Today's post is from one of our past fellows, Evelyn Hildebrand. We're so excited to have her back for one more post!
My little human love is not enough and I wanted it to be. I want little human loves to overcome time and space, to reach across distances and weld relationship and community out of disregard and coldness. Graced with a heart that loves before it understands and eyes that seek to see the good, I've been stumbling through a fog these past couple months, feeling along on battered hands and knees for the reason why my little love didn't do all I wanted it to. It didn't change what needed changing or sanctify what was not holy, but just human.
Just human - it used to shock and sadden me, to discover ugliness in people, because it was completely unexpected. Ugliness is not the right word; ugliness strikes me as a bold, big word comprising a positive substance, a cruelty, a darkness, a presence. People aren't ugly. They're lacking. They're ordinary and weak and petty and unkind and selfish. People don't tell big lies. They fib. They don't rob banks. They swipe fifty cents. And it's the pettiness and selfishness that break my heart.
I think that's why it’s comforting to set people at a safe distance, far enough away to see the definition, but not the degradation by degrees that accompanies our poor humanity. Right now, I'm reading “The Beautiful and Damned” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. His philosophy is depressing, but his sentence structure is gold. He would keep people at a safe arm's length, too, because up close, people are broken. His version of a perfect kiss can only happen from several hundred feet away: “It was her distance, not a rare and precious distance of soul, but still distance, if only in terrestrial yards. The autumn air was between them, and the roofs and the blurred voices. Yet for a not altogether explained second, posing perversely in time, his emotion had been nearer to adoration than in the deepest kiss he had ever known" (2).
Sometimes I want to keep people there - at a safe distance of several hundred "terrestrial yards" because if they come any closer, they might not be beautiful. Anthony's mystery woman turns out to be "fat, full thirty-five and utterly undistinguished" only half a page later: as soon as the mystery of distance disintegrates.
But even if I did manage to ignore the pettiness apparent in everyone else, there's no avoiding my own face in the mirror. And I'm weak. I'm selfish. I spend time scrolling through Facebook instead of learning Spanish. I sneakily stare at my reflection in store windows. I pretend not to hear people when I don't like what they are saying. I'm self-conscious and reach for my phone to look like I'm comfortable and included when I feel out of place and left out. And these are not beautiful faults. They're small and petty.
I used to keep pace with Ayn Rand, applauding the idea of a temple built to celebrate the beauty and nobility of the human spirit, built around the statue of a man standing upright as the king of the world. "He saw man as strong, proud, clean, wise and fearless. He saw man as a heroic being. And he built a temple to that ... He thought that exaltation comes from the consciousness of being guiltless, of seeing the truth and achieving it, of living up to one's highest possibilities, of knowing no shame and having no cause for shame, of being able to stand naked in full sunlight..." (4).
But do you know how weak we are? How prone to selfishness? How self-oriented? How finite? How human? I think that finitude is the pill that is hardest for me to swallow. I am not enough. My love is not enough. I do not get to make the rules or break the rules, but have to live within them. Rebellious heart and wandering feet - I wanted it to be my blessing that I'm bestowing when I see something beautiful inside another person.
It's quite the demotion, to be a moth, drawn to a flame or a dragon, carrying fire with a life of it's own inside its belly - rather than the flame itself. It sounds like a matter of terms, but the difference is in-finite.
I am just human.
Edith Stein speaks to the heart of my not quite defined unrest - she wrote about the fallen and perverted state of nature, words that used to irk me, but now, immersed as I am in a kind of disillusioned mist, make much more sense: "the fallen perverted feminine nature can be restored to its purity and led to the heights of the vocational ethos which this pure nature indicates only if it is completely surrendered to God" (5). Surrendered to God. Obedient. Finite. Small.
I don't get to be my own sanctification.
Isn't it funny? How much weight we take onto our own shoulders? And isn't it confusing, when someone tries to lift the weight away, I hang on to it - like a willful or scared child, hanging on to a security blanket and refusing to be held.
Apparently it is necessary for the feminine heart to belong to something bigger than itself, to be obedient to it and part of something outside and above. Edith writes that "the life of an authentic Catholic woman is also a liturgical life. Whoever prays together with the Church in spirit and in truth knows that her whole life must be formed by this life of prayer" (6).
I am not often obedient, because obedience is uncomfortable. But my every flight to find something beautiful or true or good which avoids that initial - soul crunching - bending of the knee and bowing of the head smashes me back into the dust from which I came. It's inevitable, calming, comforting and infuriating: that I must decrease and He must increase because I cannot make the rules. I have to bend my knee and bow my head because my love is human and small and I live by participation in the love of Another, not by bread alone.
I wonder, now, what I'm left with, picking through the shards of shattered human idols and searching for the basis of human dignity once again. It's important. It's precious, this basis that I'm looking for, because my heart aches and part of the glory of womanhood is emotionality, a kind of internal radar that subconsciously senses importance. This pain means something because "through the emotions, [the soul] comes to know what it is and how it is; it also grasps through them the relationship of another being to itself, and then, consequently, the significance of the inherent value of exterior things, of unfamiliar people and impersonal things" (8). The basis has to be found in the bending of my will to His, but I'm scared and fear is a fierce enemy.
Fear makes obedience frightening, whispering that I will lose my value, that other people will be ugly and abandoned, that I will be unhappy, that the world really is going to Hell in a handbasket because if I'm not dedicated to finding the glimmer of good in all of the bad, then the good will disappear.
I am afraid. But in the daily struggle: in the pain of obedience, the death of pride and the paralysis of fear -- in all the places where my love is not enough and my finitude is ground into my face -- I am reminded that He is infinite.
1) Image One.
2) F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Beautiful and Damned”, 221.
3) Image Two.
4) Ayn Rand, “The Fountainhead”, 261.
5) Edith Stein, “The Collected Works of Edith Stein: Essays on Woman”, 53.
6) Edith Stein, “The Collected Works of Edith Stein II: Essays on Woman”, 57.
7) Image Three.
8) Edith Stein, “The Collected Works of Edith Stein II: Essays on Woman”, 96.