Religion

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On being a big, fat liar.

Published February 13, 2016 by mandileighbean

doughtheliar

Two weeks ago, I went to confession. The line of sinners was surprisingly long; I assume the snowstorm from the previous weekend had kept the faithful at home and away from the church, so everyone was playing catch up. That’s why I was there, at any rate. But there’s something about being in that intimate, sacred setting that always compels me to spill my guts. Maybe it’s a simple effect of being raised Catholic, a kind of Pavlovian reaction to the whole ceremony, but I like to believe it’s more than that, like it’s a sign from the universe that my faith is real and working, and that this kind of spiritual purging is healthy and necessary. Whatever the reason or motivation, when it was finally my turn to enter the confessional and the heavy, cloth curtain swung shut behind me, I dropped to my knees and told the priest everything that had been burdening my soul. I unloaded my emotional baggage, carefully and delicately removing every piece of troublesome ego and holding it up to the light to reveal all the intricacies. I think the popular nomenclature for such an event is “word vomit.” At the end, I was breathless but felt somewhat lighter. I also felt guilty and ashamed, truly humbled.

And the priest laughed. He laughed loud and long and hard.

This may seem like a harsh reaction, but please trust me when I assure you that it was completely warranted. My life, as of late, has turned into quite the melodrama. To protect the innocent I won’t go into details, but if you could me a favor and think of the most ridiculous plot line from a daytime soap opera – that’s my life. That’s how I’ve been living. To hear it out loud, to finally speak about it all, was somewhat amusing. I was on the verge of laughter myself – sometimes we laugh to keep from crying, no? So the priest was in no way a villain. His laughter subsided, and he told me I was certainly in a “sticky situation.” He promised he would pray for me.

The priest promised to pray for me. That’s how dire my situation is.

I hope this anecdote helps illustrate why I haven’t been keeping to the resolutions I made so boldly before the new year started. I’m the worst, I know, but I’m trying.

I hope you are all trying to, no matter the endeavor.

You’ll be hearing more from me soon; I promise.

lying

On knowing you’re alive and here for a reason, and knowing that it’s okay not to know why just yet.

Published December 14, 2014 by mandileighbean

It’s been almost two months since the last time I posted an entry.  I’m ashamed and feeling guilty about it because I always promised myself that writing – and the promotion of my writing – would be a priority, but here I am, placing it upon a burner far in the back, which may not even light, because I have become consumed with work and its corresponding extracurricular activities.  I never thought I would delay a dream for a boring adult responsibility like employment.  I never wanted to become boring or sell out.  The question then becomes why am I doing it?  I think it’s time to completely buck convention and go utterly transcendental.  This summer, I plan to walk the entire eastern coast of the state of New Jersey using the East Coast Greenway.  I was inspired by Thoreau, Emerson and Cheryl Strayed, author of her memoir Wild, which has been turned into a film of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon.  Lately, I’ve been feeling like I need to get away to figure myself out.  I became a stranger in the sense that I’ve been letting secondary elements control my emotions and ultimately make my decisions.  As a result, I don’t exactly know what I want or who I am, and feeling lost is an awful and terrible feeling.  I feel like a phony – like an imitation of an imitation – and I worry those I love and admire are getting sick of my narcissistic shenanigans.

I’ve got to get back to my basics; back to writing.

WRITING PROMPT #19: A man comes to believe that he is an emissary of God when he survives a plane crash in which all other passengers are killed.

Brian Johnson was laying upon a gurney, being rushed along the tarmac to the waiting ambulance.  Its back doors were open, and its lights were flashing soundlessly in the frigid crispness of the December evening.  Brian saw the distance to the ambulance shorten as he was gently jostled over the smooth pavement, rocked into a soothing kind of trance.  He was eager to become numb and absent because after all, it had been one hell of a day.  No one wakes up in the morning expecting to be the sole survivor of a plane crash, particularly one that smashes against the ground on the runway of the desired destination, so close to home.

