Embrace the suck

As the ball falls and the darkness of December fades into the light of January, a new year is born. With that comes a new found clarity, a rebirth and the opportunity to wipe the slate clean to start again. After 2020 isn’t that what we all want? Hope for better times ahead.

2020 began like any other year for me. When Covid-19 pulled the rug out from under us and excreted its venom upon the world, like everyone else, I found myself swimming in a sea of uncertainty. Would I get Covid? Would I lose someone to Covid? What is going to happen to my world as I know it?

I can’t look at 2020 as the year of suck. Instead, I choose to embrace it. There were plenty of things that sucked in 2020. 2020 taught me how to accept what is, let go of what isn’t and be grateful for what’s in front of me. On the home front, my husband and I quickly adopted that mantra as a coping mechanism, means of survival and a way to keep our young adult children physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. With each new issue or disappointment that arose in our daily lives, we were diligent with that mantra. The social isolation, the frustration, the hopelessness, the beginning of virtual high school and university education, my daughter’s lost senior prom, senior track season and high school commencement, my son’s lost December college commencement. The things that were not meant to be for us in 2020 only made us a stronger family unit and more grateful.

On the work front, I am an RN of twenty six years. For the past eight, I’ve been working in the pre-op unit of my hospital, preparing patients for surgery. Before that, I spent thirteen years as an emergency room RN. When the world shut down and my state’s governor cancelled elective surgeries, even though the only necessary surgeries were being done, the preoperative units were left scampering to find work so their employees didn’t have to go on unemployment or use all of their paid time off. They sent us to screen people as they entered the hospital and satellite locations. They sent us to classes. My boss told us if we had skills in other areas we could expect to be called to use them. Former ICU RNs were sent to the ICU. I was one of several veteran emergency nurses selected to be activated in the emergency department if the surge reached our hospital. On Nurses’s Day in May my father posted a picture on social media of me in my PPE, stating that I was on the front lines, “fighting Covid”. I was so embarrassed. From my Dad’s perspective, he was telling the world how proud he was of me. Deep down inside, it irked me for about six weeks that I didn’t feel like I was doing my part because I wasn’t on the front lines in the Emergency Room. Each of us in the group of ER RN veterans only worked one shift in the ER because our hospital didn’t get the surge some of the others in our city did. During my day in the ER, I took care of symptomatic Covid patients. I transported Covid patients to the ICU. The hospital was like Sombertown. The ICU looked like a war zone. I was as terrified as I was as a young nurse in the early 1990’s, taking care of full blown AIDS patients.

As time went on, my fears were replaced with caution and a new level of awareness. When elective surgeries returned and my department busted our asses everyday to get these patients into the OR, I realized that I am doing my part. All of us who work in healthcare are doing our part regardless if we are on the front lines or not. The custodial staff who clean and sanitize the hospital. The food service who feed us. The people who stock our supplies and take care of the equipment. The command center who direct us. The chaplains who pray for us.

I enjoy listening to XM Sirius Radio on my way in to work in the morning. One morning before Thanksgiving, there was a little greeting blurb from Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac. He started out with some humor about how he was learning the ukulele and how he wasn’t very good at it. He said he missed making music with his friends. He wished the listeners a Happy Thanksgiving and not in so many words stated that now was the time to be grateful, to learn, to go within. I wish I could hear the blurb again because it did resonate with me.

It has been over a year since I have posted anything in this blog. In the midst of life I have somehow lost my writing voice. The words are swarming around in my head from time to time but can’t seem to make it to the tip of my fingers, the keyboard and this page. I am hoping to find my writing voice again this year.

Happy New Year

When your parish community disappoints you.

God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.

