As a rather introverted person, I often delude myself into thinking that my world would be better if I simply found myself in a Jeremiah Johnson-like situation; alone in the mountains, just my wife and I, finding our own food, building our own shelter, in a state of blissful solitude and silence. And yet, the wisdom of my truest friends has always found a way to keep me grounded. “And what happened to Jeremiah as the story unfolded,” a wise man once asked me? Touché.
I have always enjoyed taking life slowly. I love taking leisurely drives, preferring county roads to highways. I love sports but I would much rather shoot a basketball alone on an empty court or skate on a frozen pond and shoot a puck around by myself. I’ve surfed since middle school and while my friends–young and aggro as most teenagers are–preferred larger waves and short boards which are much quicker and more maneuverable, I always opted to ride longboards on small wave days, enjoying the slow, gliding rides. I love empty churches, cemeteries and crypts. I have an almost fetish-like enjoyment of hidden nooks in libraries and bookstores. As a freshman in college, I found a room in my school’s library that was seemingly forgotten. It was a glorified storage closet and to this day I’m not sure if it was open to the public, though there was no signage indicating otherwise. What I loved about this room was that I never saw another person enter it and there was a window in the back that overlooked the entire campus where I could actually sit in the window on cushions. In that window, I first read Descartes, Kierkegaard and Ginsberg as well as books like Ishmael, The Prophet, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. In many ways, literal and metaphorical, that became my window to the world.
My mind never turns off. I’m sure this is not a unique trait and perhaps it is indicative of some sort of latent mental illness. I am hyper-perceptive which has frequently gotten me into dilemmas. I analyze everything and because I have a very keen sense of justice, I tend to see issues in very black and white terms. Those who know me know that I do not mince words. I use the written word in a manner which can best be likened to bringing a nuclear weapon to a knife fight. I have always been turned off by hypocrisy so the notion of being chummy with one’s adversary for the sake of personal gain is a foreign concept to me; I see that as a form of prostitution. Despite the many bridges I’ve burned over the years—and Lord knows they are indeed many—there have been a select group of people who have not only stood by me, but have inspired me to be a better person. I am not perfect. I have never tried to dispute that fact. I try to be humble. But my sense of indignation can make it very difficult for me to remain calm or accepting of things that I cannot control. My relationship with the Catholic Church is—and probably always will be—contentious. And yet, thanks to these aforementioned people, I’m able to find True North when my compass goes fucking batshit. The Church sure as shit doesn’t need people like me—though they would argue that the Church does need people like me to challenge it, and perhaps they’re right. Regardless, the fact remains that despite my criticism and ire, I need the Church.
What I mean when I say that I need the Church is that I need these people. They are no more or less representative of the Church than anyone else. Their progressive, ecumenical views do not diminish their Catholicism—or mine. It is not always easy to remember that, especially when confronted by the conservative blowhards who think their abrasiveness and loudness make their views more representative than ours. These friends of mine have remained consistently committed to gentleness, kindness and compassion toward all people. They have been critical of me when criticism was necessary. At times I’ve gone off the rails in fits of knee-jerk reaction to things that I hadn’t adequately researched and they were always the first people to call me out on my foolishness. Again, I’m not perfect. But they practiced the forgiveness that our Lord commanded us to practice and they welcomed me back with open arms. For this, I am eternally grateful. For this, my eyes remain open to the fact that the Church is many things and that even if the Church is crowded and noisy and seemingly full of people that I would prefer to get away from, there is always that small window in that remote room where I can escape to and gaze out at the madness, safe in the comfort of the wisdom of wise and good-natured people.