that was the phrase i took away from christmas eve mass this year.
the mystery of faith.
the priest uttered those four words in the sliver of a silence.
i don't know what came before and i'm not terribly sure what followed. it was almost an after-thought, four words he said for himself. a small pause before he moved across the dais.
and yet, while their utterance was a soft and quiet event, the whole of my body heard them.
the mystery of faith.
faith being murky territory. dark and difficult and absolutely revelatory. faith being a thing that is not absolute. that cannot be divided into halves. that cannot be traced linearly or made sense of logically. faith being the thing that leads to the light.
the mystery of faith. a leap. and another. and more after. perfect in its absolute imperfection.
but there was something else too. one other phrase hidden in a popular song--one other phrase that i myself must have sung countless times before that night. how silently, how silently the wondrous Gift is giv'n. perfect words sandwiched in the popular ditty oh little town of bethlehem. how silently, how silently the wondrous Gift is giv'n.
how God entered the world, how he sent his only son, how the very thing that split time in two--into a before and an after--how silently it entered the world--how absolutely, unequivocally important it was that it needed not to enter with a bang and flash, but with the small cry of a child, born to a mother and a father, in a manger outside of an inn that was just too full.
how silently the wondrous Gift is giv'n. the mystery of faith.
my family and i have been attending christmas eve mass at my brother's high school since his freshman year. by my count that's something like seventeen years.
seventeen years, a staggering number. mostly because it only feels like five, and where the hell has all that time gone?
thing is, after all those years--those seventeen years--i still know only a handful of my brother's friends, a handful of their parents. i go each year as a sister and as a daughter--as a peripheral character in the story. and from there i have the inestimable privilege of seeing and watching and listening. from the vantage point of the-mostly-anonymous-observer (otherwise known as the-little-sister) comes a remarkable clarity.
however, this was the year several of the mothers all asked the same thing: are you seeing anyone? no, i replied, the lips i had painted a dark red just hours before twisting in a small smile, no i'm not seeing anyone right now, i say to each mother who asks. eduardo, a friend of my brother, his mother gives me a response in spanish. when i ask what it means, she asks her son david to translate. he can't turn the idiom into exact english so she calls over eduardo. well, he says, pausing, it's not exact, but it basically means, when you stop looking it will come. i laugh gently, turn to this woman who has over the course of those seventeen staggering years seen me grow and mature and spin into womanhood, yes, yes, we have that expression in english too. when you stop looking... when you least expect it... the mystery of faith. how silently the wondrous gift is giv'n.
i call home often. my mother complains that i'm always complaining. and she's right. often, i am. she worries that i'm sad. i try to explain to her: i haven't found the person yet, mom. so you're my phone call. i don't yet have someone to tell these things to, so you're it. about a month ago i ran into a man on the subway platform. eight years of living in the same city and we'd never before crossed paths without meaning to. this was a man i loved. the man i loved. the man i loved in the only way i knew how for far longer than was appropriate or permissible or able to be gossiped about with my girlfriends. but he didn't love me back. at least, not in any way that made me feel anything other than as though i was slowly losing my mind.
and then about a month ago, in sleepy carroll gardens, there he was, both of us on the same train platform. when you least expect it. it was a sad thing. the two of us meeting more as strangers than anything else. the broken and fractured conversation. the two minutes of which i can say nothing other than that a sort of panic took hold and i wasn't terribly kind. but in trying to explain it later--in trying to explain the immediacy of the sadness, i said to a friend, the thing is, when this day ends, i don't have the person to go home to and say, hey, you know i love you right? well, once upon a time, i loved someone else. and just for one moment i need to tell you about it.
instead i called my mother. and she listened without really hearing, because she can't bear to hear the story of the man who broke her daughter's heart.
my mom was twenty-two when she met my father. at the age i am now she was a year away from marrying him.
my mom never knew single at twenty-three. and she never knew it at twenty-four or twenty-five or twenty-six. she never knew single at twenty-seven, which is where i am now. so i call her and she listens and she worries that i'm sad and she tells me to be patient and to stop looking (or to look harder, depending on the day). but she doesn't get it. because she was never single at twenty-seven.
and the space between us grows. and it is a brand of hard that is new and unforgiving and tremendously persistent.
i've got five years on her twenty-seven-year-old-self--five years of calling home instead of...someone else.
the mystery of faith.
i call home now and tell my parents that i am lonely--because loneliness is, as it turns out, a thing--and what they hear is that i'm sad. and i understand this. i understand their confusion of the two things and their inevitable worry. i know it is because they are parents who watched helplessly, from the outside, as their child lived through a major depressive disorder. and i imagine, with relative certainty, that it was far worse for them than for me.
the people who live through that with you always worry that a little blue, a little low, a little lonely, is the beginning of a very long and very slippery slope. and i understand the fear because it was like drowning. it was like a constant and persistent and impossible filling of the lungs with heavy water. but you know how i got over it? i learned to swim. and once you figure out how to swim, you always know how to swim--and so that particular ocean holds no fear.
depression does not scare me. but it'd be nice if the man who lands on the other end of that phone call doesn't worry about it in the same way my parents do.
everyone has an opinion. all these people smiling from the shores of long relationships, telling you to take counsel with yourself. to which i want to say that that counsel cannot help me put the icy-hot patch on that one particular region of my back that i cannot reach. and it won't stand in line at trader joe's while i do the shopping because that's how far the line is reaching and wrapping. that counsel won't lie next to me night after night, a warm presence. it will not kiss me. it will not place it's palm against my neck, tucking my hair behind my ears.
loneliness is murky territory.
the mystery of faith.
i want the silent-sort-of-love. the love that is so absolutely, unequivocally important that it needs not enter with a bang and flash, but by slipping into the cracks of an everyday life.
faith is what gets us to love. that revelation--that absolute pure light at the end of all that murk--that is love. and so faith is the journey. it is the life. it is the day after day. and it can be a tremendously lonely thing. because it sometimes unclear and sometimes unfair and footing is often lost.
and the mystery of faith is a road that is traveled alone.
but when the dark gives way to the light, well...
how silently the wondrous Gift is giv'n.