The flight had been en route to Atlantic City, landing at the small airport.  Passengers had been composed of family members traveling to reunite with other family members for the impending holiday.  Brian had been one of the few singletons, and as such, he had been crammed into a row with a family just trying to survive.  Luckily, he had the seat nearest the window.  Beside him was a precious and precocious brunette who was about four years old.  Next to her was a harried-looking mother with an infant cradled in her arms, and beside the mother was the exhausted father who also cradled an infant in his arms; twins.  A small smile twitched Brian’s lips as he observed the family, quiet and tired, not talking to one another, and seemingly blissfully happy to be seated and finally ready to go.  The little girl was bouncing a teddy on her knee, singing some nonsense song Brian had once known but had long forgotten upon leaving the playground so many years ago.

Some time after takeoff, Brian had adorned his ear buds, cranked the volume on his iPod, and fallen asleep.  He was terrified of flying and only boarded planes when there was absolutely no other alternative, so he only survived when he slept through it.  Surviving a flight had taken on a completely different meaning when Brian awoke to terrified screams.  His eyes shot open and he savagely ripped the ear buds from his ears.  Everything was shaking wildly; it was the worst turbulence Brian had ever experienced.  He had only ever seen it in cliched horror films.  He was looking this way and that, but found no answers or comfort, only faces grotesquely contorted into unadulterated terror.  The oxygen mask suddenly fell before his face and Brian knew this was it.  It was all ending and he wasn’t entirely sure how that knowledge made him feel.  He turned to the family beside him, saw the mother and father enclose their infant children, and saw the little girl squeezing the teddy, sobbing.  Without thinking about it, he encircled her in his arms and felt relieved when her tiny hands grabbed onto the fabric of his shirt.

And that was all he remembered.

Brian regained conscious on the ground.  Everything ached and burned, and he only saw things in blurred images.  He could smell smoke but he couldn’t hear anything over the sound of his own breathing.  For an irrational moment, he wondered if he was under water.  His legs and back felt wet, but then there were people standing above him, looking down with shocked faces.  He was trying to tell them that he felt weird, and that he couldn’t hear, but they couldn’t seem to hear either.  They went about their business as if he wasn’t screaming.  He was lifted up and onto the gurney and he was being ushered to the waiting ambulance.

As Brian rolled right along, his head flopped to the side and he saw the sheets, the countless sheets covering the countless, mutilated bodies of his fellow passengers.  One such sheet had a charred teddy bear beside it and Brian knew he should be dead.  He should have died.  But he didn’t, and Brian considered what that might mean.  Maybe he had been spared.  He thought back to late nights spent with his father on their screened-in back porch, where his father smoked like a chimney and pontificated at length about religion and politics and women and family and life and death and everything in between.  He had once told his son that God had a plan for everyone and that everything happened for a reason.  His father claimed that’s what the scientists really meant when they insisted that for every action, there was an equal and opposite reaction.

So the plane had gone down, and Brian was still breathing.  What was God’s plan?  Was Brian supposed to value life in a way he hadn’t?  Because to be frank, he thought he had been living life to the fullest and if there was some part of it he wasn’t quite getting, then Brian thought the Big Man didn’t have to be so dramatic; a little subtlety never hurt anyone.

How to explain the dead little girl and the burned teddy bear.  What was the rationale behind that?  Then again, maybe that was why Brian had been spared, to figure it out.  Maybe Brian was supposed to tell the world about the family beside him and their love to the very end and that protective instinct.  Maybe such a story would inspire others, give them hope, and help Brian from feeling guilty.

But maybe it was just fucking chaos.  Slipping in and out of consciousness, it was hard for Brian to tell.

planecrash

On celebrating being happy.

Published February 3, 2013 by mandileighbean

Another week over, another four pounds lost!  I literally could not be happier right now!  All the denial and all of the grumbling are paying off!  I am not sure where that leaves me in the standings of the competition at work, but honestly, who cares?  I don’t need the money if I lose the weight!  Also, I’ve purchased an Omron HJ-112 Pocket Pedometer, as suggested by the LA Times article, “52 ways to leave your blubber.”  Ideally, the average human being should get up to between 10,000 and 15,000 steps a day.  I think I can meet the goal, especially when I start introducing brief intervals of jogging to my walking regimen.