This past Sunday, I attended 1100 Contemporary Mass at our church and listened to my daughter play her trumpet for the Lord for the final time as a member of our church’s Youth Band. My daughter is just finishing her junior year of high school and she’s been a member of our church’s youth band since 8th grade. She’s always loved it and felt honored and inspired to be part of something so meaningful that didn’t involve her school work. This year was different for her. The music director added several new choral youth musicians to the group. My daughter sensed the dynamics had changed and didn’t feel like she and her trumpet fit in anymore. There were times she’d attend weekly Thursday evening rehearsal and there was no music for her to rehearse because no one prepared her music for her. She’d wonder why she even bothered to stay at rehearsal. There were other things that happened that bothered my daughter and I could feel her growing frustration. It broke my heart a little when my daughter told me she felt like she didn’t fit in anymore and wanted to resign after the school year was over. I supported her decision immediately. This is supposed to be church. Aren’t we all supposed to fit in? God accepts us and welcomes us with open arms but the parish community? Not really. I don’t think we all really fit into the parish community.

I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing from a small Catholic women’s Liberal Arts college. Because it was a Catholic college, the school required we take two religion courses. That was fine by me, I was there as an adult learner already 14 years out of nursing school and I was ready to expand my mind!  Plus, I’m Catholic. I attended public schools throughout my youth so it was nice to receive a Catholic education. I took a biblical studies course which focused on the bible from a historical perspective and a spirituality course. I loved everything about those two courses.

One thing that always resonated with me since the Spirituality course was what I read in The Holy Longing the Search for a Christian Spirituality by Ronald Rolheiser. Rolheiser suggests that Jesus prescribed four essentials for a healthy spiritual life; private prayer and mortality, social justice, mellowness of heart and spirit and community as a constitutive element for true worship.

So let’s break this down. I’m a baptized and confirmed Catholic. I was married in the Catholic Church, my children are baptized and confirmed, I pray every day, I treat people according to the ten commandments, my heart is at peace, I give money to the church and attend Mass but not as much as I should, twice a month.  Never in my life have I ever felt genuinely welcome by the parish community or any parish community I’ve belonged to. Do I volunteer for the church? No, I work full time by healing the sick and I volunteer for my daughter’s band program. Do I make eye contact with the Priest and nod my head in agreement when his homilies touch my soul? Always. Is it because my kids do not attend Catholic school? Is it because I don’t volunteer at the church or is it because I’m not visible to the Priest enough or in his subconscious mind or in anyone’s subconscious mind at the parish? When my daughter came to tell me that she felt she didn’t fit into a group that she once loved so much, my own frustration with the parish community returned with a vengeance.

So how are we supposed to achieve a healthy spiritual life if one of the four essentials is missing and you don’t feel like you’ll ever be able to achieve it? The answer to that question still eludes me.

After the first reading in a Catholic mass, there is a Responsorial Psalm with singing and musical instruments. This week’s Responsorial Psalm couldn’t be more fitting as my daughter’s time with the youth band comes to an end. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.

My daughter got to play some trumpet solos for that song; a bittersweet ending. It was as if God was personally telling me he appreciated my daughter playing her trumpet for him for the past four years and that it was ok for her to resign, that he understood.

After Mass we went to the basement of the church for a little party celebrating some of the recent high school graduates of the youth band. I walked away for a few minutes so my daughter could confront the youth band director to resign. My girl cried a little but she had the courage to say what was in her heart, “the dymanics have changed and I don’t feel like my trumpet fits in anymore.” My daughter felt as if the youth band director “didn’t hear” her, didn’t grasp that she was resigning and that her decision was final.

Later on, the youth band director approached our table. It was only my daughter and I at the table because the other people who were at the table when I sat down, moved. The youth band director addressed my daughter’s feelings and we spokes for a few minutes. I sensed she was trying to find a way for my daughter to continue with the band and hadn’t accepted that my daughter is finished there. As the conversation was coming to an end I began to share a recent music experience through school that my daughter was involved in and very happy about. In a split second my ability to read people’s body language and facial expressions radar alerted me that the woman wasn’t interested. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there.

I left church on Sunday feeling disappointed. Disappointed for feeling like an outsider in a place that should make you feel welcome. Disappointed the youth band director never fully grasped my daughter’s music abilities and utilized them. Disappointed yes but very proud of my daughter for speaking her mind and removing herself from a situation that didn’t make her feel good anymore.