I am Catholic. I am accustomed to guilt.
As an adult whenever the topic of religion came up, particularly amongst non-Catholic Christians, I felt inadequate. Other Christian denominations read and touched their Bibles, often, whereas Catholics read from missalettes and heard verses only at Sunday mass; if and when they went. My Bible-thumping friends constantly quoted and lectured; questioning why I chose to remain in my faith during the years when the priest molestations became public. As an infant I had been immersed, not of my own choosing. Soon after my father died I chose to walk away from my religious upbringing; aged 18. It was several years later, dragged to an Easter Sunday mass with grad school classmates in a city 2,000 miles away, that I slowly made the choice to return. I had silently wept and grieved for my father’s passing the entire mass; my friends unsure what to do.
I drove to the local supermarket, Halloween morning, and bought three bags of Halloween candy; the guilt eating away at me. My eldest son’s schedule currently rules our household and so the younger sons’ Saturdays are filled with high school field competitions. Various parents offered to have my younger boys trick-or-treat with their families this Halloween; sharing how awful it must be for them to have to sit in a stadium and miss out. When I offered these choices to the thirteen and ten year old, neither answered right away. As a parent, balancing the load (between work, school volunteering, social commitments) and being equitable with my time is a juggling act. If I spend more time with one child’s needs than the other, I constantly question how I can make thing fair. I feel guilt that some of my sons require more maintenance and attention than others.
I think of my bff as she learned the passing of her late father a month later; this man the epitome of guilt after making selfish choices. She pondered what we did to the universe to deserve the lot we’ve received. Both of us are only children, both of our parents deceased. It is the reason I dislike my birthday; the reminder my parents no longer are with me. The holidays hit her the hardest…Thanksgiving and Christmas. Between the two of us we have seven kids and two loving spouses who prop us up. They hear the gripes and issues; sometimes our only connection with our husbands as we struggle to balance the hectic every day. We harbor escapist thoughts or fantasize crushes. We feel guilt that there is no time for them, our roles as mothers trumping our spousal ones.
I feel the guilt as I decline invitations to meet with various groups of friends; my schedule busy balancing just my family. We constantly look at our calendars, finding a day when our schedules align. I’ve discovered that the friends who understand this are the ones that remain. The ones whom I can go for periods of time without face-to-face contact but, once together, can catch up and fill each other’s cups. The ones who are always hospitable without conditions such as the state of their homes, the mess of their lives or their skeletons in their closets. The ones whom I can inconvenience at any time.
The thoughts weigh heavily on my mind, in one of the organizations in which I serve, and I ponder how to resolve them. I feel guilty that I want to wish them away, to deal with on another day; telling myself this is not my battle to fight. Is my self preservation stronger than my moral obligation?
Time is my enemy and I must sacrifice & prioritize to choose how & where to invest it. I must find a way to balance my load.
I push the thoughts to the back of my mind; working hard to solely focus on the present things before me. But when left alone to my own devices, my mind runs in circles considering all of the above. Thankfully there is not much time to think, these days, but the guilt never goes away; returning to pursue my sanity another day. The choice is always mine to make.
Slowly the healing to my angry interrogations came with parenthood; the desire to choose how to raise my sons and discovering what it meant to be fully responsible for another human being. But my guilty conscience returned when it came time to enroll my young sons in religious education. If I chose to raise them by this faith, the onus would lie upon me to be equally educated in it. And so, the avid reader, I tackled reading the Bible as a textbook, myself an academic or philosopher. The guidelines gave instructions on how to read the entire tome in one year. Muslims read the Koran and Jews studied the Torah…I could do it too. I asked questions and tried to reconcile my answers; which didn’t always agree. The priest answered my queries which I carry with me to this day. When we stare at the black and white page, we forget to look at the gold gilded edges or illustrations; the bigger picture.
Sometimes life is not so black and white. The words were only a guide, not the answers. We must seek our own truths.
My younger boys chose to remain with us on Halloween. I repeatedly asked the youngest if he was sure and after the fourth time, he pretended to consider his answer. This son easily asserts his opinions and in clear language answered, “Mom. I have plenty of candy and would rather be with you. Halloween is just not my thing.” I recalled giving the same answers to my own friends at their ages. Halloween wasn’t really my thing either; my guilt at dragging him to another competition making me nag my sons to do what most of their peers chose to do. He’d rather be with me; with us.
The night before I had watched from afar in the football stadium as the teens and tweens mingled by the water; surprised that my two elder sons sought one another, without prodding, when the middle son’s junior high band joined the eldest’s high school program. Were these the same two boys who fought not an hour earlier? As I wistfully snapped the shot I realized that my sons get complete access to the hubs and I, when needed, and that being fair and equitable isn’t always in the amount of time spent. It is always in the quality.
I sat in the hard pew last Sunday as I watched my three sons serve as altar boys; holding their breaths as the incense smoke rose within the church. I heard the sermon about mercy and remembered that day long ago at the Easter mass as I grieved the if onlys. I had been angry with the world, with a God who stole my father…placing my trust in things I, alone, could control and choosing to study the sciences. I reasoned that I must’ve been a bad person to have my father taken away from me since for every action, there is an equal an opposite reaction (Newton’s Third law of Motion). I understood my best friend’s lament as she currently ponders these same questions. If only we had done (fill in the blank), maybe the outcome would have been different. It’s easier to accept the blame and guilt; thinking we can control our lives and the people who reside in them. But alas, the truth of the matter is, we have no control of those things; only our reactions to them. We need to let our guilt go knowing that the bad things in life happen, sometimes for no reasons at all.
I am reminded to not take my husband, my partner, for granted as I daydream of other things. I take the effort to make some time, however short, to affirm him. I have a fuller life because he resides in it. It is with him that I am most transparent as I share my escapist thoughts and he shares his own; the guilt overriding. It is this open communication, unconditional love and respect for one another, that we can share our issues and compromise or work towards resolution. We both discovered our thoughts were normal; cajoling one another and pondering how we’ll journey together into old age as our time at home with our kids grows short. We hope we won’t drive each other crazy when we become empty-nesters and make the time for date nights together sans kids. The friends who remain walk this same journey alongside; sharing the ups and downs without judgment. We catch up when we can and it is enough.
I continue to seek my own truths as I consider that there may be no resolutions to my endless questions in the organizations to which I serve. I always have a choice as to how I invest my time and my life.
I must choose what I love and love what I choose; for all the right reasons.