pedometer

This week’s theme seemed to be self-improvement as I found myself at the dentist, too.  It had been the first time I’d been to the dentist in well over a decade.  The sterile smell of the office clashed terribly with the sleek, technologically advanced atmosphere; for a moment, I could have believed I was walking back to a tanning bed rather than a leather chair.  I had a full set of x-rays taken and my teeth were cleaned.  Good news: minimal tartar buildup and only one cavity!  I also can have braces put on that cannot be seen even though I don’t qualify for Invisalign.  Bad news: I have a baby tooth that never fell out so that has to be pulled, and the dentist mentioned removing my wisdom teeth, but wants to wait until I meet with the orthodontist because there is a slight chance that might not be necessary.  All in all, the appointment was not as horrifying or painful as I had imagined.

dentist

I also purchased a car this week!  It is a 2002 Chrysler Sebring convertible.

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It runs great, the heat works, and the inspection is good until May of 2014!  The airbag light started coming on today, but my dad (who has been a mechanic for years and years) does not think it’s anything to worry about.  I hope he’s right; I tend to have bad luck with cars, as previous posts can testify to.  Last night, my family and I – minus my little brother who is at the age where he would rather be with friends than family – celebrated my new car at Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse.  It was a lot of fun and the food was delicious!  It is nights like those that help to remind me how blessed I am to be surrounded with love and support, and reignite my desire to be a part of such a loving support system for others.  That sentiment goes hand in hand with the Gospel reading from Mass, which I attended earlier today:

love

My friend Eric and his mom enjoyed my novel!  Eric sent me a message to let me know, which was sweet.

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I have compiled a list of local booksellers to begin visiting in April, when the weather is warmer and the school year is winding down.  I want to set up book signings and readings and whatnot.  Wish me luck!

Love and be loved.  Love and life are all that matter. ❤

On a happy Thanksgiving.

Published November 22, 2012 by mandileighbean

I sincerely hope that everyone who reads this blog, or at least this post, has a truly wonderful Thanksgiving.  I wish for all that you are surrounded by loved ones with full hearts and full stomachs.  I hope that you are thankful and grateful for all of life’s blessings, including the miracle of life itself.

I am thankful for the miraculous gift of life, and I am thankful that mine has been filled with laughter and love.  I am thankful to be blessed with safety, health and happiness and wish the same for every pair of eyes that reads this (and those that do not, as well). I am thankful for my family, my friends, my colleagues, my wonderfully wacky students, my talent and my opportunities.

I am thankful for my writing talent and ability, and to all those who have and who will support that endeavor.

Everyone, be loved and be thankful every day, but today especially. ♥

On squirrel crossings.

Published October 9, 2012 by mandileighbean

The other day, when I was driving home from Sussex, I saw a squirrel dash across the Garden State Parkway – across five lanes of speeding traffic – to the other side.  He scurried amongst leaves and shrubs safely and smile spread across my face.  I wish I had that kind of daring and tenacity.

Sometimes, in the morning when I am driving to the high school, I scan through the radio stations.  Inevitably, the dial lands on Bible Thumper radio, which features men who sound impossibly old, who gasp out sermons of fire and brimstone, demanding that we all repent.  I like to leave the station on for a minute or two because I like the eeriness that fills the front of my car.  The streets are usually deserted, my dying, dim headlights lighting on nothing but pavement and painted white lines.  The change that lies discarded in one of two cup holders and clangs irritatingly around in the space as I drive is the only other sound.  It is not comforting; it is unsettling, but I enjoy it all the time.  I suppose that makes me weird.

More and more, I am realizing that the more things change, the more they truly do stay the same.  My belief – or faith? – in a common human thread is affirmed on a daily basis.  Human beings may age physically; hair may grey, joints may weaken, and lines may form, but emotionally, they can be as childish and as whimsical and romantic at seventeen as they can be at ninety-seven.  That knowledge, that possibility, gives me hope and makes me smile time and time again.

Lately, I am becoming more and more obsessed with romance.   I worry that this could be dangerous; dangerous to myself, to those around me, and to my writing endeavors.  To make this obsession more of a contagious disease, enjoy the following passages from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Also, please note that I have booked a hotel room for Salem, Massachusetts.  At least I make good on some promises.

 

“’Because,’ he said, ‘I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near to me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame.  And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land, come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.  As for you—you’d forget me.’”

