big gulps of air and submerge yourself and kick and pull and glide.

Pivotal Players threw me off in the best possible way. It was a peeling back of the veil. Life is so much more than an exercise in how to fit it all in. It is so much more than the errands and chores and extracurriculars and intrigues that occupy our minds. Life is a staging ground for eternity.

The series reminded me of our personal responsibility to God, our role in carrying out His work, the innumerable ways we can go about that task, and the variety of gifts with which God equips us to do it.

I have a job to do. (And so do you.)

A big part – perhaps the biggest part – of that job is to get to know and love God. So I’ve been diving in: dedicating part of each day to prayer and scripture readings, undertaking some spiritual reading too, consuming podcasts and videos that address my questions and expand my horizons.

I feel like I’ve finally entered the deep. Swimming and treading, I look around in wonder. I have a better vantage, and therefore a better sense of just how small I am and how little I understand. But I also have a better sense of how big He is.

I am at the point in the river where I know that it is so much more than a glimmer of sun on surface. I am in the thing. I am stretching out, working my way through it, muscle and breath and hope.