 

“’I tell you I must go!’ I retorted, roused to something like passion.  ‘Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?  Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup?  Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?  You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you—and full as much heart!  And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.  I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal—as we are!”

On being clean.

Published July 16, 2012 by mandileighbean

I had a really wonderful time with loved ones yesterday at Cheryl’s surprise 50th birthday party.  Cheryl is the mother of my best friend, so I view her as my mother by extension.  She is extremely caring, loyal, honest and strong.  I am blessed to have her in my life and be counted as her loved one.  I am also blessed to have such a large extended family, blood relations notwithstanding.  At the party, I was one of the few people who were not related to Cheryl by either blood or marriage.  I viewed myself as a kind of ambassador, representing my family, and it got me thinking about why it becomes so difficult to mix different groups of friends; I believe it is because different people allow one to show different sides of him or herself.  We love myriads of people.  Hopefully, most of us are surrounded by people who bring out the best in us.  But now and again, we develop toxic relationships and love the people who hurt us and bring out the worst in us.  Some people see that as being weak, and as being taken advantage of.  I prefer to see it as being brave.  To give love unconditionally time and time again no matter how many bruises it inflicts is a beautiful and precious gift that is clearly deserving of being shared with everyone.

Never stop loving.

“Oh Jesus, I’ve fallen. I don’t mind the rain if I meet my Maker; I’ll meet my Maker clean. But Jesus, the truth is I struggle so hard to believe I’ll meet my Maker.  I need my Maker.”

– “Get Me Right,” Dashboard Confessional

“And can you kneel before the King and say, ‘I’m clean, I’m clean’?”

– “White Blank Page,” Mumford & Sons

PROMPT: “He was pretty religious once.”

PIECE: Marilyn was slowly walking from the church.  Her high heels were clicking against the concrete and the sound echoed out into the almost deserted parking lot.  She paused at the curb, fumbling with her tiny purse, looking for her pack of cigarettes and lighter.  Will didn’t like her smoking in the car, so she figured she’d feed the craving before climbing inside.  It was an act of consideration and wisely played, because Will would most likely be incredibly cantankerous – he had waited for Saturday evening mass to end in his car in the dry summer heat without air conditioning.  Marilyn had tried to use the lack of comfort and cool air as an incentive for Will to join her inside the church, aside from the fact that doing so could save his immortal soul and provide his life with some kind of moral center.  Her pleas had fallen on deaf ears; Will was not to be shaken from his lack of faith.  She lit up and took a long drag, exhaling the smoke towards the moving sky.  It looked like a severe, sudden summer storm was on its way.

“Will still sitting in the car, huh?” a familiar voice asked.  Marilyn turned to see her best friend, Hannah.  Hannah was smiling, sunglasses blocking her eyes.

“Yeah,” Marilyn answered.  “I’ve tried everything, dude.  Maybe it’s not that important.  Maybe I should stop pushing my values on him.”  She flicked the ashes from the end of the cigarette, and watched them flutter to the pavement.

“Maybe; you know your relationship better than anyone else, aside from Will, of course.”  Hannah paused.  “He’s lucky to have you, you know?”

Marilyn shrugged.  “He keeps saying that, and I keep trying to tell him that it works both ways.  Sometimes, I think he gets upset because he works down at the masonry center and he thinks it’s nothing glamorous and that I think the same.”  She turned to face Hannah fully.  “Do you think I’m pretentious?  Do I give off that vibe?”

Hannah shook her head.  “Not at all; and Will’s fears and doubts are Will’s fears and doubts.  It’s his baggage that he needs to work through.”

Again, Marilyn only shrugged.  “I know, but I just want to help.”  Hannah was silent beside her, out of clichéd things to say she’d learned from sitcoms with female target audiences.  Marilyn turned to face the parking lot, seeming to look out beyond it all and into the past.  “He was pretty religious once,” Marilyn said.

“Really; Will was religious?”

Nodding, Marilyn said, “Yeah.  He would go to mass every week, confession every two weeks.  Every night before bed, he’d hit his knees and pray.  He had a Bible beside his bed and he’d try to read a little bit of it every day.”

“What happened?” Hannah asked.

“I’m not entirely sure,” Marilyn admitted.  “It’s weird.  He won’t go to church, but he brings me every Sunday and he doesn’t go home.  He waits in the car.  What’s that about?”

“Maybe he’s waiting for a reason to go in,” Hannah offered.

On missing information.

Published July 14, 2012 by mandileighbean

So for being Friday the 13th, today wasn’t half bad.  I spent some awesome time with Jimmy who, unfortunately, is returning to Virginia tomorrow.  I also had lunch with Raina and it was definitely enjoyable, and it was wonderful catching up.  Yes, the only thing that absolutely sucked was getting stuck in traffic on the way home … for HOURS.  My car has no air, so I was incredibly hot, sweaty and cranky from about 4:00PM until 7:10PM; 190 minutes of discomfort – that’s torture.

Also, I was offered the job at the school in Oakland.  It all happened really, really fast.  I assumed I was just meeting with the principal, but then my future supervisor brought me in to meet the superintendent and she asked if I was “interested.”  I told her I was, and she started talking about salary and meeting with HR after the Board of Education meeting on July 30th.  My head was spinning.  To be honest, it still is.  I’m already stressing, striking out somewhere unfamiliar on my own and far from family.  My neck hurts when I think about taking over bills, the possibility of having to commute and being independent.  I’ve told myself for the past two years that this is everything I want, but now I’m terrified.  Was it all just bravado?  Am I really content to be living at home, floating between maternity leaves?  Have I romanticized my loneliness and disappointment into something worthwhile?

I need to sleep.  Or drink heavily.  Basically, I just need to relax.

PROMPT: “You accidentally overhear a conversation between two people you’ve never met. The topic of the conversation shocks and dismays you. Write about these conversations and describe how you respond to the content:

 ■1. A conversation between two stockbrokers

 ■2. A conversation between a priest and a member of his parish

 ■3. A conversation between a woman and the man with whom she’s been cheating on her husband

 

PIECE (#2):  It had been a rough couple of months.  It had been months since I’d been to mass, let alone to confession.  Nothing had changed, everything had remained absurdly shitty, so I thought why not give the Big Man a try.  Maybe everything that could go wrong was going wrong because I’d taken Him out of the equation, so to speak.  I was desperate, and willing to try anything to get back on my feet.  I was broke, unemployed, living in my parents’ house, incredibly lonely and as if that wasn’t enough, my cat had gone missing.  Running my hands over and across my throbbing skull, I knelt in the pew closest to the altar.  I released a tremulous breath and looked up at the Crucified Christ.  His frame was twisted in a grotesque display of pain, and his stone, sorrowful eyes looked up for some relief, some absolution, something.  I was looking to Jesus, Jesus was looking to God and we both looked miserable.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the priest treading carpet quickly.  He was obviously in a rush, a terrible rush, as he made sure his eyes remained downcast, evading even the most remote possibilities of making eye contact.  Intrigued by such odd behavior, – especially for a priest – I discreetly followed his progress from the rectory doors in the front, left corner of the church to the confessional booths in the middle of the back of the church.  I craned my neck, understanding that in the priest’s attempt to not see freed me to stare unashamedly.  I had never been to this particular church before, travelling to find anonymity as well as comfort, and was interested to try and case the place, to figure things out.  I worried the intrigue was over when the priest was just about to enter the confessional and begin his holy duties when the doors to the rectory flew open and a man unfamiliar to me burst onto the scene.

“Ben!” he screamed.  “You can’t keep running from this!”  The man’s shirt was stained with dirt and sweat and un-tucked.  He had run a formidable distance, but still managed to sound fierce in between gasps of air.  The priest, Father Ben as it were, remained silent.

“How can you kneel before the King and claim purity when your hands are stained?  How can you offer absolution to anyone when you are damned?”  I looked from the crazed man to Father Ben and back again, wanting to make sense of the conversation and to fill in the gaps myself.  It was near impossible, especially when Father Ben refused to participate.  As the man screamed, the priest remained perfectly still, more like a statue than a man; more like an imitation than the genuine article.

“Who are you going to confess your sins to?” the man asked.  He was gazing intently at Father Ben.  I don’t think he ever even knew I was there.

In response, Father Ben turned from the both of us and exited the church.

From what I could find out from parishioners and close friends, he never returned.  What’s worse: he never even said goodbye.

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